Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Review: Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC, by Mark Evans

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Book cover image and videos from the Internet

Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC
By Mark Evans
Bazillion Points Books (Brooklyn), 2011
288 pages, trade paperback; USD $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-935950-04-2

By the time I saw AC/DC play CBGB in ’77, Evans had already completed his two-year tenure with the band as their bass player earlier that year. He was famously given the boot just before the band left to tour the States.

In the past few months, I’ve read three (enjoyable) autobios about musicians, and there definitely seems to be a thread that almost sounds like a blueprint: born into the poorer areas of Cleveland (Cheetah Chrome), Helsinki (Andy McCoy of Hanoi Rocks), or in this case Melbourne, Australia, with a missing or violent father figure, and then discovering the guitar/bass through blues-based rock’n’roll which becomes obsessive. Following years of substance abuse, there is some redemption with later wives and kids.

Mark Evans recorded three albums with AC/DC; well, according to what he claims, it was actually Angus and Malcolm’s older brother, George Young (used to be guitarist in the Easybeats; they had a hit with “Friday On My Mind”) who played the bass on the records, while Evans was part of the live crew (though present during the studio tapings). That may be part of why he was not included when the band was inducted into the (Corporate) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as they are so focused on the financial-pull of a band as far as recordings go (i.e., record sales), rather than the performance end, historically speaking (have you ever seen the place?). Anyway, on page 86, Mark states:

In the early days I was a spectator, taking it all in, because much of this would be done with George on the bass. I had no issue with this: it was how the first album was recorded, and from my vantage point, it worked beautifully with Mal and Angus on guitar and George on bass. It wasn’t discussed; it was just the way it was. And what an armchair ride for me… I would be in there kibitzing while the guys were ‘brewing up a tune.’ … George [is] an absolute legend of a bass player. George pretty much showed me the bass-playing ropes. He had a great knack for picking the perfect line… The bass line in the song ‘High Voltage’ is pretty busy for an AC/DC track but still perfect. George on bass? Very cool. As far as I’m concerned he is one of the greats.

Let’s face it, AC/DC is essentially Angus and Malcolm Young, and in the period this book covers, Bon Scott. The drummer (Phil Rudd, who was also eventually canned) and bass player are secondary in this band’s hierarchy. Can you name them, even though the replacement bass player has been with them for 30 years now? See? That being said, Mark claims on page 102:

Quickly, AC/DC came to dominate my whole being; it became my life. We were together because we were a band but AC/DC was an entity on its own that commanded all my time and attention. I had no option but to follow it with blind faith. It became my career, livelihood, social life and hopefully my future. The cliché would be ‘it was my family,’ but it was never that; it was something else again. If you were in AC/DC you lived it; it wasn’t an act. I wasn’t just part of the band; I became part of a lifestyle. It was the reason we were all together; the only way it made sense was that we were only AC/DC when we were together in the same room.

As with the other books mentioned above, this one falls into three acts: growing up, being in the band for which they are known (in this case, of course, AC/DC), and then after the ball, as Ian Whitcomb’s granddad may have put it.

Even if the route to the band is a similar one, I still find the path the books describe interesting, even with those I’m not enthralled in (e.g., Slash, Mötley Crüe; yes, I read those, too), but it’s best when the story is well written, as is this one. Sure, there’s the occasional Aussie slang thrown in, but nothing the reader has to really ponder (i.e., it’s no A Clockwork Orange),, just be amused by.

Of course, the meat of the matter is his deuce years with the band that pretty much put Australia on the rock map (the bands before either never made it out of the British Empire, or had hits without many aware at the time that they were from Down Under, such as the Easybeats). Others like Midnight Oil or Divinyls would follow; although the Saints were thisclose). Wisely, a large part of Evan’s book focuses on this era much more (about three-quarters of the text) than the others.

Throughout the book, Evans keeps hinting at the firing from the band yet to come, in either an I-shoulda-seen-it-coming or walking-on-eggshells-during commentary. But from what he states throughout, it’s pretty obvious why he got the can: he was a drunken sod who was obnoxious as get out (relative to the Youngs). Sure, Bon was also a major substance abuser as well, but (a) he was the front band, and arguably a great one at that, and (b) he did not interfere with the goings on of the group, taunting Angus or starting fights, or (and Evans admits this more than once in this book), leaving right after the gig to get plastered or laid, especially if the show tanked. The quote above explains that AC/DC were not just a band 24/7, and the Youngs’ closeness of their family belies this. Even on the front cover, there’s Evans trying to antagonize Angus (check out Bon’s expression of the shits gonna hit the fan now), who, according to this book, doesn’t really have much of a playful side. Evans writes how Angus would sit in his room for hours just noodling on the guitar, rather than socialize.

While being an obviously raging alcoholic (though he never admits to it in the book) makes him a bad band mate, especially for the live shows which is the main purpose of his being there,“ it does however tell a fun story. That, in part, is what makes this book enjoyable. It’s a fast and easy read (except for a tragic point later on), and for anyone interested in life on the highway (to hell?) of a heavy rock band, this does not disappoint.

My only quibble with the book, really, is that if one is not up on Australian rock history, some of the names may not spark. For example, Evans was in a few bands that had some major hits in Australia, but were nowheresville in the States, such as Contraband (one of many bands with that name, apparently), for example. But this should not, however, deter the readers because, as I stated, this is 70-to-80 percent AC/DC content.

Actually, there is one more nitpick, but it’s no fault of Evans. After he left the band, there was a protracted legal battle between him and the group, but due to signing a non-disclosure agreement for the settlement, he is legally obligated not to say anything about that, which makes it all the more interesting to me, of course.

Evans seems to flip-flop a bit about members of the band…well, about Malcolm and Angus, anyway (nothing but praise for Bon). They come across as combative to him one minute, cold the next, and occasionally friendly. For example, the way Evans describes Angus jumping off the tour bus and playing in the snow like a kid one minute and then being silent and sullen again after is chilling (see how I did that there).

Whether a fan of the band or not, Mark Evans has a lot to say that is interested in anyone who loves stories of being in bands and the excitement of being on the road. So, my recommendation is be a punter, mate, and join the gang, yeah. This book may not change your life, but it will be a fun ride for the duration of the read.

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