After nearly every sentence he utters, Angus Young lets out an unforgettable sound: an irrepressible, raspy giggle, scorched by a million cigarettes. “The name is Young,” says AC/DC‘s elfin lead guitarist, explaining the wellspring of stamina that has kept the Aussie band going for almost thirty years. “The hair may go and the teeth may go,” he says, another giggle threatening to erupt. “But it’s a small sacrifice for the aural excitement.”
At forty-six, Young is a rock & roll Peter Pan, kept youthful by slipping into a schoolboy uniform and flailing at his guitar. AC/DC’s crusade to prove that rock & roll ain’t noise pollution has had them touring the world for most of the past year, and they are currently finishing up a spate of U.S. dates with Slash’s Snakepit and Buckcherry.
When you put on your schoolboy uniform nowadays, does it feel like you’re putting on a costume?
No – when I put it on, I’m looking forward to going out there and playing my guitar again. Every time I put it on, I go, “Whoopee, I’m still going out there to hustle my wares.”
Back in the day, when you’d drop your drawers onstage, you didn’t have boxers on underneath. Why did you start covering up?
It got to the point where every time you’d arrive somewhere, you were meeting the city police chief. And I just got sick of the speech. I don’t know how many bands I saw who would try to wreck a hotel room, but I never wrecked a hotel room in my life! If I’m gonna sit there and throw a TV out the window . . . if it’s a good TV, maybe I should just take it home.
It’s like the idea that AC/DC was somehow satanic. It didn’t really have any connection to what the band was doing, did it?
It was all invented at the time. It has always been good party music. Music that you didn’t really have to think about and say, “These guys have got a message.” There was no message. It’s not like we were out there social-reforming or something.
It’s almost beyond your control how people interpret your music, isn’t it?
You can’t control it. You meet very smart people, and they look at you and go, “These are five suburban dummies.” And then other people go, “There’s a mystery to this. They must have some brainpower going on behind there.” But you can only take it in stride if somebody looks at it and goes, “It’s another piece of white trash that’s grown on us.”
Do you guys feel like survivors?
I’ve always looked at it as a twelve-step-program rock & roll band: each day at a time. I mean, here I am, I’m now middle-fortyish. And I go, “Well, I’m still putting on that school suit, and I’m still getting out there and plucking my geee-tar.” Some people – you critics, I suppose – could go, “Here comes that fool again in the shorts.”
We always knew that if we were playing the bare-bones rock & roll, it’d be a long haul. Because even in the beginning, rock & roll seemed to be the unmentionable word. People would go, “Bah, just another rock & roll band” [laughs]. I suppose we’re making conversions along the way. Our church is blossoming!
What do you listen to, to get your toes tapping?
I plug into a lot of old rock & roll. Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis – I love all that stuff. In fact, if I get a chance and I’m on my way to a gig, I’ll put one of their tapes on, because they’re good vibe-meters and I still get off on them.
You listen to a lot of blues, I’m told.
Yeah. And I’m lucky that now there’s a saturation of blues music released on CD, because I’m a big fan of that stuff. I got a chance to sit and say hello to Buddy Guy once in L.A. I was dumb. I couldn’t open my mouth. Because we grew up in Australia, to find information about a lot of blues guys I used to go to the library and find the jazz magazines. They didn’t even sell them at the time in news agents and stuff. So I’d go into the library and read all about where these people were playing, like Muddy Waters and Elmore James. To me, meeting Buddy Guy was like meeting a piece of history. That’s why I was just standing there quiet. I thought, “I don’t want to upset any ear space whatsoever.”
Do you guys socialize with each other much on tour?
Depends what you consider social. Some people go, “Eh, here comes five hardened veteran cigarette smokers.” When you see us, we’re all sitting in a room surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke, and not many people want to socialize with you. They go, “Best to leave the animals alone.”
I heard you used to lose three pounds during every show you’d play. Still true?
That’s a lot of money! [Laughs] That was a cheap one. But I do lose a bit of weight after a tour. I could recommend it for any girls out there looking to lose those love handles.
It’s the Angus Young diet. Run around in a velvet schoolboy uniform for ninety minutes every night for eighteen months.
Yup. Or you could go for the Keith Richards workout. A couple of bottles of bourbon and wash it down with a pack of cigarettes.
I see an instructional video in your future.
That’s right. “Jane and Ang’s Workout.”
That would be a different kind of tape.
It certainly would be.
This story is from the May 24th, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.