Friday, September 06, 2013

It is a long way to the top if you wanna rock 'n' roll. And it doesn't include Mark Evans.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“I started to sense all was not well with me and the band. It was like the old story about a poker game: if you can't work out who the sucker is after the first few hands, well, it's probably you.”

Mark Evans
, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC

I'm wracking my brains, trying to locate my motivation for reading — and finishing — this book. I thought I was pretty much through with rock 'n' roll memoirs. Anyone who's read a few knows they are all remarkable — until they aren't. There is usually a point in these books when it becomes clear to the reader that the ego behind the words has ballooned into a state that no longer recognizes the common parameters of human existence. They remain savvy enough about commerce (particularly when it comes to selling themselves) but have lost perspective on just about everything else.

Mark Evans' story is somewhat distinctive: he got in on the ground floor of AC/DC, shortly after Bon Scott took over as singer/lyricist, just as the Young brothers' “experimental phase” was winding down and their “formula to success” phase was winding up. Evans picked up the bass and, together with Malcolm Young and drummer Phil Rudd, held down the low end while Angus and Bon did all the jumping around — in countless dodgy venues, all over Australia, then eventually in Europe.

The sound and the show generated international acclaim and success — everywhere but in the U.S. The plan was to book a studio and throw everything they had at the reel-to-reel, then hit American shores and tour the album until the wheels fell off the bus. There was just one order of business the band wanted to take care of first: shit-can Evans, and send him home.

So Evans returned to Australia, holding down the corner table of his favourite pub in the hardscrabble neighbourhood of his youth, while Highway To Hell shot his now-former mates to global rock star status.

There were, naturally, legal battles that ensued, during which Evans kept mum about his time and dealings with the band. Rock journalists looking for insight into those years had to content themselves with interviews with friends and roadies, one of whom summed up the scene as, “Mark was too nice a guy to survive that lot.”

The book goes some distance to confirm that observation. With an out of court settlement behind him, Evans emerges with typical Australian candour. He manages to be both blunt and magnanimous, self-effacing and rowdy, even into his senior years. He's frank about his errors in judgement, including a lengthy scene when he went too far taking the piss out of Angus. Evans doesn't seem to hold any grudges, though — he gives it up to Cliff Williams for holding down his former job for over 30 years, and shrugs with modest disappointment at being recused from the band's induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Far and away the most moving segments of Evans' memoir are its bookends: a near-Dickensian childhood marked by deprivation and heartbreak; and the late-in-life death of his first-born, so many years after Evans had settled down into a mostly “normal” life.

As for the middle, well, it's a rock memoir. There is Dionysian excess, to be sure, but in the wake of mind-boggling (and stomach churning) revelations like The Dirt or The Long Road Out Of Hell, Evans' “booze and birds” recollections are quite prim. As for the other band members, Bon remains something of a cipher, albeit of the Advanced Alcoholic variety. Drummer Phil Rudd comes across as an introvert who toed a fine line around the Young brothers. And no wonder: when it comes to near-feral control of an entertainment property, the Youngs put Col. Tom Parker to shame. Anyone outside their extended family skates on very thin ice indeed.*

Evans learned this lesson the hard way, which is really the final word on his experience with that group. That he's able to relate it with such charm and good humour is Evans' own final testament — and the critical element that kept me reading to conclusion.

*Witness current singer Brian Johnson's “memoir,” a book not about music, but about cars.

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