Theories of the Point-of-View Shift in AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’

by Jennifer Wortman

AC/DC in Concert

Theories of the Point-of-View Shift in AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’

1. The speaker — let’s call him Brian — is documenting the shift, à la Buber, from I-It to I-Thou relations, from subject-object to intersubjectivity. Confronted with his lover’s fast machine and clean motor, Brian can no longer maintain his stance as autonomous male subject gazing upon the Other. He and his lover merge; he is shaken.

Was I not a sufficiently fast machine? Did I not keep my motor clean? I cleansed assiduously for you, removed hairs, performed ablutions. True: over time I relaxed a little, cleansed and removed less of myself, slowed down. But is love not a sagging into each other, a softening of edges, an ooze? Was my dirt and languor not yours too?

2. The woman to whom Brian refers in the verse differs from the woman (or man or nonbinary individual) he addresses in the chorus. He uses talk of the woman in the verse to seduce, via titillation, jealousy, aspiration, etc., the choral “you.” If I speak to you of a woman’s ability to knock me out with her American thighs, Brian reasons, you will then want to knock me out with yours. His reasoning bears out: he is shaken.

You often spoke of how dumb she was. You didn’t use that word, but you implied and I inferred. A groupie, you’d called her. A wannabe who imposed upon your time with toady tributes to your poetry. I’d seen her at parties: assertively busty, cosmetically lacquered, flagrantly blonde. After said parties, I’d follow your lead and mock her. After said parties, I’d follow your lead and fuck you hard.

3. After losing his lover, Brian can’t bring himself to address her, and much remains unsaid. He recounts their time together until, overcome by memories of their all-night shaking, he calls to her across the ether. If he reminds her of their shaking, crows it over the roar of guitars, will she hear? Will she tell him to come even though, in a sense, he was already there?

Only later did I realize how much she resembled your ex. Later still I realized my once-careful grooming may have been a response to a photo I’d seen of your ex, who’d managed, in her appearance, to blend purity and smut, her perfection an invitation to blemish, to ravage and raid. Did you still love your ex? I called across the ether. Did you now love the groupie? Had you ever loved me?

4. Brian is masturbating. The woman is a product of his mind and “you” is himself. Her truth telling, her double-time on the seduction line, her meal making: these are all Brian’s fabrications, his creation of an ideal woman who is fast, mechanical, immaculate, superlative, unseeing, authentic, strong, greedy, domineering, hard-working, inimitable, faithful, humble, ravenous, calming, violent. She doesn’t exist, and Brian, unable to compromise his ideal, is left to shake himself.

Once I awoke and you weren’t in bed. I found you in the living room, pleasuring yourself. How hard you’d shut your eyes, as if trapping whatever fantasy girl you’d formed in your brain. If I’d been working double-time on the seduction line, I would have shimmied over and joined in. But I’d been depressed. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was my fault. How devoted you’d recently been. Yet I’d failed to satisfy you. What’s more, I’d forgotten to shower. I stank of myself.

5. Brian is anxious because he has to fill the shoes of AC/DC’s previous singer, Bon, who died of alcohol poisoning. A product of his anxiety and his cowriters’ grief, the point-of-view shift is an oversight, a mistake that betrays subconscious feelings for Bon. Why did he leave them? If he returned, they would shake him all night long, each for their own reasons. Unable to acknowledge their pain, they cloak their urges in boasts of heterosexual intercourse, projecting their need to shake a dead man onto a feminized Other.

One day you disappeared. Ghosted, they call it: a misnomer. A ghost is a presence where there should be an absence. You were gone when you were supposed to be here. The morning you vanished, I flitted birdlike from room to room, my head jerking at strange angles, searching for you. When I understood what you’d done, I wanted to shake you until answers flew from your throat. Instead, I rammed myself against a wall, which gently shuddered, and left, on my shoulder, a chlorine-blue bruise.

6. Brian is documenting, per the Song of Songs, an encounter with the divine. Unable to evoke his sacred love with mundane language, he turns to the sensual, celebrating God’s feminine aspects. However, Brian understands the vocabulary of masculine and feminine can be only metaphor. As the ultimate You, God transcends material forms and their signifiers. Yet God also inhabits them. Brian’s confrontation with this paradox unites him with the supreme mystery: he is shaken; he is shaker.

If you were my god, then whom did you worship? All poetry, you’d once said, entreats the divine. When you knelt before me and made me scream, was my pleasure a poem, a song to yourself? My idol, you smashed me. Yet I thank thee. I thank thee! Alone with the mess of me, I’m shaken and shaking. Shaking and shaken, I’m god of myself.

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