Just Like That: Malcom Young

Published On November 17, 2014 | November/December 2014

As the distressing news of AC/DC veteran Malcolm Young’s dementia shows, mental illness often takes its toll brutally and quickly.

By Sam Jackson

It’s a tough day when you’re reminded of how time ravages everything. It recently came when AC/DC, one of the most stalwart and seemingly unstoppable energetic rock bands alive today, suffered a massive blow. It was announced at the end of September that founding member Malcolm Young is now getting treatment for mental illness and will be leaving the band for good as a result.

In April, the band initially broke the news that Young “would be taking a break” from the band after anchoring it as its rhythm guitarist for four decades. While the specific issue was described as “ill health” in the announcement, the truth was much darker.

It’s now come to light through a second press release in People that Young is suffering from dementia, possibly brought on by a previous stroke, and what was once supposed to be a short bit of time away has now become a permanent retirement in a Sydney nursing home. While few details about his condition are known, his short-term memory seems to have been totally destroyed, with a family member claiming he couldn’t remember people who walked out of the room and came back in.

It’s distressing news, and it shows just how brutally and terrifyingly quick mental illness is. Young toured the world for years playing hundreds of rock shows without any sign of physical problems, and maybe it helped that he left the jumping and cavorting around to his brother and used the “posing for an art student” method of stagecraft. Then all of that physical strength proved useless when dementia came along, snapped him like a twig and then completely scorched the earth of his brain.

It also comes in the wake of the episodes of legendary singer/songwriter Glen Campbell, who released his final studio album, “Ghost on the Canvas,” in 2011 and finished his goodbye tour two years ago because the throes of Alzheimer’s had begun licking at his heels and he could no longer continue to tour, record or play. If you want to rend your heart and find out just how bad it got, the symptoms can be seen affecting him in the recently released documentary “I’ll Be Me,” which has all the emotional impact of Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA ads on a 10-hour loop.

Nonetheless, AC/DC are forging ahead in spite of the tragedy. They have pulled in Young’s nephew, Stevie Young, as the new guitarist, and at the moment, they are in the studio working up their next album, the somewhat appropriately titled “Rock or Bust.” After the record’s release in December, they will hit the road again for a world tour next year, partially to give the middle finger to rumors of their retirement, and also to celebrate their 40th anniversary together.

At the same time, they refuse to write off Malcolm Young as lost forever and hold out for his return, as lead singer Brian Johnson commented to the Daily Telegraph: “I wouldn’t like to say anything either way about the future. I’m not ruling anything out. One of the boys has a debilitating illness, but I don’t want to say too much about it. He is very proud and private — a wonderful chap. We’ve been pals for 35 years, and I look up to him very much.”

While no rocker is immune to the effects and dangers of age, one can only hope for a miracle that will let Young stand onstage with the band he founded for at least another time before the band finally has to hang up the schoolboy outfit and take a well-deserved retirement.

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