"To Penetrate the Fug of Things": On Trump's Response to Charlottesville

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez (Minneapolis Star Tribune / TNS)

Rationality, in the moral sense, is an act of love because it is an attempt to bring the world closer, not drive it away. Rationality is not an inherent human trait, it is a choice.

The Pernicious Argument of False Equivalence

In a brilliant exposition of Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of psychoanalysis that dismantles the commonly held misperception that these authors sought to undermine all attempts at interpretation, invalidating the “What does it mean?” and replacing it with “What does it do?”, Ian Buchanan writes: “Our marvel at psychoanalysis’s ability to penetrate the fug [sic] of things and see the truth lurking beneath or behind appearances becomes in this sense a suspicion that we have simply created a new form of self-deception” [Ian Buchanan, “The Little Hans Assemblage,” Visual Arts Research 39/1 (Summer 2013), 11].

His point, of course, is that psychoanalysis seems utterly reliable at disclosing the operative but cryptic meaning behind utterances and occurrences across a broad swath of cultural and social forms and yet, as Deleuze and Guattari demonstrate, it does so largely through reducing all of these expressions or forms to a few archetypes. What’s worse, psychoanalysis typically ignores the creative input of the analysand (the person being analyzed), preferring to attend (when it listens at all) to the verbal slips (parapraxes) in the patient’s discourse. Thus, psychoanalysis always knows the answer, and the (woefully glib Oedipal) answer is pretty much always the same.

Now, clearly, there is a typographical error in that excerpt. Buchanan obviously intends the phrase to read “to penetrate the fog of things” rather than the “fug of things” and perhaps it is uncharitable of me to pick up on a parapraxis in an article that downplays the interpretive power of the parapraxis. But I find that phrase “to penetrate the fug of things” oddly compelling when thinking about the current political/social climate in the United States.

“Fug” seems an appropriate term for what should merely be fog but has become so much worse. While sounding strikingly similar to a favorite four-letter expletive used to communicate disbelief toward the unfathomable and ridiculous, “fug” articulates our disgust for what must be penetrated -- no longer mere fog, the thickening of moisture in air, but rather excrement such as Dante witnesses in the “second pouch” of the Eighth Circle of Hell.

The problem with fug is that we must penetrate it but we would rather imagine we transcend it. I am using the term “transcend” here in a philosophical sense. To provide a transcendent explanation of something is to determine the metaphysical ground that justifies it. The typical example here is the Platonic ForUIKeyInputDownArrowUIKeyInputDownArrowUIKeyInputDownArrowUIKeyInputDownArrowUIKeyInputDownArrowUIKeyInputDownArrowm. How do I judge things in the world? According to Plato, I do so because I have an anamnestic (meaning I remember from a time before my birth, when my soul was in the realm of the Forms) understanding of what things are. I know their Forms. The Form is a kind of metaphysical model and I judge things on the Earth through their proximity to that model. The closer they are to the Form, the more Truth they have.

In essence, this is a reductionist mode of thought and we all, perhaps necessarily, traffic in reductions. They make it far easier to have “convictions” because we believe we have an immediate grasp on what is right and what is wrong. The problem is that most everyone believes that he or she has this immediate grasp and that this grasp is the correct one while others suffer from various failings. We require, it would seem, a certain amount of self-deception in order to survive or, at least to thrive, and it invades all arenas of our lives. Witness, for example, the 2014 study that shows that just about everyone considers themselves to be an above-average driver. Clearly, not all of them could be right.

The same thing goes for rationality. We all believe ourselves to be rational beings. Now, you would think that this would mean that we are all open to having our beliefs challenged and that we would more likely than not be able to reach a point of agreement on most things, given a balance of the same basic background knowledge. In the age of the internet, that basic background knowledge is more readily available than ever before. But, of course, we know it is not the case that people agree more now than in the past.

The problem is blatantly apparent. Rationality in the political and social realm is not based on a given set of self-interpretable data. What we are dealing with, more often than not, is a fundamental disagreement over the very terms of argument. But instead of investigating the underlying bases of that fundamental disagreement, recognizing that any attempt at discourse based on such a fundamental disagreement would be entirely incoherent, we parade our convictions in the guise of slogans and catchphrases that do not allow for discussion but rather shut down conversation in advance. Furthermore, studies have shown that it is a seemingly fundamental human trait to become further entrenched in our points of disagreement when challenged rather than truly open ourselves to other views. Celebrated compromisers are relatively rare. We remember Henry Clay as the Great Compromiser but his colleague and friend Martin Van Buren was castigated during his lifetime for lacking conviction when he too sought compromise. We are the victims of our slogans and our reductions.

One of the most pernicious reductions in moral thinking at the moment is the false equivalence. One can almost understand how the temptation to employ this particular reduction would arise. Unfortunately, it arises from the basic underlying belief that we are all rational animals that behave rationally. It is true that we are all rational animals in that we have the capacity for reason; this is, according to Aristotle, our specific difference; that is, it is what makes us human. But, as Pico della Mirandola so exquisitely argued in his Oration on the Dignity of Man, just because we are capable rationality does not mean that we always avail ourselves of reason.

Human beings, Pico argues, are the envy of the universe because they’re free to choose their own mode of being. The animals are fixed in their station in life, sensitive and desiring corporeal creatures but incapable of choosing their own paths. The Angels, on the other hand, are purely rational creatures, fulfilling their function without their will, assigned their fixed place in the great chain of being. The human being, however, navigates the continuum of Being through free will and self-determination. A composite of the corporeal and the rational, the human being chooses. This is Pico’s reversal of the Scholastic operari sequitur esse (“doing follows being”). For Plato, our Being is bound up in Becoming and that is what makes us imperfect, both ontologically and ethically. For Pico, our lack of fixedness, our ability to manipulate our own position within Becoming, is precisely what defines our freedom and potentially makes us superior to the hierarchical system of Being. Our Being follows our doing; we are the composite of our acts and our potential to act.

That word “potentially”, however, is the killer. Pico acknowledges that the human being very well may choose the life of ignorance, of slovenliness in thought, of wicked self-concern and prejudice. One must choose reason, it is not (contrary to our self-delusion) intrinsic to our being. It’s a potential of which we might avail ourselves or might not.

Neo-Nazis, alt-Right, and white supremacists march the night before the "Unite the Right" rally, on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017 through the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. (Zach D Roberts/NurPhoto/Zuma Press/TNS)

If anything coming out of the White House were shocking anymore, I would certainly have been shocked by President Trump’s statements regarding the deplorable events in Charlottesville. Trump initially declared on Saturday: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides… on many sides.” Many commentators were rightly outraged that he failed to call out the KKK, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis by name. But more disturbing to my mind is the assumed equivalence between the two sides of that confrontation -- the aforementioned racist groups and the counter-protesters.

Although Trump seemed to demur by Monday, finally naming the groups that are not to be tolerated, he soon returned to his favorite role of the victim of the media, tweeting that despite his “additional remarks” the “#Fake New Media will never be satisfied.” Then on Tuesday (the day I am writing this), he returned and indeed doubled down on his false equivalence: “There is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad and a group on the other side that was very violent”, and further, “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, as you say, the ’alt-right’? Do they have any semblance of guilt? They came charging with clubs in their hands.”

Trump is merely echoing a broader trope that has appeared in conservative discourse over the past several years that attempts to label groups such as Black Lives Matter as the counterbalance on the left of the racist agitators of the extreme right. The argument, in short, runs: both sides engage in violent rhetoric and demonstrations (witness the shooting of Representative Steve Scalise, or the Berkeley protest against conservative speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter, or, more ridiculously, the “Trump” Julius Caesar in Central Park, NYC) and so both sides are to blame for the reprehensible current political climate. Stalemate. Arguments stemming from moral relativism are generally considered the province of the left but that is precisely what this argument amounts to. Sure, we have racist extremists who act violently and erratically on our side but you have violent extremists on yours as well.

The “what about you?” or “what about this?” gambit is rarely a cogent argument and generally serves as a means of deflection. Now, I want to be as fair as possible here. I am not condoning the shooting of conservative Representatives (although I hardly see that as a wider trend) nor am I condoning the riots that greeted Yiannopoulos and Coulter. Moreover, non-violent speakers should be welcomed at universities, provided there is student interest (and apparently a group of students had interest). Universities are designed for the examination of ideas -- good and bad. Yiannopoulos and Coulter are provocateurs and in the grander scheme of things that places them at the level of clowns. They entertain by making themselves ridiculous in their attempt to call out the world as being, at base, ridiculous. They are the classic examples of arguments that seem strong until you give them the slightest nudge and discover they are built on unsound and ludicrous foundations. Students should learn to recognize such pernicious logic. Why anyone should get so upset by such puerile thought is beyond my grasp. So yes, granted, the destruction of property and the injury of passersby during the Berkeley riots is unpardonable violence.

But the larger question is whether or not there is some kind of equivalence between the spirit of those Berkeley protests and the spirit of the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville. Since free speech is the cornerstone of democracy ought all free speech not be protected? Here again we are at the point of a reduction. It sounds perfectly reasonable to claim in the abstract that all free speech (other than yelling fire in a crowded theater and the various other typical exceptions) should be protected. Were we all dependably rational creatures, that would be the case. But we are not. And treating someone as though they are rational when they behave irrationally and erratically is itself irrational.

If there is any core belief that ought to be considered essential to rational social behavior and discourse, it is a Kantian one: one must always treat other people as ends-in-themselves and not as a means to an end. In other words, I cannot use you for my own purposes by manipulating, cajoling, bullying, harassing, or committing violence upon your person for my own pleasure or the furtherance of my aims. I must always respect your autonomy, which I fail to do if I threaten you. This applies even to those behaving irrationally.

The Berkeley riots were, in my opinion, irrational in result (the destruction of property did no damage to the actual objects of disdain and think of the bragging rights the protesters provided the provocateur idiots -- the protesters made an event out of these non-appearances instead of treating them with the indifference they warrant) but they were not based in spirit on the notion of treating people as other than ends-in-themselves. In fact -- again, in spirit -- the protests were against what was deemed “hate speech” and thus against the speakers’ attempts to treat others as less than ends-in-themselves. The “in spirit” qualification is not meant to be hedging. Remember we all have the potential to be rational but often fail in that effort. The basis of the Berkeley riots was an attempt at rational objection (there is no need to give bigots a platform for their bigotry) that quickly devolved into irrational anti-social behavior. It was misguided in realization, to say the least. There is a useful distinction to be made between hateful speech (of which both Yiannopoulos and Coulter are guilty) and “hate speech” per se (which both are canny enough to mostly avoid) -- but that is a separate topic.

The white supremacist protests were based on the notion that other people are “less than”, unworthy of respect, and inherently not part of our country. Rallying around a statue of a Confederate general with torches (even if, ludicrously, they were tiki torches), replete with riot gear, shields, and insignias and flags that denote the racial superiority of one group over others, is an explicit threat of violence designed to intimidate, harass, and create fear.

I have an Ibsenian distaste for crowds and most mass protests are going to devolve into irrationality. Social and political thought cannot and ought not to be reduced to slogans and that is pretty much the best that mass protests can do. In certain (rare) cases, they may effectively bring to light voices that are ignored, suffering that goes unnoticed. At worst, they calcify both sides. Remember that people tend to double down in disagreements when confronted directly. Hindsight makes things easy and I am hardly attempting to disavow the intentions of the counter-protesters. But these demonstrations only give the neo-Nazis the attention (and in their minds, the legitimacy) they seek.

To say this, however, is not to draw a moral equivalency because at the basis of the neo-Nazi message is hate and the basis of the counter-protesters is concern. And so we return to Dante with the question of how to respond to hatred and anger, or as it appears in the Inferno, wrath. In the Fifth Circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil are on a boat traversing a bloody and slimy body of water in which the wrathful swim and tear each other apart. A man that Dante recognizes, Filippo Argenti (a real-life enemy of the poet) grabs the side of the vessel and when Dante asks who he is, he answers, “I am one who weeps.” Throughout the book, Dante shows great pity toward the damned, often to the chagrin of his guide Virgil, but in this instance Dante takes delight in the suffering of this soul. He rejoices in beholding a group of sinners begin to consume Argenti and indeed Argent even commences tearing at his own flesh with his teeth.

The question is often asked: is Dante not here guilty of wrath as well? Why should he take such pleasure, indeed thank God, for the tortures endured by this lost soul? There are several things to notice. First, other than wishing him ill, Dante makes no attempt to bring harm to Argenti; he merely consigns him to the fate he has earned through his wrath. Second, and importantly, not all wrath is the same, not all anger is equivalent. Implicit in the text is that Argenti was antisocially wrathful, that his hatred for others was so extreme that he was a disease in relation to his fellow man. Wishing him punished (indeed punished in part through his own hatred, turned upon himself) is not a further act of violence. It is the condemnation of violence. Even if we accept some form of moral relativism, that does not mean (cannot mean) that all moral positions are equally defensible. Antisocial violence is inherently irrational.

Eventually, Dante leaves the Inferno behind. He penetrates the fug, so to speak. And importantly, he arrives at Purgatory, the most philosophically rich book of The Divine Comedy. The Inferno is a harrowing thrill-ride of outlandish imagery but Purgatory is a book to be reflected upon and savored. In that book, Dante posits a world held together by Love. Love is the force that binds. Virgil proclaims to Dante: “My son, there’s no Creator and no creature who ever was without love -- natural or mental…The natural is always without error, but mental love may choose an evil object or err through too much or too little vigor” (Canto XVII, 91-96, translation by Allen Mandelbaum).

There are three types of sinner that choose an evil object: one who “through abasement of another hopes for supremacy”; one “who fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor”; and one who grows greedy for revenge and “seeks out another’s harm”. These are examples of the perversion of love and of its destruction; they are acts of hatred toward one’s neighbor. To thrust away from the self, to push the neighbor aside, the refusal to understand but simply to deny -- these are acts of fear. And rational people have nothing to fear from each other -- provided they are willing to behave rationally. Rationality, in the moral sense, is an act of love because it is an attempt to bring the world closer, not drive it away. But there is no guarantee that we will behave rationally and too often we are blind to our own acts of irrationality, unwilling to see them, recalcitrant in our refusal to acknowledge them. The fug of things can indeed be penetrated by reason… but we have to choose it.

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

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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.

Keep reading... Show less

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

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.

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

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