Wait, David Foster Wallace Didn’t Like AC/DC? This Changes Everything

Do you deeply enjoy the fiction and journalism of David Foster Wallace? Perhaps to the point where you’ve actually fantasized about what it would have been like to hang back with the dude, crush a brewski or seven, and, you know, just talk? Bad news: If this dream scenario had actually played out — maybe on a spring evening, on the porch of a Cape Cod house overlooking the ocean, with the breeze floating in just so — you would not have been rocking jams off The Razors Edge as you bro’d. Believe it or not, DFW hated AC/DC. Sucks, right?

Buzzfeed has recirculated a letter Wallace wrote to the Amherst College newspaper in 1985. He was responding to another student, a guy complaining that he was being prohibited from blasting Australia’s finest export by uppity neighbors, and who was worried that this was the first step toward a march to a gestapo state of no fun and no partying on the Amherst campus. Wallace’s counterargument is (of course) logically indisputable:

Corresponding to their fascinating theory of loudness-as-inalienable-right is the idea that people who don’t want to be subjected to their choices are spoilsports or tools who want to deny loud-music lovers their “freedom.”

This idea is thoughtless in more than one sense of the word. It’s a fundamentally selfish (and so warped) idea of freedom. The way freedom is commonly and sensibly defined and understood, one is free to do exactly those things that do not infringe on other people’s freedom to do the things they value — like sleep, or read, or do homework, or talk to their friends, or listen to stuff they like … silly things like that.

But then:

[That one dude who wrote the original letter's] blasting of AC/DC obviously denies people who can’t escape earshot the freedom not to have to listen to loud music (in the particular case of AC/DC, I think this freedom is probably cherished by every rational being over the age of nine).

What? But … how … why is this happening?!! Of the many things DFW was, or could be when he wanted, he never particularly seemed like a snob. He had some highbrow tastes, of course, but he also wrote a book about rap music and short stories about punk rockers and a long, long essay about TV. (Also, I think I might have enjoyed his piece on David Lynch slightly more than I have enjoyed any actual David Lynch movies.) His tastes were catholic — and yet, he had no room in his heart for the simple joy of a sweat-drenched, beshorted Angus Young shredding on his Gibson SG while spinning around in a circle on the floor of a riser 30 feet in the air. What can I say? DFW’s so, so wrong on this one. Like, “Thunderstruck” is basically my own personal version of The Entertainment.

Really not sure how to handle this. Is it cool if we just assume that in the ’90s he discovered and then got really into the Bon Scott-era stuff and leave it at that?

Filed Under: Music


Amos Barshad has written for New York magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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