AC/DC Biographer Jesse Fink on ‘The Youngs,’ Overcoming Hardships Through Music + More
AC/DC biographer Jesse Fink has been all over the media lately with his new book, ‘The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC.’ Fink’s assertion that he’s not expecting ailing AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young to return to the band went viral a few weeks ago, but there’s more to Fink than simple predictions. Already a seasoned journalist and writer, Fink credits the music of AC/DC as the catalyst which possibly saved his life.
Fink already explained to us exactly why he doesn’t expect Malcolm Young to return, but in our full interview with the Australian writer, he describes his rise in the field of journalism, discovering the power of AC/DC’s music while at his lowest point in life, tracking down long lost AC/DC members and much more. Enjoy our chat with Jesse Fink below!
Tell me about your past. What inspired you to take up journalism?
When I was growing up here in Sydney, I was actually more of a cartoonist, more inclined to a career in art. That was kind of my skill. And then, I watched, I think it was Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ one night when I was about 15 years old and that movie blew me away, and he was a writer in the film. After seeing that film, I wanted to be a writer. And just started working on my writing, and I went in and did a journalism degree, and of course, when I came out of [the university] I couldn’t get a job. I was unemployed for a few years, then I got a break editing books. I was an editor at HarperCollins for about five years. I was working on some fairly significant books — big biographies, big political biographies — I got a real insight into how to write books, certainly, as part of that job. It involved me sometimes rewriting manuscripts for celebrities and I rewrote one manuscript for this guy that ended up being a best-seller. I felt like I had a lot to do with its success, and I asked for a pay raise and didn’t get it. I was sort of disgusted and ended up leaving publishing altogether for that reason. I fell into sports journalism.
Covering sports, you definitely were a part of some very successful books.
Yeah, it’s a strange story. I went over to this magazine called Inside Sport, which was the Australian version of Sports Illustrated, and was deputy editor there for a few years. It was really a fantastic way of honing my writing skills. I had opportunities to write really long pieces. I got nominated for a Walkley, which is kind of the Australian version of the Pulitzer.
I went on a junket to Germany in 2005 for the Confederations Cup, which is the curtain-raiser for the FIFA world cup, and I just met a guy from Fox Sports, an executive producer over there, and we got really drunk in this night club in Hamburg, I think it was, and he said, “When we get back to Australia, do you want to write a column for me about soccer?” And I did. I left the magazine job, and I started writing for Fox Sports, and it was just a blog called ‘Halftime Orange,’ and it just became really successful. And I ended up leaving FOX and I went to another network called SBS.
Before I knew it, my blogs were like the most read football columns online in the country, so I wrote a book about Australia at the 2006 World Cup, which is my first book, it was called ’15 Days in June.’ To cut a long story short, when the book came out, two weeks before my launch, my wife walked out on me.
Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah, it was really bittersweet moment for me because, obviously, I was very proud that I’d written my first book, but inside I was falling apart, so that was a really tough period. If you look at my career, I wrote my first book in 2007 and the second one in 2012, so those five years were just incredibly traumatic. It took a long time for me to get over that divorce, and the circumstances of how it all ended. I was getting a bit sick of sports writing, and sort of went up to a local pub here in Sydney called the Darlo Bar in Darlinghurst. I just sort of sat down, ordered a glass of wine and started writing about how it felt when she left and what it feels like to be divorced, and this story ended up in Marie Claire magazine.
It was just an 800-word story, but it got this fantastic response and out of that story, I got a book deal to write a memoir of my divorce called ‘Laid Bare,’ which is a brutally honest account of a breakup and what men go through in divorce. It’s been very successful here in Australia, it’s been great. But, you know, getting back to ‘The Youngs,’ the beginning of ‘The Youngs’ really comes out of ‘Laid Bare.’
The beginning of ‘The Youngs’ is about the moment that I started having this personal connection to AC/DC’s music and understanding AC/DC’s music. I was home alone one night here in my flat here in Sydney. I’m sorting black socks on the end of my bed at 2 o’clock on a Saturday morning and thinking, “Christ, how did I go from having a home with a white picket fence and a dog and a beautiful wife, and a child, you know, a nuclear family, to getting to this point where I’m in this terrible flat, sorting black socks, and I’ve got no one in my life. My sportswriting career had finished at that point, I was pretty down on myself and almost suicidal. I had been at that point a number of times during that break-up, I can tell you, when you’ve been married to someone for 10 years and they’re the center of your life and it ends really badly, it’s something that takes a long time to recover from. You know, instead of sort of doing something stupid I just happened to open my laptop and put it on ‘Powerage’ and ‘Gimme a Bullet’ came on.
It was like this amazing bolt of electricity just went through me. The Youngs’ guitars in that song are just incredible. It’s an amazing song even without a solo, but it just builds and builds and builds, and it’s just this pure power. Of course, Bon is talking about his heartache over a woman he can’t have, and for me it was kind of like, this guy’s reading my mind, he’s kind of singing about my own life. And it was just this moment of epiphany really, and it was like, I get it. I understand AC/DC. I think it really kind of saved my life that night.
The next day I immediately got all the AC/DC albums on my iPod, and I went out for a jog, and I went to the gym, and I really just got stuck into AC/DC, and I loved it. And I just found that the music, the power of the music was helping me through, it’s this really kind of critical moment in my life where I needed some help, and it wasn’t an antidepressant that did it, it was AC/DC.
What’s been really interesting is how many people have read the book and they’ve read the opening authors note, which talks about my experience and, I’ve got to tell you, I was a bit concerned when I first handed the manuscript in, I thought, “Is this indulgent to talk about this? Do fans really care about my own story regarding AC/DC?” But all these people, who were war veterans, or people who were going through separations or divorces; or drug addicts, or people who were just lonely, they’d come to me and said, “When I read that authors note, it’s like you were writing about my own life, and I just wanted to tell you that you’re not alone. AC/DC is the most important thing in my life, and AC/DC gets me through the day.”
I do think this is why AC/DC is the biggest band in the world. I just hadn’t seen a band that can have that kind of appeal that AC/DC has. Just in the course of doing research, I found this photo of a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas who had an AC/DC t-shirt under his robe. That’s pretty amazing.
Beyond your personal story, from all your interviews and research for the book, whose perspective would you say influenced the book the most?
I had a lot of time for Mark [Evans, bass 1975-1977]. I think he’s a really sweet guy. And I do think his departure was pretty hard on Mark. I think the fact that he never got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is really quite appalling. If there’s any justice in this world, they will look back on that decision and they will reconsider it.
Obviously, he told me this story about Bon [Scott] having this alleged heroin overdose in ’75, and the thing that hadn’t come out before was the fact that the Young brothers, according to Mark, had considering sacking him.
Because of the drug issue?
Because of that incident, yeah. So that’s discussed in the book. The other story that really kind of inspired me and certainly motivated me to dedicate the book to the guy was Tony Currenti, who was the drummer on ‘High Voltage,’ their first album. Tony is this fantastic guy who runs a pizzeria in Sydney, and he looks like Al Delvecchio from ‘Happy Days,’ he’s that sort of guy. He’s not a guy in a million years you would expect had played for AC/DC. Tony never really got credit on anything, he got $35 per hour for his session work over four nights back in ’75, but his drumming appears on a bunch of AC/DC records, including ‘High Voltage,’ the U.S. release, and ’74 Jailbreak.’
Tony’s story had never been told, and you go through all the other AC/DC books and he gets a mention, or he gets his name misspelled, or whatever. It’s like, I’ve got to do more for this guy, I got to seek him out and get his story, and to be honest with you, when I did get in touch with him, I didn’t really expect that there was going to be that much to the story, but I went out to his pizzeria and sat down and had a coffee with him, and he just told me this incredible story about coming out from Sicily when he was 16 years old, not knowing much English at all, learning how to play drums by bashing his accordion with spoons and breaking chairs in his mothers kitchen. And he just happens to fall into a band while he’s walking down one of the main streets in Sydney, and he hears this band playing in a church hall and he asks to audition and he gets the job, and suddenly he finds himself gigging, and then suddenly he finds himself in the studio.
Tony hadn’t touched his drum kit for four decades. He just put his sticks down. And this book, and him getting in touch with AC/DC fans around the world who’ve read the book, and the generosity shown to him by so many people, that’s kind of inspired him to sort of take up drumming again. A bunch of us got together through Facebook and we all chipped in and we bought him a new set of drums. And, because his old set that he recorded ‘High Voltage’ on was in disrepair. And so we had a guy, Rusty Hopkinson from You Am I, get in touch with some people that he knew, and we ended up getting a really good price on a new set of Pearl drums, and we gave them to Tony as a surprise. And so Tony then started rehearsing again and he’s going to play here in November, he’s going to do all the songs on ‘High Voltage’ with a band here called Let There Be Bon.
It was just inspirational stuff. And he got in touch with me just the other day, and said, “Thanks to this whole experience, I’ve found this new lease on life and I feel fantastic.” So that’s been great, just developing this really good friendship with a guy I consider to be an important rock figure.