Reviews

The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit: An A to Z Lexicon of Empty, Enraging, and Just Plain Stupid Of

Mike Schiller

We are getting a glimpse of someone else's office hell, and that makes it engaging in that car crash kind of way.


The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit

Publisher: Broadway Books
Length: 224
Subtitle: An a to Z Lexicon of Empty, Enraging, and Just Plain Stupid Office Talk
Price: $9.95
Author: Lois Beckwith
US publication date: 2006-03
Amazon affiliate
Amazon

Over the course of the last 10 or 20 (or 50) years, a surprising observation has begun to take shape. As it turns out, corporate office jobs suck. Seriously?! Who knew? Sarcasm aside, the machinations of the "typical" office aren't all that different than the "typical" high school -- there are cliques, mean (and often stupid) authority figures, drugs, and plenty of crying fits in the bathroom. The comic, absurdist vision of the modern corporate workplace began with Dilbert, continued with Mike Judge's brilliant film, Office Space, and lives on in our televisions thanks to the British and American versions of The Office (shows which, in both cases, sport some of the more hilarious moments on television today).

Now, if Lois Beckwith has her way, the next link in that formidable chain will be a dictionary; specifically, The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit.

As one might guess, The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit is not lacking for snark. Ms. Beckwith has obviously spent a lot of time studying the environment of which she writes, as the completeness of the Dictionary is quite impressive. Think of any one of the typical office clichés that you've encountered in the corporate workplace, and it's in this book. From benefits ("...pays for your weekly shrink appointments and monthly psychopharmacologist visits...") to Zyban ("...might aid you in your attempts to not go ballistic..."), it's all in there.

In fact, the presence of Zyban is indicative of one of the defining undercurrents of The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit. Many of the entries point to an overbearing feeling of utter hopelessness, that feeling that the young executive gets when Saturn comes around again, the feeling that says "this is the rest of your life," fading into the background with the evil laughter of the most comical supervillain. It's the feeling that causes 45-year-olds to buy Corvettes. Antidepressants get lots of face time, whether they be Zyban, Zoloft, or nicotine. Crying jags in the bathroom make frequent appearances. There is a constant emphasis on being fake in a fake world. For a book that is so flippant on its face, it certainly has dark undertones to it -- this is a book whose dedication tells the workers of the world that "we shall overcome someday", and then gives every reason why that will never happen.

Another of the defining features of The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit is the pervasive confirmation of common stereotypes. For example, there are the constant appearances of the "office flirt" ("...very adept at concealing whorish nature...") and the "office slut" ("The chick who sleeps with everyone..."), who are respectively male and female, it is pointed out, because of a natural office-wide gender bias. Yet, both have long, drawn out definitions that continue to use the "biased" pronoun after said bias is pointed out. Women are catty, men have too much testosterone for their own good. Aside from the gender stereotyping, it is also pointed out that bosses suck, the Human Resources department is "incompetent", and the idea of diversity in the typical workplace is a joke.

It all begs the question: Did we really need a new book to reiterate everything that the previous office satires already laid out for us? It's as if Ms. Beckwith is sitting us down and explaining the punch line of every single joke Dilbert ever told.

Still, even if it's true that most of the humor to be found in The Dictionary of Corporate Bullshit is comprised of jokes and observations that we've heard before, Beckwith's tone is what sells it. She genuinely comes off as someone who's been there, someone who has either experienced or seen first-hand all that she writes of, and her willingness to relate her experiences allows the reader to like her immediately. Some of the entries in the book read a bit like inside jokes -- for example, acronyms like "CTNTSCWLWEL" make appearances, and while the characters they describe do tend to occur in the office, no account of office life I've ever seen (including my own) has ever employed these particular acronyms to describe those characters. Even so, it's just this sort of inside look that endears Beckwith to the reader. We are getting a glimpse of someone else's office hell, and that makes it engaging in that car crash kind of way, for even as humankind is capable of empathy, most of us still take some guilty comfort in knowing that some problems are the exclusive domain of somebody else.

At the end of the day, it is what it is: A lateral move in the modern canon of office satire. And if you happened to recognize that I said something very close to absolutely nothing in the previous sentence, The Dictionary of Office Bullshit just might be the perfect book for you.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image