The infamous Australian heavy-metal band AC/DC was given the kind of welcome last week in Springfield, Ill., that is usually reserved for plague carriers.
The City Council didn't want the band to play a scheduled concert. The council didn't even want the band in town. Its members were forced to find lodging in nearby St. Louis.
Many adults have long considered AC/DC, which is appearing Friday at the Inglewood Forum and Oct. 21 at the Pacific Amphitheatre, to be a bad influence on young fans. The band's opponents are appalled at the sexually suggestive lyrics in songs like "Dirty Deeds Done Cheap," "Let Me Put My Love Into You" and "Let's Get It Up."
But the group has really been under fire since last month's arrest of Richard Ramirez, the suspected Night Stalker. Ramirez is reportedly a big AC/DC fan and his friends have been quoted as saying that he's a passionate fan of the group's "Highway to Hell" album. According to police, the Stalker left an AC/DC hat at the scene of a crime.
AC/DC initially declared "no comment" when asked by the press for reaction to the Night Stalker controversy. But the band is now fighting back.
About the Springfield City Council attempt to stop the group, AC/DC guitarist Angus Young said, "They're the ones who were breaking the law. We're protected by the First Amendment, which supports freedom of speech. After the council banned the show, we had to spend a week with all the legal hassles of getting the show back on.
"These people are so high and mighty. You know what's ridiculous? Right behind the concert hall are brothels and massage parlors. And they say we're contaminating their town. They should be cleaning up their town instead of picking on us."
AC/DC did finally play Springfield. According to Young, about 5,000 showed up at the 8,000-seat hall: "After the hassles were over there were only three days to let kids know the show was still on."
Young hopes the Springfield incident isn't duplicated in other cities on the tour, but won't be surprised if it is. He snapped, "When is all this going to stop? We're not doing anything illegal. We don't have any evil intentions. Yet people are attacking our freedom to say what we want to say.
"These people live in the dark. If they think their kids are going to be harmed by what they see at our shows then they should just keep the kids home. But don't try to stop the whole show." Young added, "This is the 20th Century, not the Spanish Inquisition."
In Los Angeles, reaction has been mixed. Usually controversy is good for ticket sales, but apparently not in this tour.
"It hasn't added or detracted from the box office," said Brian Murphy of Avalon Attractions, the promoter of the Forum show. He said he expects a sellout at the Forum. According to sources, the tickets for the Pacific Amphitheater show--a hard sell for a heavy metal band--are selling very slowly.
Murphy added that he does, however, suspect some official nervousness over the band. "Radio stations usually want to be associated with a concert like this, but so far no stations have wanted to (co-sponsor the date)," Murphy said. "But that should change next week."
Another thing happened. "At The (Los Angeles) Times, the advertising department wanted to see our ad a day ahead of time," he said. "They wanted to make sure there wasn't anything excessively violent in it. But the ad is very tame so they OK'd it." (A spokesman for The Times' advertising department confirmed Murphy's story.)
AC/DC's music--basically deafening, party-time, three-chord rock--comes across as tongue-in-cheek, almost cartoonish. There's nothing sinister about it. If anything, it's a sendup of heavy-metal sinisterness.
Young pointed out how people constantly misinterpret their material. In defense of "Highway to Hell," he pointed out: "It has nothing to do with devil worship. We toured for four years at a stretch with no break. A guy asked how would you best describe our tours. We said: 'A highway to hell.' The phrase stuck with us."
Another song, "Hell Ain't a Bad Place to Be"--from the "Let There Be Rock" album--also supposedly indicates the band's satanic leanings.
"That song is a joke," Young countered. "We're saying if you've got your choice between heaven and hell, you might pick hell. In heaven you have harp music and in hell there's a good rocking band and rocking songs. That's what we'd chose. So hell ain't a bad place to be. It's all in fun.
"What happened to people's sense of humor? We're kidding. We're more of a tease than anything. We're more like naughty little boys, not out-and-out villains."
On stage the diminutive Young, always in a schoolboy uniform of short pants and blazer, does look like an overgrown kid. He acts like it too--he's famous for baring his posterior during the show.
"We're not saints but we're not sinners either," he continued. "We like a bit of fun. We're not criminals. We don't get on stage with a bag of cocaine and say: 'Let's party.' "
AC/DC was formed 12 years ago in Australia and the name--despite whatever you may hear--was chosen to represent electric power. Insisted Young: "The name has nothing to do with anti-Christ or bisexuality."
About five years ago, AC/DC was one of the world's most popular rock bands. It has slipped since then. The band's 1980 album, "Back in Black," sold 5 million copies in the U.S. The next studio album, "Flick of the Switch" (1983), didn't reach the million mark. The most recent AC/DC album, released last June, has sold just over 500,000.
Some in the industry are even referring to AC/DC as a dinosaur band at a time when young heavy-metal upstarts like Ratt, Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister and Motley Crue are ruling the roost.
The AC/DC sales slump is related to the fan turnover that plagues most veteran bands. Longtime fans tire of a group's music and find new favorites. The key to maintaining popularity is attracting new fans. Apparently, AC/DC hasn't been generating a fresh supply of new fans.
But that's not entirely the band's fault. It's hard to develop new fans without air play. Radio has generally turned up its nose at AC/DC, which also includes Young's brother, Malcolm (rhythm guitar), Cliff Williams (bass), Simon Wright (drums) and lead singer Brian Johnson.
"We know stations get requests for our music," Young said. "But a lot of stations refuse to play it. They say, 'We know kids like it but we don't want that audience.'
"In a lot of cases it's a fear of losing advertising. Stations play it safe in their programming. They don't want to play anything controversial. That means they don't play AC/DC."
To quiet all the criticism, will AC/DC tone down its music on the next album? "We don't intend to," Young replied. "We're not going to put out something totally bland just to avoid being hassled. But I have a feeling now it doesn't matter what we do. If we sang about flowers and trees, people would find something in the song to connect us to Satan or other negative things."