The first time I heard AC/DC, original singer Bon Scott had been dead for more than a year, and I had no idea. Hell, I had no idea the guy singing "Highway to Hell" wasn't the same guy singing "Back in Black" for longer than I'd care to acknowledge. Nevertheless, the song "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" proved to be my gateway song and, within a few years, I owned everything AC/DC ever released.
I'm not entirely sure why I chose AC/DC as my band, but considering they're all now in their 60s and still selling out stadiums, I was hardly an iconoclast. When you're all of 11 years old, your tastes in everything—food, film, music—are completely unrefined, and AC/DC catered to a preteen boy's most basic pleasures. Every song was about girls, rock or hell. Throw in some killer riffs, cannons and puerile double-entendres, and you had it all.
I was Angus Young and Brian Johnson. In my cousin's bedroom, "Back in Black" blaring on the turntable, we'd alternate: on "Shoot to Thrill," I'd be Angus, shredding on a black Donnay Borg Pro tennis racquet, my body-bobbing gyrations cribbed from the few AC/DC videos I'd seen on MTV. On "Hells Bells" I was Brian, lip-synching into my fist, often phonetically because the lyrics weren't available back then and, therefore, a matter of opinion. I'd sweat a lot too, which only helped authenticate the performance because I'd once read Angus lost 15 pounds in water weight during every show.
In 5th grade, I was Brian during an air-guitar contest where four friends and I performed "You Shook Me All Night Long." I made certain everyone stayed completely in character, which meant the guys playing rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young and bassist Cliff Williams dared not move their feet. Today I tell people we won but, in reality, we didn't finish in the money. I still think about how that performance could've been better.
I'm embarrassed to say I didn't see AC/DC perform live until 1996, touring behind arguably their worst album ever, "Ballbreaker." I've seen them a handful of times since, but never imagined that one of those times would be with my son. Who figured AC/DC would still be touring more than 40 years after they formed? And why would any 9-year-old give a shit about AC/DC in 2015? It'd be like me idolizing Perry Como in 1981.
So here I was accompanying Braden to his very first concert, AC/DC at Wrigley Field. When we got inside, I held his hand tightly as the swelling tide of the crowd guided us toward our floor seats in shallow left field. As we passed the stage, hardcore fans screamed with joy as a guitar tech tuned up Angus's Gibson SG.
"Is that them?" Braden asked anxiously.
"No, don't worry," I said and smiled. "You'll know when they're on."
When we got to our seats that I knew we'd never sit in, I perched him up on top of his chair, which put us at about eye level. We took a few selfies, and then Braden wanted ice cream. I told him we'd pick a good song to get it.
AC/DC pretty much plays the same songs every night, and has for virtually every tour since (and probably before) Scott died. It's always three songs from the new album, half of "Back in Black" and the rest culled from the pre-80s Bon Scott era. Knowing it in advance gave me intel on when the "bathroom break and buying ice cream new songs from 'Rock or Bust'" were coming.
Finally, the lights went down and the crowd roared with approval. The anthemic din of AC/DC's intro music filled the open air and devilish red lights decorated the stage.
"You ready?" I asked, beaming.
He could only nod, clearly on sensory overload.
And then the band appeared and launched into the opening riff of "Rock or Bust." It mattered little to me, my son or anyone at Wrigley that this new song wasn't one of their strongest. That's the beauty of the opener—any song will do.
I didn't know who to watch, the band or my son, his face thunderstruck with the type of elation you only get for special firsts. Most songs he knew, and some quite well, especially the one that started it all for me, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."
When "Hells Bells" ended I knew "Baptism by Fire" was next. Braden was now standing on a chair in the row directly in front of me. He was abducted amiably by a super high and drunk guy who kept fist-bumping us both, and apologized to me repeatedly for the plume of weed that I was prepared to tell my son was pyrotechnics should he ask.
I put my hands on Braden's shoulders and screamed into his ear-plugged ear: "Ice cream?"
He shook his head no.
The same child I have to ply with cotton candy and Cracker Jacks to keep him at this venue for a Cubs game for three innings now wouldn't budge—even during "Baptism by Fire." That's devotion. That and baseball games are really boring.
During the encore "For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)" we made our way toward the exit to beat the crowd; it was, after all, a school night. Before leaving, and still well within periphery of the stage, I lifted him on my shoulders so he could see the cannons do their 21-gun salute. It occurred to me later that Brian used to lift Angus on his shoulders in concert, but that was a long, long time ago.
I remember asking Braden months earlier if he wanted to see the cannons fire during the song on YouTube, and he quickly demurred, not wanting to spoil the moment. With my son on my shoulders, Brian caterwauling orders to "pick up your balls and load up your cannons," it was clear he'd made the right call. And so had I, a long, long time ago.