I was gratified at the news that AC/DC’s new album Power Up had reached the number one position in the UK charts. Me and this band, whose founder members hail from the Cranhill district of Glasgow, go back a long way.
I first began to appreciate AC/DC in 1978 after seeing them bring the house down in a concert as part of BBC2’s Rock Goes to College series. They were playing at some northern English polytechnic and had only recently begun to earn a sizeable following in the UK.
Also around that time I had begun to form an interest in becoming a Catholic priest. I’m not really sure what sparked this as I would never have been considered a pious chiel as a youth. By then, my devotion to bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest was also well underway.
These and songs such as Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven might be considered a kind of subliminal channelling of my emerging interest in serving the Lord. In spiritual terms, and with reference to Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise I was making all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order.
And so, I entered a seminary in Kilwinning to pursue this vocation with the Sacred Heart Fathers and perhaps to re-arrange my priorities. Among the few personal items I took with me was AC/DC’s recently-released album, Highway to Hell which I’d been gifted at one of several “going-away” parties.
Unsurprisingly, one of the two priests charged with overseeing our training, was somewhat vexed at the presence of this type of music in a house dedicated to the service of God and his Holy Church. He gently expressed the view that it was inappropriate. I had thought in my naivete that perhaps he might have been happy to overlook Highway to Hell and songs like Touch too Much and take comfort instead in some Genesis albums among my belongings.
However, to my great delight, the other priest – his boss – expressed a different view. “I think Father,” he said “that we ought not to judge too hastily. May I suggest a more subtle interpretation of this work.
“Rather than view it as a musical bacchanal celebrating the false glamour of Satan, could we instead regard it as an apocryphal meditation on the perils of following the highway to Hell?’
A few short months later, Bon Scott, the lead singer of the band, lay dead following an all-night bender and a 40oz bottle of vodka. I was devastated by this and approached the Father Superior with a request. Each morning at 7am we celebrated Mass in the seminary’s little chapel and took turns to choose appropriate music to accompany our post-communion reflections.
And so it was that on a cold January morning in North Ayrshire a small group of junior seminarians meditated on the body and blood of our Saviour to the beat of a rather rumbustious little etude called Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to be.
I felt it was in keeping with the mission of the Sacred Heart Fathers, a hardy and wisened order of missionaries who were often to be found in the world’s most challenging regions bringing God’s mercy and alms to poor and oppressed people. Many of them had paid for this with their lives.
My time among them though, was to be short. After a year it was gently suggested to me by these two good men that perhaps I had wandered on to life’s wrong movie set. My desire to save souls had never been in doubt, they insisted. It was just that perhaps the task of saving my own soul might be one that required most of my own time.
As a farewell gift though, I was sent packing with a copy of AC/DC’s next album, Back in Black. Ever since, I have fondly imagined that in some wretched, war-torn corner of the globe a craggy old priest is entertaining his flock with She Shook me all Night Long. I feel sure that he’d cite it as a celebration, though somewhat earthy, of the conjugal blessings that await in a solid Christian marriage.
The east end of Glasgow provided the gritty backdrop of AC/DC’s early years. The group’s co-founder and lead guitarist, Angus Young spent the first seven years of his life living in the shadow of the old Cranhill water tower. He and his brother Malcolm, the band’s late, great rhythm guitarist shared a room that overlooked the old tower before the family emigrated to Australia.
For years, Frank Docherty, the local councillor for this gnarly old neighbourhood has campaigned to grant the Young brothers the Freedom of the city in recognition of their remarkable global success.
AC/DC are a remarkable band who are still achieving success and bringing joy to millions nearly 50 years after they were formed. Of course, they’re regarded as Australian but I’m certain that this neighbourhood also influenced their no-frills, hard-working style of rock.
Some have suggested that perhaps AC/DC’s uncompromising songs about hard drinking and perfunctory sex belong to a less enlightened era. I feel though, that this sanctimonious approach fails to see the diverse and inclusive nuances that characterise many of their lyrics. One of their most famous crowd-pleasers, Whole Lotta Rosie is a moving account of a night of intense concupiscence spent by Bon Scott in the arms of a generously-proportioned woman.
Ain’t no fairy story
Ain’t no skin and bones
But you give it all you got
Weighin’ in at nineteen stone
You’re a whole lotta woman
A whole lotta woman
Whole lotta Rosie
Whole lotta Rosie
As such, it’s a rebuke to body-shaming and a lesson in accepting people as they are. It urges us all to look closely and see the inner beauty we all possess. I feel sure too that the Lord will have borne this in mind when choosing to welcome Bon Scott, the author of these thoughtful verses, into His heavenly kingdom.