Reviews

Think!: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye by Michael R. LeGault

Zachary Houle

'The logical outcome of reality TV is snuff movies,' warns LeGault, quoting the opinion of another analyst without any facts to merit this assumption.


Think!

Publisher: Threshold Editions
Length: 355
Subtitle: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of An Eye
Price: $24.95 [US]
Author: Michael R. LeGault
US publication date: 2006-01
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It's official! Imitation is no longer the sincerest form of flattery. Criticism through dissenting opinion truly has now taken its place.

In recent years, it has become almost de rigueur for one side of the political/ideological spectrum to offer up its own version of the truth to a successful documentary think piece. For every Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, there's a Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. For every Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, there's a Why Wal-Mart Works hot on its heels. And for every Stupid White Men and Fahrenheit 9/11, there's guaranteed to be a Michael Moore is a Big Fat Stupid White Man or FahrenHYPE 9/11 right behind it.

Is it no surprise to learn, then, that even a seemingly benign guy like Malcolm Gladwell can have detractors manufacturing dissent?

In case you just got back from a tour of duty in Iraq, the soft-spoken and well-rounded Gladwell published a number one New York Times best-selling book of non-fiction last year called Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. With Blink, Gladwell posited that going with one's inner gut -- not long drawn-out belly-gazing -- is the best way one should go about making decisions. Obviously, this idea probably struck a chord with readers in George W. Bush's America, even before they picked up Gladwell's book. Blink is now about as white hot as its minimalist cover: it has sold at least 1.3 million hardcover copies in North America alone, and, late last year, Gladwell sold film rights to the book for a cool million dollars to Universal Pictures.

Success breeds snark, of course. We now have not one but two rebuttals to this runaway success: Michael R. LeGault's Think: Why Crucial Decisions Can't Be Made in the Blink of an Eye, and an almost Daniel Pinkwater-esque parody called Blank: The Power of Not Actually Thinking At All that came out in February. Yep, the knives are out. But is it because Blink is a fun, engrossing read that incites a jealous reaction? Or is it because a very minor part of Blink suggests that, if we all just thought a little bit differently, maybe certain right-wing Presidents wouldn't be elected? Consider this more intuition, but Dear Reviewer places his money on the latter.

Thus, one can, fairly or unfairly, make a snap judgment about Think before opening its cover (which is oddly similar to Blink's). This book is merely an agenda-forwarding piece, nothing more. This feeling is bolstered when one learns this is the debut release from the publishing imprint of Simon & Schuster run by Mary Matalin, a former Republican Party strategist to both Bush presidencies. From there, you can merely contrast the flip flap biographies of LeGault and Gladwell. The latter grew up in southwestern Ontario and went to university in Toronto before going on to write for The Washington Post and The New Yorker. LeGault, on the other hand, is a former columnist for The Washington Times and is now an American working at Toronto's National Post.

Logical readers should then come to Think with an overtly critical eye: not necessarily how you want someone stumbling out of the starting blocks with your book. In fact, for something that purports to be a throw-back to the power of logical thinking, it soon becomes fairly easy (and fun!) to shoot fish through the logic loops found in these pages. There are some real howlers sprinkled throughout Think, examples of pure lunacy that would be unintentionally funny on a Reefer Madness level if some of them weren't so patently offensive. Here are just a few examples:

1. In railing against the evils of Survivor and Extreme Makeover, this book cautiously warns us that Battle Royale is coming down the pipe sooner than we think: "The logical outcome of reality TV is snuff movies," warns LeGault, quoting the opinion of another analyst without any facts to merit this assumption. Meanwhile, the author defends and applauds "the television sitcom, with its dialogue and conflict resolution, [since it] at least has roots in a type of comedy invented by the Greeks." This is kind of odd, since Survivor does offer its moments of narrative deus ex machina -- that's Greek for "the god comes from a crane," by the way -- through the use of immunity idols. We think Euripides would be proud with the work of Mark Burnett. Really.

2. In a really bizarre chapter, LeGault hollers against a feminist conspiracy that prevents young men from claiming their rightful place at the top of the flagpole. He claims, without offering much in the way of research, that part of the feminist agenda is to see boys blindly diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or its variants to prevent them from progressing in society. He goes on to say that, "Ritalin, it would appear, is being used to treat nothing more than a 'boy' gene, not a true medical condition." At no point during this chapter does LeGault soberly remind us about the "refrigerator mother" theory from the 1940s, which argued how a mother's "coolness" or aloofness towards her son(s) could be responsible for bringing out autistic behaviors in her male offspring. Women have been just as unjustly victimized by specious claims, but mentioning that, perhaps, would have seen LeGault's chapter about the evils of political correctness landing with a thud on the editing suite floor.

3. LeGault must love Scottish electronic musician Mylo, for he, too, is out to Destroy Rock & Roll. The Devil's Music, LeGault says, "has played a large role in creating the perception that raw, artistic passion and emotion are superior to reasoning and formal learning." And yet, by the end of the same paragraph, he adds, "Few fans would be inclined to think of Mick Jagger, Bono, or Bruce Springsteen as well-read and thoughtful, but that's exactly what they are." Huh? Did we miss something there? How can a well-read, thoughtful rock star promote passion and emotion? Doesn't thought two contradict thought one? (Not to mention that one probably shouldn't put "well-read" and "Mick Jagger" together in a sentence. Neil Peart? Maybe. Mick Jagger? We'll get back to you on that one.)

4. "The barbarians aren't at the gates, they're dining with us," cautions LeGault in opining about the lack of sophisticated artistry in popular culture. But wait! Who are these barbarians? Why "their names are J.Lo, Ja Rule, and Paris Hilton." Never mind that the first two artists have arguably moved onto eating from the cultural dessert tray due to diminishing record sales, let's draw attention to the fact both of these people belong to ethnic minorities and the word "barbarian" is being used as a descriptor. Not to sound PC or anything, but in this supposedly enlightened world of 2006, couldn't a slightly more appropriate adjective be used? After all, between this and describing the Japanese as "wily," one can't help but wonder if LeGault is a self-unaware racist.

And on it goes. For a rebuttal of Blink there's an awful lot of stereotypical gut-level reasoning involved here. Which actually shows that LeGault either didn't fully read or understand what Blink nattered on at all. He appears to think Gladwell's text was an argument for not thinking at all, when the book was really asking people to think smarter, not harder.

Think is an unintentionally dangerous and irresponsible book, tied to almost fascist political ideas. (One of LeGault's solutions to his imagined thinking crisis in society is, predictably, more discipline.) One can't help but be easily reminded of a few reactionary sayings or two in pondering about the book and its potential ripple-effect. Namely, think before writing/publishing a book offering little more than Colbertian Truthiness, especially if said tome is all about the absence of logical reasoning. And that's to not speak of piping down during those times you can't say anything nice about somebody else's work.

Silence, in LeGault's case, might have been a golden response to Gladwell's earlier, far more successful, call. Since marketing a mud-wrestling match is an easy way to promote a book, and thus is probably the only true reason this book got written, you just may want to consider saving your money by refusing participation in this latest literary brawl. You want to truly flatter Malcolm Gladwell? Buy his book or write one like it.

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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