Reviews

Lockpick Pornography by Joey Comeau

Zachary Houle

You have to admire the guy's chutzpah and directness, and love the fact that he's utterly circumventing the 'norms' of how one is a success in the publishing world.


Lockpick Pornography

Publisher: Loose Teeth Press
Length: 136
Price: $14.00
Author: Joey Comeau
US publication date: 2005-12
Amazon

There's not much to know about Joey Comeau. Far from a household name, or even a professionally published writer, all we can tell you is what we picked up from a website: He was born in 1980, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His mother was a punk rock hairdresser. He studied linguistics in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Where is he now? Only one place, really: online.

His debut novel, Lockpick Pornography, has become something of a bizarre anomaly in the publishing world, if one believes the Web hype. (Please see nomediakings.org.) Originally, the first chapter of this book was offered on the Net with a donation cup attached as a means of paying off his schooling. Even though it purportedly was unfinished, enough people stumbled upon the novel-in-the-works, prompting Comeau -- also the web comic writer of A Softer World -- to finish the book and pocket $1,600 in Canadian funds needed to finish university. He later found a friend willing to start small press out in Vancouver to publish it as a "real" book. (Meaning: one with a spine.) The rest, as they say, is history.

Without being made available to major online retailers like Amazon.com, the book picked up enough good word-of-mouth buzz that the first printing of 1,050 copies is now reportedly sold out. These days, and this is assuming that Comeau's Web marketing team totally aren't spinning a PR engine full of little more than hype, there is vague news about someone paying the young author a retainer for movie rights to the book. There's even a Wikipedia entry on this book.

You gotta wonder if Lockpick Pornography is worth the low-key hype. Well, the good news, dear reader, is that you can go out and check it all out for yourself. The first seven chapters are available online for free at www.lockpickbook.net. If you want to read chapters eight, nine and 10, you need to order the book from the website.

Due to the generous amount of the book that is currently free, though, you can kind of make up your mind about this book without really having to finish it. From the opening paragraphs, it becomes really apparent that Lockpick is a pretty raw, visceral novel: it begins with a boot going through a TV screen. It also becomes really evident that it is a roughly written story, one that sort of still feels as though it is a draft waiting to be fleshed out by a really good editor. (One supposes this is one of the dangers of the online, punk publishing game.) As a result, you get clunky sentences like this one from chapter one: "The hetero-normative ownership paradigm is a tyrant belief system that deserves to be undermined on every front, from political protest to petty thievery." Say wha?

That last paragraph, by the way, is a tip-off to the content of the book. It's basically a homo-erotic, punk adventure story about a bunch of would-be terrorists/thieves who decide to do their business dressed up as Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie, which might partially explain the book's Internet success. (That's if not for the fact Bert is Evil became something of a terrorist Internet meme after 9/11, then for the fact that Bert and Ernie have gradually become unintentional queer icons.) In a world where gay and lesbian rights are up for grabs -- including the right to marry just like everybody else -- it goes without saying that that particular community is probably very ticked off at the moment. And there's nothing like a bunch of good ol' agitprop to burn down the house, if not the White House, without having to really go out and do it.

So whether or not you like the book will largely do with how passionate you feel about the subject -- let alone some really explicit sex -- and just how angry you are about what's going down politically these days. This isn't a criticism. It's pretty much a given that members of the Young Republicans club probably aren't going to take much of a liking to this one. Heck, members of the far-far left (ie. hippies) are probably not going to like this book, either. Whether or not you like your books to waive their politics in your face like a brandished crowbar is likely all a matter of personal taste anyway.

Politics aside, though, there is a sense of unbridled energy to this novel that is utterly charming. You're always aware that this is a bit of a one-shot for the author, and one can't help but be carried along with that infectiousness, that feeling you've stumbled upon something completely out-of-the-ordinary. You wind up rooting for this stranger and his fairly slickly marketed novel. (Well, perhaps until his main character cold cocks a girl in the stomach for being beautiful, at least.) That's despite the fact this novel is a screed against all things straight, all things mainstream, all things that don't have a bit of kink in them. A past reviewer of this work noted that the book is like "what would've happened if Kathy Acker had a dick and an attention span." We can agree on the Kathy Acker bit, at least.

Ultimately, Lockpick Pornography is the kind of book that works best if you're angry, confused, leftist, and, perhaps, queer (in more ways than one). It's the type of work that a zinester in his early 20s would write: an angry screed against the world. Nothing wrong with that -- this reviewer did the same thing six years ago by selling out 250 copies of a self-published chapbook titled Working in the Bowels of Hell, which is perhaps all you need to know about that project and what said writer thinks about it now. Still, Lockpick is at its best when it is angry. The sex and violence are so well done, in fact, that one reads this and kinda wishes the speechifying and manifesto-ness, particularly in the first chapter, could have been toned down somehow.

While Comeau's work isn't quite as satisfying yet as one might wish it were, you have to admire the guy's chutzpah and directness, and love the fact that he's utterly circumventing the "norms" of how one is a success in the publishing world. One can only give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe in few years his storytelling just might catch up to his online salesmanship. You have to wonder: what's Comeau gonna write when he finally turns 30?

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.

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