A lot of people are still tying themselves into extreme pretzels trying to work out whether to remain in the EU, or leave. Because I am infinitely wise I thought I’d boil the issue down, using as an exemplar the life of the AC/DC rhythm guitarist, Malcolm Young.
1. Complex harmony
Many factors have contributed to AC/DC remaining stadium favorites for nearly forty years. Angus Young's six-string pyrotechnics and stage antics, of course; songs compelling enough to make BACK IN BLACK one of the ten best-selling albums of all time; the tightest rhythm section in history, especially in the gold standard Young/Rudd/Williams configuration; and a crunching, dependable juggernaut of a live show. But the real magic comes from the interplay between Angus and Malcolm’s guitars. The sly, prowling rhythms are distinctive, of course — but in addition, they’re sharing the notes. Rather than follow the standard practice of having one guy thump out the chords and the other put something fancy on top, Angus and Malcolm distribute the notes of all of the chords between them, and then syncopate the result — yielding a richness of texture that few rock bands have ever equalled.
That’s what being part of a union of countries, is, too. Sharing and distributing the job, the style, the song of being European — each country contributing its unique cultural qualities and helping build something that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hard. It requires work and vision, and there will be some bum notes. But retreat from this mature collaboration of equals and you’re just some kid playing Stairway to Devon by yourself in your bedroom.
2. Step up and face the challenges
The last time I saw AC/DC live was in 2009. It’ll remain the last time, partly because the experience showed I am now too old and fragile to spend an evening in the mosh pit of a major stadium gig (it’s like having the crap beaten out of you for six hours); also because it was Malcolm’s last UK performance, on his final tour, and I'm not going to go see AC/DC without him. Nobody but the band knew at that point that he’d been exhibiting signs of early-onset dementia. By this stage in the Rock and Roll Train tour he was forgetting the chord sequences of hits he’d been playing for thirty years, and having to relearn them in the afternoon before each performance.
Just try to wrap your head around that for a moment. How it must feel, to confront that level of irrevocable frailty within yourself, to have no choice but to acknowledge the cold winds of oncoming mortality. And then to do what it takes to overcome it, and walk out on stage in front of sixty thousand people and do your job like a fucking boss.
Being a country is hard. Dealing with other countries is hard, putting aside national priorities for the sake of a greater good takes character, and helping find solutions to problems like immigration is part of the job of being a mature country. Malc has now retired from the band — because half the time he doesn’t know who he is any more. Britain should know who it is, and be confident of manifesting its qualities on a European stage instead of hiding in a safe, stuffy cupboard like an insecure, bolshy child.
Britain — be like Malcolm: stand at the back, not demanding the spotlight, and dig in and work in the face of challenge and adversity. Be so stunningly reliable, such a safe pair of hands, that your band will go on stage with you despite knowing you've got freakin' dementia. Because they trust you to do the thing regardless. Don’t run away like some whining, racist, small-minded Daily Mail-reading cess-pool of lazy, insular tossers. [Editor — you may want to tone this down a bit. MMS — no, I really don’t.]
3. It’s not about the money
A number of years ago a journalist asked how long AC/DC would keep at it, implying they were dinosaurs staggering around the touring circuit purely for the cash. Malcolm is said to have replied: “Look, mate, the family’s worth over a hundred and fifty million dollars now. You really think we’re still doing this for the fucking money?”
History has shown time and again that nobody has a reliable fix on the economics of running a 7-Eleven, never mind an entire country. Anybody who claims to know the effect of either being in or out of the EU is deluded or lying. Nobody has a clue what they’re talking about, and their pronouncements are worthless. Yes, it may cost us to remain. It’ll sure as hell cost us to leave. Nobody knows how to do those sums. It’s not about the money. It's about collective dedication and cultural diversity and inclusivity. It’s about being European.
Before the last ice age, Britain was attached to the mainland. Under the water, it still is. To pretend otherwise is to be swayed by self-serving bullshit spilled by... Well, let’s look at these guys:
Michael Gove — a man who has already demonstrated what a threat to worthwhile social values he is, and whose own father has called him out for telling lies about his childhood to bolster arguments for leaving the EU.
Nigel fucking Farage — a man who basically like the chairman of some dreary local golf club in the 1970s, running the place with smug, matey bonhomie (and quietly turning down applications from black people and Jews and women) until it turns out he’s been skimming the funds for years to pay for sex with underage badgers.
And of course, dear, bumbling Boris — a cold, smart, arrogant bastard masquerading as a buffoon, who’s been telling lies about the EU for decades and is now turning it up to eleven for the chance to be the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had.
Everybody wants to be the lead guitarist, to get all the attention, to spend their lives saying “Look at me! I'm special!” The truth is it’s the musicians and countries with the maturity and character to stand there serving the band and getting the job done that contribute most positively to history. Nobody gets to be Angus Young unless they've got a Malcolm standing behind them.
I accept there’s no reason for you to give a crap what I think, but just in case my position isn’t yet clear: don’t let this trio of lying, self-aggrandizing wankstains scare you into dissolving union with some of the most fascinating, extraordinary countries in the world, losing the chance to help shape a future we can be proud of, instead of embarrassed by.
Be like Malcolm, is what I'm saying.
[2017 edit: live from that 2009 tour]