Culture

In Defense of Hating Thanksgiving

An overrated meal. Awkwardly catching up with family members. Black Friday. A boring and ugly color scheme. Thanksgiving is just the worst.

Sexism. The colors brown and orange. Awful football games. Boring parades. The fact that all the stores are closed. Having to actually go to work. Black Friday.

Again… Black Friday.

These were just some of the reasons Business Insider listed in 2009 as to why the people behind that publication hate Thanksgiving. "Instead of having a normal work week, we're now subjected to store closings, long family dinners, pumpkin flavored goods, and plenty of other troublesome things. It's called Thanksgiving and it's one holiday we don't approve of," Vince Veneziani and Courtney Comstock wrote. "Call us cynics, but we're not giving thanks for anything." ("12 Reasons Why We Hate Thanksgiving", by Vince Veneziani and Courtney Comstock, 25 November 2009)

It's true: The custom that is typically celebrated on a Thursday in late November throughout the US and early in October in Canada is without question the most meaningless, annoyingly traditional holiday celebrated. It's designed to force us into dinners and gatherings with people we spend the rest of the year's days doing our best to avoid. The actual meal itself is so grossly overrated with its bland side dishes (who really likes stuffing?) and oftentimes juiceless bird. And maybe most egregious of all is the hypocritically insincere veil that shadows all the proclamations of thankfulness and togetherness to which nobody adheres throughout the other 364 days of the calendar year. (What? Now you're almost in tears as you think about how thankful you are for a bowl of corn? What happened to how thankful you were for that Big Mac you landed two weeks ago at a 24-four McDonald's after spending a night pounding Natural Lights and watching CBS's Elementary? Why weren't you so grateful for that?)

Anyway, the opinions against Thanksgiving are endless. Take, for example, Mitchel Cohen's argument about the very real consequences that came from its origin. "What Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas and the Taino of the Caribbean, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots," he wrote. "Literally millions of native peoples were slaughtered. And the gold, slaves and other resources were used, in Europe, to spur the growth of the new money economy rising out of feudalism. Karl Marx would later call this 'the primitive accumulation of capital.' These were the violent beginnings of an intricate system of technology, business, politics and culture that would dominate the world for the next five centuries." ("Why I Hate Thanksgiving", Rense.com)

Oy.

Then, there's Alexandra Kerr's recent San Francisco Chronicle piece that noted how expensive the holiday is to actually celebrate. "With the skyrocketing price of corn, organic produce and specialty turkeys, your Thanksgiving dinner may become the priciest meal you eat all year," she wrote. "If you're planning to host this season's feast, be prepared for a variety of items to cost more than you remember." ("The Hidden Costs Of Thanksgiving Dinner", 6 November 2012)

Which items did Kerr outline? How about corn and the cost of a bushel rising $1.20 in 2012, pushing a can's price over six bucks? That's not enough? Then consider the possibility of spending $120 on a turkey or how organic items could run you more than $50 big ones on produce alone. That should be enough to make you second guess going out of your way to impress those third cousins you get to see once every 12 months.

Still not sold? Consider the single most intriguingly overlooked aspect of the Thanksgiving experience: heartbreak. And I'm not talking the typical loneliness that holidays tend to bring from time to time -- I'm talking real, honest-to-goodness, life-lesson-like occurrences that can stick with people for years. Don't believe me? Check out what Alyshah Hasham of the Toronto Star wrote in October about what she referred to as The Turkey Dump.

"What is nurtured for years only to die at Thanksgiving? A high school romance after six weeks of university," Hasham wrote. "It’s known as the Turkey Dump, where fresh-faced first-year university students head home for family dinner and break up with their high school sweethearts... While no studies exist to prove the Dumpsgiving phenomenon exists, (Samantha) Joel, a PhD psychology student specializing in relationships, has noticed it’s much harder to find couples among the first-year cohort to recruit for research studies after turkey weekend. And Dr. Mohsan Beg, the director of student counselling at the University of Windsor since 2005, says in his experience (the Turkey Dump) is part of the rhythm of the academic year." ("The Turkey Dump: university students prepare for Thanksgiving breakups", 8 October 2012)

See what I mean? The detriment of the Thanksgiving holiday extends to most every aspect of what most people consider a normal life. Money. Romance. Genocide.

Again... genocide.

And these are just a handful of the many elements that make this particular celebration one of the most insufferable events of the year. Why we put ourselves through the same routine each November seems like an exercise in the cruelest form of habitual torture. I mean, nobody really looks forward to turkey day, do they? It's not like we exchange gifts. The weather is some of the most excruciatingly irritating of the year, a tiresome mix of the cold and the sloppy. There always -- always -- seems to be an inordinate amount of travel involved with whatever you happen to be doing. And maybe most importantly, the thing essentially kicks off a string of horribly depressing months centered around ever-lessening daylight, an impairing climate, disappointing reunions and awkward facial hair for guys who think the wintertime justifies looking like cavemen who haven't yet invented the wheel.

So, what's the solution? Well, ignoring Thanksgiving altogether seems like the most obvious fix, but there's no need to smother ourselves in naivetnaivete (regardless of how many people might hold a deep-seeded hate for the holiday, it would be idiotic to believe that the majority of those who celebrate the occasion will suddenly just stop pretending they enjoy eating cranberry sauce and indulging in some conversation about who Aunt Toots thinks will win The Voice). The monotony of the tradition is simply far too embedded in the populace's being for us to truly think the madness could end over night.

The alternative, then, is to revolutionize the way we celebrate the holiday as it stands today. For example, why don't we try and rethink the menu? Part of what makes each year so taxing is the undeniable predictability of the exercise. Forget turkey -- let's concentrate on whatever we feel like eating. Besides, constructing ten BLTs or throwing four frozen pizzas in the oven sure beats the amount of effort it takes to properly concoct a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Who needs pumpkin pie when there's a case of freeze pops, anyway?

Then, of course, there's the actual day on which it always lands. I mean, what idiot decided it would be a good idea to plop a holiday down in the middle of the week on a day usually reserved for college kids who like to "kick the weekend off early"? It's like asking Owl City to open for Metallica in Sweden: Not only does none of it make sense, but it also provides an inordinate amount of inconvenience for all those involved. Move the celebration to the weekend, and watch as the sales in 50-cent boxes of mashed potatoes increase exponentially.

And finally, exactly why do we insist on inviting obscure family members to these gatherings again? Why don't we take this day to reunite with some of the friends we lost touch with over the years instead of answering questions from uncles who always remind us of how much we failed at pretty much every personal and professional aspect of our lives? Shot-gunning Miller High Lifes out of a can with the dude you met in college who always brought a bottle of Jagermeister and a bag of Cheetos to the party sounds like a far more satisfying way to honor something called The Mayflower, don't you think?

The practice of celebrating Thanksgiving is old and trite and dull and boring and forced and a slave to a kind of tradition that is borderline intolerable. Outside of it solidifying the fact that yes, the calender year is almost over, and no, it won't be warm again for a little while (for those of us in the northern climes, anyway), the holiday itself is nothing more than a hollow attempt for poignancy by people who, in all honesty, would have to spend the next 10,000 years saying "thank you" on a loop to justify all the good fortune they have. It's a manufactured conscience-clearer designed to trick us into thinking that a higher power actually believes us when we say -- a mere one time a year, mind you -- that we know precisely how spoiled we are. It's smothered in the type of empty promises and obnoxious grandstanding that proves exactly how pious and obsessed most of us exemplify with our own exaggerated perception of ourselves.

Or, as the folks at Business Insider argued so eloquently, Thanksgiving is sexist, has a bad color scheme, promises awful American football games, closes restaurants and serves as the last line of defense before Black Friday.

Again... Black Friday. Don't even get me started on Black Friday ...

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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Here comes another Kompakt Pop Ambient collection to make life just a little more bearable.

Another (extremely rough) year has come and gone, which means that the German electronic music label Kompakt gets to roll out their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations for us all.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

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