AC/DC, RACE RELATIONS, ANGUS YOUNG and ME TACOMA/S.F. 1981-1991
AC/DC was the biggest band around in 1980 when I was in the 7th grade in the very white suburbs north of Seattle. Their logo was everywhere and their album Back in Black was truly inescapable. I was not a huge hard rock fan but I loved that album and all their earlier ones like everyone else seemed to.
I should not have to argue the case that AC/DC’s no-frills, four-on-the-floor, blues based hard rock kicked and still kicks serious butt. Sure their lyrics ranged from not-very-deep to downright dumb but who cared? If you wanted poetry you can read a book right? They wrote catchy songs full of power and attitude, had swagger, a sense of humor, Angus mooned the crowd and wore a school-boy uniform, and the rest of the band wore jeans and t-shirts. That was all very cool.
When I got into punk just after the Back in Black craze I was sure half the AC/DC fans out there would soon see the light and cut their hair too.
Instead they yelled “DEVO!” and threw sh-t at us from their muscle cars. They stalked us mercilessly like prey through the streets. I’d play Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Bad Brains for the more sympathetic rockers I knew but they only cringed. They hated it. I’d play them D.O.A., the most hard rock-sounding of the punk bands I dug but they only complained that the band “couldn’t play their instruments” Ugh.
When I moved to Tacoma for my 8th grade year, I attended a school that was very economically, culturally, and racially diverse. Jason Lee Jr High School at 6th and Sprague was located near the working class, mostly black, Hilltop neighborhood but since it was an academically respected band magnet school, it drew a lot of well-to-do white kids from the stately homes in the affluent North End as well. I lived with my Mom, Stepdad and brother right by the school.
The black kids I knew at school listened to all kinds of music but in the pre-hip hop era the biggest acts were the likes of Kool and the Gang, Rick James, Michael jackson, Teena Marie, and Prince. I liked a lot of that stuff too. I could definitely see a relationship between punk and stuff like Rick James and Prince in particular. If these kids didn’t dig my music they at least seemed sympathetic to my style. They might have had differing opinions about whether the punk look was ridiculous, funny, or maybe even “fly” but the one thing they all seemed to agree on is that it was harmless.
My nickname among some of the black kids was “Spider-leg” because my spiked up, dyed black hair looked like…yeah you guessed it.
When I pierced my ear it was scandalous. The whole school was aflutter about it. I was big for my age and I was well-liked so I wasn’t abused too badly about it but my sanity and my sexual orientation were questioned more than once that’s for sure. That is until the biggest, toughest kid in the school followed my lead and pierced his own ear too!
He was a fair skinned black kid named Raven who had a faint mustache and big biceps one of which had a crude homemade tattoo on it. He thought my earring was wild and told me it reminded him of a pirate. He thought I was cool for not giving a sh-t.
Looking back maybe I was cool.
Whatever the case, no one called me a fag behind my back for having a stud in my ear at school after that. Out on the streets was a different story…
When I talk about being harassed and attacked for looking punk I’m exclusively talking about white, redneck, rocker dudes doing the attacking. The black kids in my neighborhood certainly possessed fighting skills that were no doubt equal or superior to the rocker-types, they were just never seriously inspired to f-ck with us.
I do remember being challenged by black kids a number of times but being invitedto fight is a lot different than being assaulted and terrorized by dudes twice your age and size as was often the case with the knucklehead, long haired, rocker a—holes.
As much as I hated those idiots and most of the music they liked, I stuck by AC/DC through the years. So much so that the first real guitar I ever bought years later was a plain brown Gibson SG just like Angus Young’s.
I had my revenge on those troglodyte heshers ten years later when I found myself hanging out backstage after an AC/DC concert drinking Heinekens and talking with Angus flippin’ Young (!) about all his houses around the world. The ones he told me he never got a chance to visit because they tour all the f-cking time! Hahaha! (raspy nicotine laugh)
A friend of a friend of mine who worked for ATCO Records had gotten me and my friend Rene Van De Meer (ex-singer of the super intense Dutch hardcore band BGK and total AC/DC freak) tickets and backstage passes to meet the band after their show at The Cow Palace in San Francisco.
Revenge is sweet and as I found out… so is Angus Young!
The black and white picture is from my Jason Lee Jr. HS 8th grade year book “Best Dressed” section. I’m pictured with my classmate, the beautiful and very stylish Ms. Sharon Stewart, who was only slightly put out (look at her expression) by being voted into the section along with the joke winner…me. I remember her saying something to the effect of “you gotta be kidding me, what’s up with putting my fine self in a picture with Punk Rock?” Punk Rock was another affectionate, if not terribly creative, nickname I was called by the kids at school. She had a point.
Backstage pass sticker signed by Angus Young and (AC/DC’s drummer on that tour) Chris Slade.
R.I.P. Rick James, Bon Scott, Teena Marie, and Cliff Lippman, the friend who set me up to hang with Angus Young. Thanks Cliff.
Both items from my personal archive.