Kirkus Reviews, founded in 1933, is a venerable institution in the media world, serving as the industry bible for bookstore buyers, librarians, and ordinary readers alike for more than 75 years. As part of the Kirkus Book Bloggers Network, a rotating crew of your favorite Popdose writers will grace the virtual pages of Kirkus Reviews Online, taking on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books. From coffee-table studies to quickie unauthorized bios, if it’s about show biz, it’s fair game.
I’m nervous about summing up a book that heavily references various vehicles with the line, “your mileage may vary,” but there it is. That’s essentially how I feel about Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir by Brian Johnson of AC/DC, even if the inherent pun makes me look like a rank amateur.
The problem is, I suppose, I’m not the prime target audience for this book. That audience consists of the rabid fan base AC/DC has amassed over time, built upon the veneer of hedonism and hell-bent excess. There are things they’ll be looking out for in the book and Johnson doesn’t disappoint them. For someone who wanted a bit more than the usual, tawdry, behind-the-men’s-room-door blow by blow (and yes, these words were chosen quite carefully), you’re liable to walk away jilted.
For starters, the book is not composed of chapters as much as they are of what appear to be blog entries, some installments taking up less than half a page. That makes for insanely easy reading, but doesn’t offer much in terms of depth. Johnson loves his bandmates and says so effusively, he loves cars and professes his ardor with no reserve. Groupies? Well, we’ll cover that in a moment, but if you’re looking for the genesis of a tortured rock-and-roll-soul, or more regarding being in a famous band beyond the stereotypical perks, this book is not for you.
What I would have liked to have read was some insight into his becoming the second vocalist (actually third, but first vocalist Dave Evans was only in for AC/DC’s fist single, and was out by the time an album was started) for AC/DC, only glancingly touched upon here. The first singer, Bon Scott, had just achieved a major breakthrough with the group in the US with the Highway To Hell album, and the band was preparing Back In Black with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. On February 19th, 1980, he went out drinking and, from there, the reports clash. Did he die of alcohol poisoning as the official report indicates, did he choke on his own vomit during an episode while being drunk as other reports would argue, or did he die of hypothermia? The body was cremated, so any internal evidence is long past the point of rediscovery.
This is not, however, the book about Bon Scott. Brian Johnson, previously the lead singer for the group Geordie, was called up to audition. The band liked him and he liked the band, hands were shook and rock history was forged. My questions stem from this pivotal moment. Scott, while singing like the hellraiser the annals recall, had a very specific delivery. If a pornographer’s boxer shorts could sing, they’d have the voice of Bon Scott. Johnson, on the other hand, is all danger. He sounds like a motor unmuffled, all fire in the exhaust, nothing and nobody spared. In many ways, he wouldn’t seem a proper candidate to replace Scott, and there he was.
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