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GROB: ‘Back in Black’ with an old buddy

By James Grob,

Last Friday night, I was ringing “Hell’s Bells.”

As the song goes, I wasn’t taking prisoners, and I spared no lives. Nobody was putting up a fight.

An old, lifetime buddy sent me a message last week, wondering if I was interested in joining him at a free concert in the park back in our home town. The band was called “Rolling Thunder,” and they were advertised as an “AC/DC tribute band.”

I’ve never been a big fan of cover bands. I like the original groups, and I have every song in the world that means anything to me downloaded on Apple Music. If I want to hear one, I just ask Siri to play it. No need to go watch some guys pretending to be someone else.

GROB: ‘Back in Black’ with an old buddy
James Grob

But my buddy’s invitation intrigued me. I had no plans for Friday night, the show was only about an hour away, and I always like hanging out with an old friend. So I was considering going.

Then, my buddy shared some tough news with me.

My old friend is a cancer survivor. He beat the disease more than 20 years ago, but he found out last week that he’s had a recurrence and will need surgery and treatment.

I’m a cancer survivor as well, and I also recently had a recurrence and am getting treatments, and will probably need surgery at some point. Through it all, very few people in the world have been more supportive than my old friend.

So it was settled. I was going to a fake AC/DC concert. That’s all there was to it.

My friend and I actually went together to see a real AC/DC concert nearly 34 years ago, when we were high school seniors. The show was in Cedar Rapids, on a school night. We got done with football practice, hopped in the car, picked up another buddy and sped down there, to what was then known as the Five Seasons Center.

It was a great show. With AC/DC, what you see is what you get. Unlike an AC/DC cover band, the real thing was — and still is — popular because they never pretended to be something they were not. Keep it simple, stupid. Nothing fancy here. Just loud, crunching music.

The hall of fame rock band, originally from Australia, has sold hundreds of millions of albums and sold out thousands of shows because they have always kept it simple, and that’s the way their fans like it. Life can get complex, the world can be a complicated place, sometimes up seems like down, sometimes everything that’s right is actually all that’s wrong. It can get confusing and frustrating, even for the most nuanced of intellectuals.

AC/DC’s music is not complicated. It’s same song, different hook. Nothing nuanced, nothing subtle, nothing remotely intellectual. The guitar is going to blare, the vocals are going to screech, and the drums are going to steadily pound through your entire body, like the hammer of the gods, for about four minutes. End of song. The next song starts, more of the same.

It’s not music as much as it’s a repetitive deliverance from inner confinement. It’s a temporary short-attention-span-revolution. It’s existential emancipation.

If AC/DC came with written directions, they would read, “Riff. Rock. Release. Repeat.”

Perfect music for killing cancer cells.

Of course, an AC/DC tribute band jamming in front of about 100 people in a small-town Iowa park isn’t quite the same thing as the original rockers in their prime, lighting up a sold-out arena. But that’s OK. My cancer-fighting buddy and I, in our 50s, aren’t quite the same as we once were, either. Our days of banging heads are far behind us. We are not elitists. We can accept a substitute.

So we sat in our comfortable lawn chairs and watched and listened. The weather was gorgeous. The band was entertaining and fun. They dressed up like the members of the real band, and tried to behave like them. We guessed which songs they would play, and which songs we wished they would play, but knew they wouldn’t. AC/DC has a tremendous catalog, but we were not surprised, not once. We were pleased. And we enjoyed each other’s company.

And I remembered being 16, and calling up my buddy, and asking, “Do you want to come over and listen to some heavy metal?”

And he’d come over and we would talk and laugh and brag and tell stories and listen to music. It would last a couple hours.

It wasn’t about the music, or the conversation, or even the laughter. It was about the couple hours.

When you’re 16, a couple hours with a friend doesn’t seem like all that much. When you’re older, and facing a cancer diagnosis, a couple of hours with a friend might be all the time that’s left in the world.

So the next time an old friend sends you a message, and invites you to do something somewhere, I recommend you go do it.

Take no prisoners. Spare no lives. Put up a fight together.