It’s 1980, I’m eleven years old, and I’m lying in the bath. At the side of the tub is my radio/cassette player. The cable snakes out under the door and into the upstairs hall, where it’s plugged into the nearest socket. I’m oblivious to the potential damage the steam may be causing to my unsophisticated listening device. I press play.
A PA hums, charged with expectancy. The crowd go wild. A raw, bluesy, jagged guitar stutters into their midst: meaty chord laid upon meaty chord. The drums rumble along as these partners in rock build to a crescendo. There’s a short moment of stilled silence. Then, a riff so fluid, so sinuous it could be reptilian; so loud it could be geological. The crowd respond. The band kicks in. And we’re off. One and three quarter minutes in and the riff rings out, leaving centre stage to bass and drums and, in a second or so, vocals.
I reach down, press stop, rewind and press play…again. This might be the tenth time I’ve repeated this action. I’ve lost count and I don’t care. The cassette in question is “If You Want Blood…You’ve Got It” by AC/DC and the song I’ve become obsessed with is opening track “Riff Raff”. To be more specific, I’ve become obsessed with the intro.
The man responsible for that riff, for that total absorption in musical nirvana, that formative moment in my life, is Malcolm Young. Tragically, this week, it emerged that he has been struck down by dementia and will never be able to play that (or any other) riff again. I have to admit that I’m finding it hard to come to terms with this.
Dementia has to be one of the cruelest diseases that can afflict a human being. It robs a person of their memories, their personality, their very essence. It also inflicts terrible suffering on those who witness it snatch a loved one away. To me, it seems somehow even harsher that it’s depriving someone of the joy of playing a musical instrument; a lifetime’s effort to master the guitar to the point of effortless, consummate, public performance, erased from his mind. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I shed a tear for one of my musical heroes. I also don’t mind admitting that I find the prospect of something similar happening to me terrifying.
However, it’s important at times like this to try and focus on the positive; to celebrate; to be thankful for what we have, not mourn what we have lost or will lose. Malcolm Young has left a legacy that will endure. He has written songs that stand up against any of the greatest rock classics ever written by anyone. The precise manner of his passing is mere detail, the proverbial footnote in history. He will leave behind way more than any of us could ever dare dream to.
Brave faces aside; I wish it had never happened. I wish this terrible condition was not about to rob his loved ones of a father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. But it will, and I am well aware that my grief and disappointment will only ever be a fraction of theirs.
To their critics AC/DC may be dumb, raw, repetitive, predictable even, but critics be damned; I loved them from the moment I first heard that PA hum and I still love them now.
Malcolm Young. From all of us who have ever rocked … we salute you.