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THE DEVIL, YOU SAY? NO WAY : AC/DC's Message: Rebellion, Not Satan Worship

September 08, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

The guitarist was bouncing his brother's 2-year-old daughter on his lap and extolling the values of a nutritious diet the night we chatted backstage in Salt Lake City in 1982.

The innocence of that scene is in contrast to the hell-raising image of this musician and his band. He's Angus Young and his Australian band is AC/DC, which has come into sudden celebrity with the Night Stalker case.

I went to Salt Lake City three years ago to see Young because parents already were concerned about satanic references in the group's lyrics and about its gory album covers. Now, many parents may even be more anxious about the hours their teen-agers spend listening to raucous heavy-metal bands like AC/DC.

A high school chum of Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker suspect charged with multiple counts of murder and mayhem, told reporters in El Paso last week that Ramirez was obsessed with "Night Prowler," a track on AC/DC's 1979 "Highway to Hell" album. The news reports even suggested that AC/DC stands for "Anti-Christ/Devil's Children."

Most of us who enjoy rock long ago laughed off as nonsense charges that AC/DC and other heavy-metal bands were into things like devil worship. It seemed like something out of the Dark Ages when fundamentalist religious groups began burning albums, and that whole "backward masking" business (corrupting messages supposedly audible if you play the record backward) was just crazy.

In view of the tragic Night Stalker case, however, someone is bound to begin thinking: Could there . . . just possibly . . . be some truth in all this talk about devil worship?

Somewhere, some night . . . a freaked-out parent will probably even think about his son's fascination with this music and lock his own bedroom door before turning out the light.

You won't find people at AC/DC's shows wandering around in hooded robes and sacrificing small animals. You'll probably just see 10,000 kids having a good time. In the Salt Lake City show, the most outrageous gesture was guitarist Young mooning the audience.

The mood at some heavy-metal shows is built around grim, humorless aggression, but that's not true of AC/DC. Lead singer Brian Johnson opened the show on the 1982 tour by striking a massive bell with a sledgehammer.

That introduced "Hell's Bells," a song about youthful bravado, complete with such chest-thumping lines as, "If good's on the left, then I'll stick to the right." The message is rebellion, not devil worship.

Young, who is barely over five feet tall and wears Aussie schoolboy short pants on stage, looks ridiculously out of place in the macho world of heavy metal.

Though less theatrical than Alice Cooper or Kiss, AC/DC employs the forbidden 'n' fright themes and symbols that have been a teasing part for years of escapist, youth-oriented films and horror-comics.

Beware: If you want to see AC/DC for yourself (they'll be at the Forum and the Pacific Amphitheatre next month), be prepared to pay the price. Even with plugs, your ears will ring for days. That excessive noise is the real inspiration for the group's name. Young took the name off the electrical warning plate on the back of a vacuum cleaner. He wanted something that suggested power .

Parents today look back with amusement at how their folks came positively unglued over Elvis Presley's singing "One Night" or the Rolling Stones' invitation to "spend the night together." They also smile at how their parents warned against blood-splattered movies like "Psycho." That stuff is so tame by today's standards.

The relentless, head-banging heavy metal of today is often dreadful, dumb in design, violent and scary in its imagery. But it's preposterous that anybody would believe that AC/DC is an instrument of Satan.

Parents are only one side of this matter. This may sound cynical, but I guarantee that hundreds of heavy-metal musicians were thinking the same thing after reading news reports of AC/DC being the favorite group of the accused Night Stalker: How can we cash in on this publicity?

Many managers and musicians would certainly welcome the name of the guy who came up with that line about "Anti-Christ/Devil's Children." Bands pay publicists thousands of dollars and aren't delivered slogans that catchy.

If this sort of opportunism outrages you, you are missing the point. These managers and musicians aren't macabre; they're businessmen in a field where success is often based on how much you can rattle parents. They know that notoriety a la AC/DC can mean millions.

In looking for quick answers to complex problems, the media and public often seize on any quirk to explain behavior. Everything from diet to TV shows, movies to traffic congestion, has been blamed over the years for violent crimes.

The wisest thing we can do as parents is to maintain a dialogue with our children. The stronger a foundation youngsters have, the better they are equipped to deal with life's temptations. Just as today's parents made it past Elvis and the Stones with the right support, so will today's kids make it past AC/DC.

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