"AC/DC: Australia's Family Jewels," a massive exhibit honoring the famous heavy-metal band, opens at Seattle's EMP Museum on Saturday, April 28.
Rock band AC/DC has been raising hell for nearly 40 years.
Surely band members have never aspired to be cultural icons worthy of one of Australia’s most prestigious museums.
But Tim Fisher, senior curator at Arts Centre Melbourne, which houses Australia’s national performing-arts collection, couldn’t think of a better group to honor. Fisher is curator of “AC/DC: Australia’s Family Jewels,” which made its debut at Arts Centre Melbourne in fall 2009 with the band’s blessing and opens Saturday at EMP Museum, where it will be on display until Sept. 29.
EMP celebrates the opening of “Family Jewels” with a party featuring Hell’s Belles, a Seattle-based, all-female AC/DC tribute band Friday at Sky Church. On Saturday, Anthony Bozza, author of “Why AC/DC Matters,” will join EMP Museum’s director of curatorial affairs, Jasen Emmons, in a discussion at JBL Theater.
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“When I was looking for an idea for a rock ‘n’ roll exhibition, there was really only one choice for us,” Fisher said in a phone interview from Australia.
“Because AC/DC holds this really quite important place in Australian culture, even though they were all kind of immigrant kids (from Scotland) who grew up here and then pretty much left. But we still hold them dear as an Australian product,” Fisher said.
The exhibition has toured Australia and last appeared in Glasgow, Scotland, where Angus and Malcolm Young were born. Seattle will be the final stop on the tour — and the only one in North America.
It is a mammoth exhibit featuring more than 400 artifacts, including music, films, posters, photos, drawings, lyrics and costumes.
Among the costumes are diminutive guitarist Angus Young’s blue-velvet school uniform and a homemade 1975 “Super Ang” costume (spoofing Superman), with gold-and-red satin cape. The latter was made by Angus’ sister Margaret.
“It’s the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen,” Fisher said. “It’s absolutely tiny. And he only wore it once.”
Another “foundation object” sure to thrill hard-core fans of AC/DC is the black leather jacket worn by Bon Scott, the group’s charismatic 1970s lead singer, who died in 1980 after a bout of heavy drinking (Scott was replaced by current singer Brian Johnson).
“I display that leather jacket as the personification of (Scott) as a performer at the time he died,” Fisher said.
“I really wanted to be careful about how I treated it, and I didn’t want to sensationalize it. It just hangs in a showcase. And it really marks the point between Bon and Brian Johnson.”
AC/DC — which has sold more than 200 million albums worldwide — formed in 1973 in Sydney, Australia, and is known to many of its fans down under as Acca Dacca.
Fisher saw them for the first time in 1975 in Canberra, Australia.
“It was hot and loud as hell, and I couldn’t hear anything much for about a week afterwards,” Fisher says in the curator’s notes for the exhibit.
“Back then, at age 16, I didn’t know much better, I didn’t have any money and I certainly wasn’t buying Pink Floyd or Eagles albums. Live, loud, homegrown rock ‘n’ roll was the only thing that grabbed me in the guts.
“For my mates and me, as we played air guitar to Angus’ wild leads, it was AC/DC — rock ‘n’ roll by us, about us and for us. There were no messages, no concepts. We just wanted to have a good time.”
Fisher began gathering artifacts for the exhibit in 2009, traveling the world to meet with collectors.
He also traveled to the Young brothers’ native Glasgow to attend a concert at Hampden Park, the huge soccer stadium.
“I went with a good deal of trepidation, not really knowing what to expect,” Fisher said.
“About 60,000 quite tough-looking Glaswegians were there, but it was all so good-natured. Coming out of the show, there was a giant stream of people all pressed against each other, all sweating profusely, but all in a really good mood.”
The exhibit provides a chronological retrospective of the band’s career. But above all, there is music — lots of it.
It plays throughout the exhibit, via widescreen videos of historic performances (such as a 1977 concert at London’s Apollo Theatre) and on headphones.
“It’s a rock ‘n’ roll show,” Fisher said.
“It’s not polite. We’ve really cranked it up. EMP is used to that, but some museums are not.”
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org