AC/DC: Is This The End?
Axl to front AC/DC? Beano ‘kicked to the kerb’? What the hell is going on with the world’s greatest rock’n’roll band?
In October 1980, Rolling Stone magazine conducted their first in-depth interview with a band they had previously dismissed as representing an “all-time low” for the hard rock genre. In a sympathetic, insightful article, writer David Fricke noted that despite having been “mercilessly slagged as heavy-metal morons” in the media, AC/DC were fast becoming the most popular hard rock band in the world. The magazine’s sub-editors might have been more sensitive when they suggested that with the burgeoning success of Back In Black, their monumental tribute to late frontman Bon Scott, the Australian band were able to ‘Shrug Off A Death And Rock On’, but Fricke’s article made special mention of AC/DC’s indomitable spirit and relentless work ethic, and the intense loyalty it inspired.
“We just get out there and rock,” said guitarist Angus Young. “If your amp blows up or your guitar packs it in, smash it up and pick up another one. And that’s how it always was with us.”
The past two years have seen this celebrated, almost heroic sense of commitment tested as never before for AC/DC. In April 2014 it was announced that Malcolm Young was “taking a break” from the band he founded in 1973 with his younger brother Angus. Five months on, it was revealed that Young was suffering from dementia and would not be returning to the group.
As fans came to terms with this news, in November 2014 a more sensational story broke, with drummer Phil Rudd being arrested on charges of drug possession and ‘attempting to procure murder’. Though the latter charge was subsequently reduced to ‘threatening to kill’ (a former assistant), in July 2015 Rudd was sentenced to eight months of home detention by a New Zealand judge, effectively sealing his exit from the band. Then on March 7 this year came the bombshell news that AC/DC’s 68-year-old frontman Brian Johnson had been ordered by doctors to stop touring immediately or face total hearing loss, forcing the immediate cancellation of 10 US arena shows and throwing the band’s entire future into question.
Even taking into account the urgency with which this announcement needed to be made – AC/DC were due to play Atlanta’s Philips Arena on March 8 – the statement that appeared on acdc.com on March 7 raised eyebrows. No quote from Brian Johnson was included, and the promise that the shows would be rescheduled later in the year “likely with a guest vocalist” seemed blunt and abrupt even by AC/DC’s notoriously unsentimental standards. This notion was only intensified the following week when, during an episode of his The Metal In Me podcast, US comedian Jim Breuer – a close friend of Johnson – suggested that the singer felt he had been ‘kicked to the kerb’ by Angus Young after 36 years fronting the band.