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We are all stupid girls

It's worth navigating through the site pass to read Rebecca Traister's article in Salon regarding the alleged "return of the brainless hussies" and whether celebrity media and culture product manufactured for teens encourages girls to act stupid and/or cute (Is there a difference?) in order to earn approving attention. Traister finds redeeming qualities --intellectual content, encouragement to think -- in teen lifestyle magazines like Elle Girl and Seventeen but indicts reality TV (and the parents of contestants therein) for prescribing class-ridden consumerist values and encouraging the notion that all attention is good attention: "On Super Sweet Sixteen and Tiara Girls, parents seem to be seeking the same cable-television spotlight that must motivate their children to self-exposure, without any concern that a nation (let alone their neighbors) will get to see them pushing their daughters to get collagen lip injections or enabling their offspring's insatiable greed by never setting limits and getting them two cars." This segues to her main point, that parents produce stupid girls, not culture:

Adults have made careless consumption the crowning American pursuit. We have invented and happily consume magalogs full of luxury items. Teenagers didn't create Paris Hilton. In fact, they wouldn't have any idea who she was if adults hadn't elevated her from a dull table-dancing heiress by circulating a porn tape and giving her a reality show. Teenage girls don't write the "Gossip Girl" books; 35-year-old Cecily von Ziegesar does. And consider the cabal of studio heads, publicists, club owners, photographers, designers and magazine publishers who have colluded to make Lindsay Lohan famous, drunk and ubiquitous so that she can sell their magazines, movies and handbags to teens who might rightly get the impression that they should live like her. Eliot Spitzer, of all people, recently accused the grown-ups over at Lohan's record company of goosing her popularity by bribing radio stations and MTV to play her music. It's all in the name of legitimate American enterprise, sure. But how can we be surprised when the kids we are hustling take our cues and mimic even our most corrupt behaviors?

And how about the fact that it's not just teens photo-realistically aping the adults, but adults who are aping their own teens? The Alcotts and Austens and Brontës that Wolf recalls with deserved reverence would have blanched had they encountered the slice of the maternal population currently striving to look and dress like their daughters. Which is more alarming -- reading about Lohan drinking too much and collapsing from "exhaustion," or reading about her mother, Dina, sponging off her daughter's success and cavorting with her beyond every velvet rope? It's fair to ask, as Pink does, how many girls long to mimic Lohan. But it's also reasonable to wonder whether any of their mothers long to live like Dina?

But Traister concludes by assigning blame to the fragile male ego: "Working on this story, I received an e-mail from a Harvard graduate student who told me that while he'd dated only smart girls, he 'liked the idea of dating a dumb girl.' The fantasy, the student explained, 'is almost certainly formed for us by the media representations of ... celebrities [like Hilton, Lohan, and Simpson]. Blonde dumb girls are sexy. And won't talk back. Add in various shades of male ego/guaranteed superiority notions, and you've pretty much got it.' In a world in which male superiority is no longer guaranteed, it becomes a lascivious desire that can be gratified, performatively if need be, by willing women."

Growing gender equality, then, creates a market for passé sexual stereotypes. So in other words, the media representation of female stars being dumb, manipulatable and compliant services the male ego, even though one wouldn't think of men consuming such media -- though every morning I see plenty of hombres on the subway studying Page Six the way fantasy-baseball nuts look at box scores. These depictions of Paris Hilton, et. al, then, are like "Under My Thumb," mechanisms that allow men to fantasize about having the upper hand, having total control when really men's lust and sexual cravings -- stimulated by these same media renderings of copious sensuality -- are out of control, and men are helpless to live up to what they are shown as the dream. Humilated by the tease of unfulfilled desire, men in turn seek to humiliate women, who they mistakenly blame for the frustration. So the corollary to such representations are the Neil Labute-type paranoid fantasias that assault women and depict them as cruel and controlling because they turn out not to be brainless, available and eager-to-please. The surveillance of young woman celebrities foments the myth of women generally always being available, always being flattered by the attention, that no attention is unwelcome (no matter how creepy or inappropriate) -- in short, that they are simply waiting around with no purpose other than to be noticed.

But then the culture industry generally lionizes passivity, spectatorship, and so on; that is what its business model is built on. Typically feminism is blamed for male-ego fragility, as in the risible WaPo Style section trend story that Traister lampooned a few days ago, but probably it has as much to do with an entertainment industry that profits by emasculating them and then promising them the secret formulas to restore their lost manhood. If women can be blamed in the process, so much the better. And anti-intellectualism has practically become a patriotic badge of pride in America. The point is, as far as the entertainment industry goes, we are all stupid girls: passive, frivolous, attention-challenged, in thrall of shiny baubles, desperate for recognition and flattery and assurance that we are succeeding at being just what we're expected to be.

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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