I am very happy to welcome crime writer Thomas Pluck to Pulp Curry this week. He’s got a new crime novel out called Bad Boy Boogie. He’s based in New Jersey but is also a massive – and I mean massive – fan of the iconic Australia rock band, AC/DC. You reckon the book and the band aren’t connected? You reckon wrong.
I’ll let Thomas explain.
I remember first hearing the snarl of Bon Scott’s voice on the radio in my grandmother’s basement. I promptly wrote “Dirty Deeds – Done Dirt Cheap” on a scrap of lumber and put out my shingle on her desk, waiting for clients who needed whatever help a nine-year-old raised on Encyclopedia Brown could offer.
I didn’t get to give anyone concrete shoes or use TNT. I think my sister hired me to find her imaginary dog. But AC/DC stuck with me. They sounded like no other rock band I’d heard before. And I wasn’t totally sheltered. My uncle ran bars in Manhattan and the jukebox service was mob controlled, so you played what records they gave you and when they swapped them out, he came home with shoeboxes of KISS, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, Wings, and Steve Wonder.
But no AC/DC.
I wouldn’t hear much of them again until high school, when I had my own money from delivering papers and occasionally working off the books on construction sites. I didn’t have any trouble with the high school head, but I read a lot of Stephen King, a fellow AC/DC fan, and bought everything I could of theirs from the local record store: Dirty Deeds. Highway to Hell. High Voltage. Powerage. Let There Be Rock. Back in Black. Flick of the Switch. I even found a rare import of TNT, which hadn’t been released in the States. And we spun those records until the grooves wore out.
The outlaw edge that Bon Scott, Phil Rudd, and the Young brothers brought was like none other, except maybe Thin Lizzy. That rock ‘n roll spirit of rebellion is long gone. It was the zeitgeist of the seventies, a soundtrack for movies like Crazy Mary Dirty Larry, Vanishing Point, and Billy Jack. Rock bought into white line fever and punk took over not long after.
My favorite AC/DC songs work like noir tales, just like a Springsteen song could be a one act play by Sam Shepard or a story by Richard Price. My favorite two AC/DC albums are Powerage and Flick of the Switch. Now I’m not trying to be an ‘obscurist’ like a snobby music reviewer who can’t enjoy popular songs. I listen to ‘Dirty Deeds’ and ‘Hell’s Bells’ as much as I do deep tracks like ‘Down Payment Blues’ and ‘Guns for Hire’. But the storyteller in me likes a story, and here are a few Bon spun us before death by misadventure took him from us at a far too young age.
Bad Boy Boogie. A song I love so much that I named my upcoming novel, the first in the Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller series, after it. It’s every rebellious young man’s scream for freedom from the backward little town that wants to fence him in. A perfect anthem for Jay’s story, returning home from prison after 25 years, to a harsh and unwelcoming town that wishes he’d never been born:
‘Down Payment Blues’ is much more down & dirty noir. Bon’s a rock star who’s got a Cadillac and can’t afford the gasoline, but it could be a hand-to-mouth thief doing the talking, who’s stolen a slick black Caddy and sees the needle tapping E, spinning the cylinder of his revolver, knowing it’s time to make some green.
‘Sin City’ predates Frank Miller’s take by twenty years and paints a garish and cold town in rock ‘n roll red. The undying hope of the degenerate gambler rolling those loaded dice, this might as well be hell.
‘Jailbreak’ is pretty straightforward tale that could be the aftermath of ‘Hey Joe’ by Hendrix. It’s rough and raw and Angus’s guitar plays gun shot sound effects.
‘Cold Hearted Man’ is an old “new” song that I didn’t hear until the “Bonfire” box set came out a few years back, and it’s a lost classic. It was used to great effect in Iron Man 2 when introducing Whiplash, and the story in it is supposedly based on a real ice-cold fellow Bon knew from parties, a man named Leroy Kincaid, an orphan with a chip on his shoulder looking to take out his pain on anyone unlucky enough to raise his temper.
‘Night Prowler’ is probably the most infamous of AC/DC’s songs because a serial killer took his name from it. Richard Ramirez, a torture killer who murdered young women in Los Angeles, called himself the “Night Prowler” after this song. It’s full of double entendre, and like any song embraced by a psychopath (Helter Skelter, anyone?) Ramirez was hearing things only he heard. However, it’s the last song recorded by Bon Scott, and if you listen carefully, he leaves us a message after the fade: “Shazbot! Nannoo Nannoo.” Looks like Bon was a fan of Mork & Mindy. So was I, back then. He wasn’t all tough guy, he liked a good laugh, as evidenced in some of his lyrics (‘Big Balls’? ‘She’s Got Balls’? Or ‘Crabsody in Blue’?)
‘Nervous Shakedown’ is from Flick of the Switch, a hard-driving album from 1981 that flopped (at least in the States). It’s too bad, there’s barely a bad song on it. Deep in the Hole gets old quick, but the energy just never quits, from ‘Rising Power’ to ‘Bedlam in Belgium’. Shakedown is about getting pulled over by the police and thrown in jail, and I play it for inspiration whenever I write Jay Desmarteaux, because that fear of the law, the coyote-level paranoia that keeps outlaws alive, is in his blood. Another great tune off this album is ‘Badlands’ which is less noir and more western, but still bad-ass.
Of course, the one and only, the song that started it all, about a high school hitman, can’t be forgotten. Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap may be why I write crime stories. Ever since I heard it and watched Crazy Mary Dirty Larry, I’ve felt that all I need is a fast car and a .45 and the world is my oyster… thankfully I put those dreams on paper. I saw where Mary and Larry found freedom, and that’s a highway to hell I don’t want to drive just yet.
Thomas Pluck is the author of Bad Boy Boogie, a Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller coming from Down & Out Books in March 2017, and the editor of the Protectors anthologies to benefit PROTECT. He has slung hash, worked on the docks, and even swept the Guggenheim, but unfortunately not as part of a clever heist. Hailing from Nutley, New Jersey, home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, Thomas has so far evaded arrest. He shares his hideout with his sassy Louisiana wife and their two felines. You can find him at www.thomaspluck.com and on Twitter as @thomaspluck