Dark memories come Back in Black

 

(This story was first published on the website Stereo Stories in 2015)

Back in 1980, Poplar Parade, Youngtown, was pretty much the last street in Launceston. Heading south to Hobart it was the final turn-off on the left before you reached the outlying Franklin Village.

I spent the year living there in a 1970s brick-veneer with Wrightee and Tiina. His name was always spelled Wrightee, and Tiina had two iis because her folks came from Finland.

We’d finished uni in Hobart the year before then all secured jobs in Launceston. Somehow Tiina had bought the house in Poplar Parade then signed up Wrightee and me as lodgers. She had the big bedroom in the front while we had adjoining rooms down the back, separated only by a floor-to-ceiling plywood wardrobe affair.

Wrightee and I had lived at college together for three years so privacy wasn’t much of an issue. He had a girlfriend called Barb while I was experiencing something of a lean spell.acdc___back_in_black_by_blacklab94-d4yv1t7

As the first share-house for all three of us, it took a bit of time to establish a rhythm. Neither Wrightee nor I could cook, although we willingly gave it a crack. Finding a wealth of over-grown zucchini in the back garden I invented a range of stuffed marrow recipes with baked beans and cheese a consistent theme. Wrightee would volunteer for the weekly grocery shop with a list that always began “milk, bread, sausages, one dozen beers …”.

The house came with a big back garden and we agreed to take turns weeding and mowing. Sportingly, Wrightee and I decided Tiina, as owner, should have the first year. Tiina, who could cook, clean and put down the toilet seat, maintained a long-suffering patience as she needed our rent.

Among our group, Wrightee was the acknowledged authority on popular music and owner of the best stereo system. At a time when hi-fi units were judged on the size of their speakers, Wrightee’s were enormous. When laid down they could be slept on.

His record collection was equally sizeable and filled a good proportion of his bedroom. He tried to limit himself to one new album a week, but some weeks he broke the budget big time. His pattern was to play a new album on high rotation for many days, during which all of us absorbed the tunes and the lyrics.

On the weeks when no suitable album was released for purchase, he’d dip into his back catalogue and bring out an old favourite. All were handled with great love and dusted regularly. If he wasn’t home Tiina and I were allowed to play albums but he’d be cross if we didn’t put them back according to strict alphabetic order.

Wrightee loved the history of rock and roll and the back-stories to bands and songs, and held great loyalty to Australian musicians. He adored The Rolling Stones but opted for Robert Plant as “the greatest voice rock has ever heard” when writing a report on the year’s music scene for our college magazine in 1979.

To him, the biggest issue of 1980 was not who shot JR, but who was going to replace Bon Scott as lead singer of AC/DC.

We talked about it endlessly: Should Scott be replaced anyway? Maybe the band would be better to fold. Who else could sing like that? Name a band that had successfully replaced its lead singer?

I don’t remember where we were when we heard the news but we were dismayed the new front man wasn’t Australian. We’d never heard of Brian Johnson. A worried Wrightee held his breath.

In the middle of winter, I returned home from work one day and from about 10 houses down the street I heard Wrightee’s stereo doing overtime. The windows were wide open and tops were off the beer bottles. A voice with all the class of a freight train crossing points was screaming through the screen door:

She was a fast machine she kept her motor clean
She was the best damn woman that I ever seen …

Without any doubt at all Wrightee had been the first person in Launceston to buy Back in Black and the whole street was going to know it.

“Jonesy,” he greeted me wild eyed like a new father, “this is gold.”

Well before midnight we had “You Shook Me All Night Long” down pat and I went to sleep with “Hell’s Bells” ringing in my ears; I don’t think Wrightee made it to bed. The argument had been settled: this bloke Johnson really could sing.

Wrightee and I remain mates although we moved into different houses later that year and eventually to different states. Back in Black still marks our friendship, although it casts an embarrassing shadow. A few weeks after its release, I’d taken it from Wrightee’s shelves to play one sunny afternoon when he wasn’t home, then become distracted.

Returning home hours later, Wrightee found the treasured disk lying on his bed warped by the afternoon sun. By then I’d gone to work and not until years later, through gritted teeth, did he tell me what I’d done. But there was no point me attempting to replace the album as Wrightee had by then swapped his entire collection to CDs.

“Jonesy,” he assured me, “these things are going to last forever.”

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