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Interview Jesse Fink, author of THE YOUNGS – The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, October 2013

| 6 November 2013 | 1 Reply

Interview Jesse Fink, author of THE YOUNGS – The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, October 2013
By Shane Pinnegar

Jesse Fink has taken a fresh approach in his latest book, THE YOUNGS – The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, looking at the Young dynasty through a clutch of their best songs, complete with brutally honest critical analysis along the way.

The Youngs - by Jesse Fink, book

It’s an approach which necessitated unearthing whole sections of Angus & Malcolm Young’s, and elder brother George’s – formerly of ground breaking Aussie pop act The Easybeats and who, as a member of that band and later mentor and producer of AC/DC, was really the architect of the Accadacca sound – lives and acquaintances.

Fink says that writing the book took the better part of a year.

“It took about ten months, really,” he explains, “A lot of legwork, because when I decided to do the project obviously I hadn’t got in touch with The Youngs or a few [other] people to see if they would be involved – I was fully expecting that they weren’t going to co-operate, and of course when I did officially approach them I got shut out. And that was both in Sydney and in New York, so the challenge was writing a book about these three brothers and having absolutely no co-operation from them, Alberts [AC/DC and producers Harry Vanda & George Young’s recording studio], their management, whatsoever…

“The thing that I quickly realised,” he elaborates conspiratorially, “was that a lot of the other books that had been written about AC/DC had neglected a whole cast of people who were really important to the lives of AC/DC – from the years 1976 to 1981/82 – who really hadn’t told their stories. So I think the Atlantic Records side of the story hadn’t really been told completely – so that was really exciting for me, to contact people who hadn’t spoken about AC/DC and had their input on stories that had been well told but really weren’t completely truthful.”

The author says he “grew up with AC/DC. I had listened to them for twenty years… but hadn’t ever got into them in a really heavy way, then I went through a terrible divorce in about 2007/2008 and I found the music was incredibly helpful in feeling better. So for some reason every time I would go for a jog or went to the gym I would put on AC/DC. I found that their music just restored me. And I started thinking, what is it about AC/DC as opposed to other bands that has that effect on you? And it’s the secret of their success, really – they tap into something really primal.”

Jesse Fink 01

Despite a background in sports writing and editing non-fiction, Fink insists, almost exasperatedly, that he was as qualified as anyone to tackle a subject like a hard rock band.

“You know, what qualifies you to write about anything?” he snorts. “It’s what interests you and you bring to bear your expertise in writing, on the project. I don’t think you have to be a music journalist to write a book about music – and I certainly wasn’t a soccer player when I was writing about sports for SBS! But I sort of went on and became the most successful writer that they had because I was good at writing. That’s my answer to your question…”

That’s more than fair…

“Yeah I think that’s bullshit,” he continues, “you should be able to write about anything that interests you. I preface everything in the book by saying look, I’m not an expert on music, I’m no expert on guitars – but what I will do is go and talk to people who are, and I will fashion a book around this subject that interests me a lot. Hopefully people read it and appreciate it.”

Having been shut out by the Young Family and their close associates, and then done the research and identified people who had effectively been ignored or written out of the AC/DC story, Fink admits that there were some who were still reluctant to talk on the record about the band.

“Ahhh, there were a few people, particularly in Australia, who didn’t want to really say anything. But I went over to The States and I met Jerry Greenburg [who was] the President of Atlantic Records from 1974 to 1980, and absolutely crucial to the rise of AC/DC – because his decisions and his money basically bankrolled AC/DC and got them to the point where they were releasing Back In Black, and then they never looked back.

“Jerry had never really spoken to anyone about AC/DC – certainly in all the books that I’ve read about AC/DC. And he certainly put a different slant on some of the stories that had been told, and through [that] process, Jerry introduced me to half a dozen to a dozen people from Atlantic Records who had never spoken to anyone about what had gone on inside Atlantic Records in these crucial years, when AC/DC were very much in danger of being dumped from the label.

“It was largely due to the unrecognised efforts of some people inside Atlantic Records who kept the band alive, and if not for them, you know, AC/DC might not be around today. And that story hadn’t really been told, and it’s certainly been skimmed over in other AC/DC books that I’ve read.

“I’ve read all those books and felt really dissatisfied, I felt like there was something missing. So it was a process of me finding those people, seeking those people out, and getting their stories and tallying them up and trying to get to the bottom of what the truth really is. I quickly realised – is there a real truth? What is the truth? Everyone’s got a different kind of story, everyone has a different slant on what happened. And critically The Youngs are gonna have their own story.

“I met David Krebs who was AC/DC’s manager from Leber/Krebs – a very important man, he managed Aerosmith and steered them to stardom… I met him in New York and he said, managing a rock band is like Rashomon, the Kurosawa film, and he said there’s no truth. Four people can witness the same thing and get four different stories.”

ACDC

That’s a really good point in a world where history is usually written by the victors, and the Rashomon principle is cited in Fink’s book more than once. At what point, when you have these differing versions of what happened, can you navigate a path through it and say this commentary was a bit subjective, that one was egotistical the other way, so this is the path you’re going to put down on paper?

“Well I’ll give you an example,” says Fink. “The story about how Mutt Lange got involved with the band. If you read all the other books about AC/DC, essentially it’s told that Michael Browning, one day in New York, had this brainwave and says to Malcolm, ‘I’ll get Mutt Lange’, and Malcolm says ‘Brilliant – put him in touch’ Simple as that.

“And it wasn’t as simple as that – at all!” he exclaims. “What in fact happened was there was a whole bunch of people working on getting Mutt Lange in touch with AC/DC, and it had been going on for some time. So what I did was take the existing account that Browning had told in the Engleheart book and the Walker book, and matched it up against the accounts of people who were also involved, people like Jerry Greenburg, Doug Thaler – their booking agent in The States – and other people.

“Cedric Kushner, who was in fact Michael Browning’s partner at one point… he had never spoken to anyone about AC/DC! So I nailed down Cedric and I got his story. Essentially I got the stories of four or five people and it completely conflicted with what Browning said, so the more I went back to the existing stories, and went and challenged them, a different story emerged!

“I think that’s what this book does, it tells a different story, and that’s why I think a lot of people who might think ‘Oh fuck, another AC/DC book – what else is there to say?’, that the thing is, there’s a lot else to say because it hasn’t been told. I think people just take information at face value and don’t take the time to challenge it and do their own work, and that’s basically what I did. I’m very grateful to all the writers who have put out their own books on AC/DC and told their own story – but it’s not the definitive story. And I’m not claiming mine is either, but I think the trap a lot of people fall into is to rely on information that’s already been printed and think that’s the true story, and it’s not. So this book was a process of challenging a lot of those pre-existing stories.”

Despite being shut out by The Young’s camp, Fink says there was no direct pressure put upon him from that direction.

“Nooo, look… initially I had some discussion with Fifa Riccobono [former CEO of Alberts Studios] and Sam Horsborough [former engineer and A&R manager at Alberts] here in Sydney, who essentially are their gatekeepers here, and they warned me pretty much straight up that the Youngs don’t have anything to do with writers, but we’ll give it a shot. So I sent a whole bunch of questions through for them to send on, and a few weeks later it just came back with them saying ‘thankyou, but we’re really not interested.’

“And another approach was made in New York through Alvin Handwerker [AC/DC accountant and manager] – their manager, and basically I got absolutely fuck all from him – not even a response. But that’s the reaction certainly that Mick Wall got when he was doing his book, and there have been other writers who have attempted to probe into the lives of The Youngs.”

The author has a pretty good idea why the band are so secretive about the inner workings of their lives.

“From what I’ve discovered,” he says with a deep breath and a pause,”they’ve upset a lot of people. There’s a lot of people who feel really hard done by, who’ve been kind of… cast aside. There’s a real pattern there. And the book will tell that story.”

Ruthless they may be, but there’s no denying that the Young brothers and AC/DC have been massively influential as well as massively successful. More than 200 million records sold is big business in anyone’s books.

“Oh look, I admire these guys like you wouldn’t believe,” agrees Fink. “I think they’re absolutely fantastic musicians. They found their sound and they stuck to it, they didn’t deviate from it, and there is an incredible creativity to what they do by working within such narrow parameters creatively. And yet, enduring for so long… every time you listen to an AC/DC song from the early days through to Back In Black, it still sounds fresh today – I never tire of listening to it. There’s something really magical that they’ve created – they’re brilliant musicians, and ruthless businessmen, and they deserve acclaim and credit for what they’ve achieved. They made something like 250 million dollars last year and didn’t DO anything! It’s just crazy!

“I listen to AC/DC every day. I never tire of their music: they’re far and away my favourite band, but I don’t think that disqualifies them from criticism. Certainly the story of AC/DC and how they became as big a band as they are, was really down to an investment of time and effort and money by a whole bunch of people who really don’t get the credit they deserve in that story, [and] who really took a risk on them at a very important time in their career as a band. And without them I don’t think AC/DC would be around today as a band… I think we’d be looking at them as a footnote in history.”

Using eleven of their best known songs to tell the story of the band and the brothers was a unique approach to take with the book. Fink says it was an interesting – rather than easy – process to select the right songs.

“The book starts with Good Times, actually, The Easybeats song,” he explains. “And as you know it was really a signpost for the AC/DC sound that was to come. There were other Easybeats songs that were really important, like St Louis, and then Evie [a massive Australian hit for ex-Easybeats singer Stevie Wright, and an early production credit for George Young with his partner Harry Vanda] was another song that was really important ‘cos it was really a bringing together of a young Malcolm Young and Stevie Wright and Vanda & Young… really again, a signpost of what was to come with AC/DC with High Voltage.

“And in the story of Evie, for instance, I tell the story of Tony Currenti, who was involved with Stevie Wright and also played drums on High Voltage, and Tony’s story hasn’t been told before. If you read all the other AC/DC books, Tony just gets one mention, you know? But this bloke basically played all the drum tracks on High Voltage. So I’m a fan of Stevie Wright so I wanted something from him in there, and the rest of the songs are all Accadacca songs.

Jesse Fink 02

“The next chapter is It’s A Long Way To The Top, then we’ve got Jailbreak, Let There Be Rock, Riff Raff, Highway To Hell, Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, Hells Bells and Thunderstruck. And it ends with Thunderstruck – in my opinion that’s the last great song that they wrote. I don’t think that there’s much more beyond that, and it was okay to end the book there – I didn’t feel like I had to go anywhere else with it. But that period, 1976 to 1980, is really the key period, so that’s why the songs I selected really are [mostly] from that period.”

By focussing on the Young brothers as a sort of joint central character rather than the band, Fink allows us to see exactly how important George Young was to AC/DC in just about every way possible.

“Oh yeah – not only creatively but also financially!” he states emphatically. “The fact that George had such sway at Alberts, and Alberts essentially bankrolled AC/DC, and they got all that free studio time… if it weren’t for George, I don’t think they would have got that lift off. So it was really a combined effort of Alberts in Australia and Atlantic Records in The States that gave AC/DC that liftoff to number one, for them. Would we be talking about them today? I really doubt it.”

Writing a book about any artist inevitably opens an author up to criticism from the artist’s most loyal fans who may not wish to see their idols presented warts and all. I ask Fink how he thinks the book will be received by some of the hardcore faithful.

“Well… that’s an interesting question,” he admits. “I think that there is a difference between a fan and a fanatic. And there are a lot of AC/DC fanatics who will not broker any sort of criticism of the band, not even accept you saying ‘well I think that’s a shit song.’ But I think if you’re a fan then you understand that criticism is valid, and certainly you’re open to knowing what the real story is and you take the good and the bad.

“And frankly I’m not really interested in what a fanatic thinks about the book, because unless I write a hagiography they’re not going to be satisfied. And [with] AC/DC – the fact is, they do deserve some criticism, particularly in terms of the way they’ve conducted their business, and the cast of people who were important to the band at one point, and these people have absolutely nothing to do with the Youngs any more.

“There are people who were really crucial to the development of their business empire and certainly their sound, they have nothing else to do with them and haven’t for decades, you know – WHY? Why do they no longer have any contact with these people? I find that interesting – and it’s not like its just one or two people, it’s a whole bunch of people.”

The Youngs – The Brothers Who Built AC/DC is out now through Random House Publishers. 100% ROCK MAGAZINE’s review is HERE.

 

Shane

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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