Sometimes it’s a blessing to have access to the subject of a bio, especially a celebrity one. Other times, not so much. Stories can be rose tinted, the truth is twisted; they’re only human after all. There’s a lot to like about Jeff Apter’s take on Angus Young: High Voltage, even if he hasn’t had direct access to Young in his research.
It’s the first bio to focus exclusively on the reclusive Angus Young – a lot of other AC/DC based material has mainly told the Bon Scott story in any depth. But Angus is as much the frontman of AC/DC as Bon Scott or Brian Johnson ever were.
It’s his picture, resplendent in the ever-present school uniform that adorned several album covers and much of the band’s promotional material over the years. As much as Scott and Johnson were able to hold the crowd and belt it out to ever bigger stadia, the enduring image of AC/DC is of Angus doing his dying bug routine, spinning on the floor, soloing his heart out or duckwalking across the biggest of stages.
Apter has methodically researched pretty darned much every word that Angus has publicly uttered, and used what he can here to great effect. Lots of the story is told in Angus’ words, or in those of his brother Malcolm Young or the other band members, some of whom Apter has interviewed. There is also the usual assortment of close associates, mates, hangers-on and business types that have brushed against AC/DC and Angus in some guise.
Apter paints a picture of Angus Young in love with what he does and fiercely protective of his right to privacy.
Angus Young, being the most junior of the Young family, brother of George (from the Easybeats and a producer of many other acts over the past 40 years) and Malcolm (his musical and business partner in AC/DC), plainly learnt a lot along the way from the experiences of the Easybeats in the 1960s. He was also a product of a “10 Pound Pom” family who came out when the children were young and grew up in the rough and tumble of tough neighbourhoods in the 1960s.
According to Apter, these are really the two major things that have shaped Angus as a musician and business person. He paints a picture of a man in love with what he does, fiercely protective of his right to privacy and determined to make the music business work for him in spite of many controversies along the way.
Apter fleshes these stories out by telling the story of AC/DC with insights thrown in from former band members and mates. It may be that Apter was unable to get access to Angus primarily because he had already written or ghost written bios for Michael Browning (their first manager in the business who was sacked just prior to the band making Back in Black – widely acknowledged as one of the two or three best-selling albums ever), and former bass player Mark Evans. There are hints in the book are that the Youngs do not forgive or forget, and that once someone has left the circle they are dead to them.
Apter is fair from what one can read, but there are gaps – gaps that relate to how Angus worked and felt at various times. He rarely gave long detailed interviews, being more prepared to clown around and play the part of the uniformed school brat gone wild.
(Malcolm did the same and now cannot be asked due to dementia which is the reason he has not been in the band the last few years. It’s a great shame: Malcolm really founded the band and then took it upon himself to manage it. AC/DC were always musically based on what the two Young brothers did and played. However Malcolm’s riffing was more important in some ways than even Angus’s theatrics, and set them apart; he was, if you like, the Keith Richards of the band, setting up the beat and rhythm and playing it with verve and a consistency that few could ever match.)
Apter’s book whets the appetite for more information, not because he falls short, but because he paints by implication pictures of what remains left to be told. High Voltage is a great read, easy to whip through and take in, but it doesn’t leave you feeling short-changed, it simply opens your thoughts up to: what if there were more? Even if you’ve read the Bon Scott and other AC/DC books already, High Voltage is worth a look, to round out the story of one of the world’s greatest rocking bands, and how hard work, and keeping it simple, sometimes just pays off.