The Ridiculous Zen Art of AC/DC


I’ve been obsessed with AC/DC lately.  I want to try to explain why to those of you that might not get them.  I also think they demonstrate how powerful minimalism can be.

AC/DC albums are kind of the opposite of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s album.  I love well orchestrated ornate pop music, but I love its opposite just as much.  The arrangements on AC/DC albums rarely go beyond what can be reproduced live by a four piece rock band other than backup vocals, occasional percussion, and Angus Young’s lead guitar.  There are some minimal guitar overdubs, an additional guitar in the chorus or whatnot, but rarely more than that.  Their records musically are usually just bass, drums, and one electric guitar in each speaker.  However, as Lou Reed said about Kanye West’s Yeezus album, “the arrangements are minimal, but the parts are maximal.”  It’s hard to sound bigger than AC/DC, they often play to packed stadiums, but they achieve this sound with only a couple of instruments.  Their sound is created by the way each musician plays and, more importantly, the way that they play together.  For instance, Angus and Malcolm Young, the guitar players and brothers that run the band, perfectly compliment each other in parts and sound so that their guitars sound infinitely bigger together than either one could on their own.  Malcolm, who is in the left speaker, plays a Gretsch guitar and has a thicker cleaner sound.  Angus, whose rhythm guitar is in the right speaker, plays a SG and his has a more distorted and biting tone.  The frequencies created by each insturment perfectly compliment each other, creating a gigantic sound.

They also use space in a way that each instrument achieves maximum impact.  On their mega-hit You Shook Me All Night Long, the bass does not come in till the chorus, which is unusual for a pop or rock record.  By withholding it that long, when it does come in, the listener really feels it.  The riffs that the brother’s write also often have large gaps in them.  By having moments of silence in between their riffs, you feel the full impact of each scrape across the strings.  Much like how a Zen garden, through being minimal, forces one to focus on what is there, they too pull the listener in by knowing what to hold back.  Even their drummer for most of their career, Phil Rudd, rarely plays the usual rock n roll drum fills.  He makes every cymbal crash count.  Except for when Angus’s lead guitar explodes, which again is so powerful because it is restrained until just the right part of the song, AC/DC does so much with so little.  A lot of other bands couldn’t get that kind of emotional impact with their music with twice the musicians.

One of the misconceptions in the media is that AC/DC make the same record over and over.  They do have a set of rules in place that can often make their music sound the same to the casual listener.  But there is actually a lot of diversity if you compare the rock n roll boogie of their earlier records to the more melodic rock of something like Blow Up Your Video.  Their records are always driving guitar based hard rock records that feature typical rock n roll subject matter in the lyrics.  There are no guitar effects used other than amp based distortion.  It’s like they set a frame and a subject matter, like a painter that only paints certain sized water color landscapes.  But as you know, there are a lot of different landscapes one can paint even within a certain sized frame using a certain medium.  By limiting themselves they achieve their unique sound.  They also must figure out how to be creative while limiting themselves.  Even on one album, lets take their famous Back in Black album, there is a lot of difference between the sound of Hells Bells and You Shook Me All Night Long.  One has a foreboding quality, while the other one is celebratory.  The devil is in the details with this band.  If you are willing to explore their music they have a lot to offer.

Now I know that some of you will think that it is ridiculous to take a band seriously that often only sings about sex, explosions, rock n roll, and more sex.  Forgetting that their original singer was actually pretty clever within the confines of those topics, I think one can take what they do seriously and think they are charmingly ridiculous at the same time.  Even the sexism that is apparent in so many of their songs is taken to such a ridiculous level that it is comic.  This is stuff that is meant as release and as fun.  There is a reason they can fill up stadiums and give so many people a great time.  I think you can listen to their stuff on several levels.  On one hand it is just fun ridiculous music, but if you pay attention to the craft they put into creating this stuff, it is pretty interesting as well.

Also, if you take their career as a whole, in their refusal to change thematically if not musically, their is a certain noble defiance in it.  Where other bands try to reflect their lives in their lyrics, AC/DC has almost made an art out of being an immovable object.  They are the mountain that has not been eroded through time.  Their biggest hit album, Back in Black, was written after the alcohol related death of Bon Scott and features a song called Have a Drink On Me.  Their new album, Rock or Bust, was recorded after founding member Malcolm Young had to retire because he was diagnosed with dementia.  Yet as they grow older and life thins their herd, they remain as they always have been thematically, unchanged, Mount Fuji in the background of the changing seasons.  Like the last sentence at the end of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, they are grinning horribly and thumbing their nose at You Know Who.

Coal Guns Freedom Aneurysm

My brother was out driving the other day and he saw a Mitch McConnell bumper sticker that said, I shit you not:


All I could think of was the following comedy bit where Lewis Black talks about how you get an aneurysm (The bit starts where Black has gone to an IHOP for breakfast.):

From behind me a young woman of 25 uttered the following.  It was the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life until Dan Quayle was elected the Vice President of the United States.  She said, “If it weren’t for my horse, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college.”  I’m going to repeat that, because it bears repeating.  If it weren’t for my horse, as in giddy-up giddy-up let’s go, I wouldn’t have spent that year in college, which is a degree granting institution.  Don’t think about that sentence or blood will shoot out your nose.  The American medical profession does not know why we get an aneurysm.  An aneurysm is when a blood vessel bursts in your head for no apparent reason.  There’s a reason!  

You go to the mall with your friends and someone over there says the dumbest thing you ever heard and it goes in your ear.  Now you turn around to see if your friends heard it.  But your friends didn’t hear it because they are pretending to buy a cellular phone.  But they’re not going to buy a cellular phone ’cause these idiots don’t even understand what rate structure means.  So you turn back to see who said it, because if you can turn back to them you can just ask them what they mean by that.  But they’re gone.  And now those words are in your head.  And they stay there.  They don’t go away.  And your driving to work, but you’re not driving to work.  All your brain is thinking is, “If it weren’t for my horse, if it weren’t for my horse.”  You sit down and you are having dinner with your family.  You think you are having dinner, but it’s not.  It’s going, “How did you get to college on a horse?”  It’s like a mobius strip in your head that goes over and over.  For 7 days that’s all you think about.  You don’t know you’re thinking about it, but your brain is going overtime.  And at the end of the week they find you dead in your bathroom.

I now know at least one of the possible things that will bring about my death.

Chris Rock Talks to Frank Rich About Ferguson, Cosby, and What ‘Racial Progress’ Really Means

Chris Rock Talks to Frank Rich About Ferguson, Cosby, and What ‘Racial Progress’ Really Means

I’ll be back in the States Wednesday.   In the mean time this is an absolutely brilliant interview of Chris Rock by Frank Rich. 

Lewis Black On Fox News and Black Friday

Lewis Black On Fox News and Black Friday

The above clip of Lewis Black on Black Friday exposes the absurdity of Fox News.  Apparently Fox News is coming down hard on workers that want off on Thanksgiving, but not on corporate stores that are forced to be open…

One day I hope that those that support the Republican Party, who aren’t rich, will wake up and see how it in no way, shape, or form represents the average American.

Life is an Opera

“I will participate in the game. It is a wonderful, wonderful opera — except that it hurts.” – Joseph Campbell

Life is an opera.  This is post number 1,000 since I began this blog in August of 2013.  Whether performing music or writing here, I am constantly aware of the absurdity in doing.  When I get on a stage, whether it is real or in the mind through writing, I am constantly aware of the ridiculousness of the situation.  Although I can’t say that it is a constant feeling, there is always a moment when things become surreal.  Why is it that people like to drink and stare at other people bopping around making strange noises on instruments?  Why does anyone want to hear some thought that I have at 1am on a Tuesday when there are so many other people out there with thoughts, many who are way smarter than I?

It is so easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of doubt.  If you look at most situations, there is some absurd element in them.  I think it is good to always keep those thoughts in one’s mind.  If you don’t you run the risk of getting untethered from reality with an ever expanding ego.

But again, life is an opera.  One can either choose to be a part of the game of life or to retreat from it.  Both options have an element of the comic in them.  There are an infinite number of ways one can participate in life.  Whether you are teaching college students or cleaning streets you are doing something of value to other people.  And if you do participate there is only one real reason to do so:  “To help each other get through this thing, whatever it is”, as Kurt Vonnegut said.

For myself, music and writing have brought me great sanity and comfort.  They are my passions, so I hope they bring something to someone somewhere down the line.  I have spent an incredible amount of time with books and records.  I hope to share a little bit of the things that have kept me going so that maybe others too might find some value in them and keep going as well.  I have no idea if it is any more of an important thing to do than someone who keeps the streets clean, someone whose work is measurable in real quantitative means, but it is what I’m into.  I’m just wired this way, an accident of birth and circumstance.

It is only through others that we have any idea of value.  I know that other’s words and songs have kept me alive, those souls I will forever be indebted to.  Those of you that keep coming back here, or show up at the shows I play, are the reason I keep doing this, that make me think that maybe all is not for naught.  The great comedy of life keeps spinning.  I’m forever grateful for getting to share little bits of it with you, for awhile anyway…

- Jeff

Russell Brand Interview

Russell Brand Interview

I found this interview with Russell Brand from Salon very interesting.  That’s not to say that my reposting of it is a rubber stamp for everything he says, but I do find him to be intelligent.  He is willing to look beneath the surface of our, and England’s, national bullshit story.  A sample:

Why do you think it is that your message can get applause on the Letterman show — which is probably American tourists from all over the country — and yet the revolution that we have had most recently is a Tea Party revolution, that essentially started with CNBC and a talking head who was outraged that homeowners were getting bailed out. He blamed all the wrong people, and we’ve not exactly had the equivalent revolutionary movement on the left.

I think I understand. Could I borrow your paper? (starts drawing) I think it’s because of the way the energy must move. I think it’s selfishness. Say that Republicans run on selfishness and greed — which is in all of us — I think the way that that energy travels is fast and in short journeys. I think altruism might have a longer journey. I think it might move more slowly. So I think if you’re trying to fire people up on this sort of fear circuit – these ancient systems of anatomical survival, of selfishness and greed, they’ve been functioning for a long, long time. Now we have a culture that is predicated on those things. We’ve acculturated aspects of our nature that are required only for our survival. And if they are overstimulated, fear and desire create a kind of primeval prison.

So I think why it’s easier to get a Tea Party message, a Republican message, across is because they function on fear and desire. These are fast-moving circuits. It’s very hard for me to motivate myself to meditate and do yoga. It’s very easy to motivate myself to eat chocolate or pursue attractive women. There is a lot of fire for those things. So I suppose what we have to do is look at the methods of communication. That’s why I have to go on “Today.” That’s why I have to talk a certain way. That’s why, I suppose, I haven’t yet left, entirely, this aquarium or arena. Because it’s not time yet.