Books

Ta-Nahisi Coates' We Were Eight Years in Power' Collects and Concentrates the Critic's Insights

An excellent octet of prophetic, disturbing, hopeful essays about race, politics, identity, and those indiscernible grey areas in the American character.

In the newly-written preface to his “Fear of a Black President", which originally appeared in a 2012 issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nahisi Coates asks what probably burdens all intellectuals who are marginalized (usually involuntarily) by accident of birth to speak for “their people", “their demographic", “their choir".



We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy

Publisher: One World
Author: Ta-Nahesi Coates
ISBN-10: 0399590560
ISBN-13: 978-0399590566
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2017-10
Amazon

Simply put, Coates asks: “Why do white people like what I write?" It's a question purposefully written in italics and probably intended to be asked in a loud whisper.

By 2012, Coates had assumed a place on the mantle of America's leading black intellectuals. His long-form journalistic articls for The Atlantic between 2009-2016 (eight of which comprise the bulk of this collection) provid the template for posing (and usually brilliantly answering) questions about the need for slavery reparations, an overhaul of the frightening prison industrial complex, the legacies of Malcolm X, The Civil War, separate profiles of the Obamas, Bill Cosby, and (in the final chilling essay) the ascension of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America.

The question still loomed over Coates in 2012 and probably has since remained a barrier between his life as a journalist, a long-form narrative expository writer, an African-American man, a husband, and a father trying to help his young son navigate his way through world that is by no means (as the election of Barack Obama meant for some) “post-racial". Coates came of age through hip-hop culture, a world where Public Enemy's “Fight the Power" burst through loudspeakers and refused to be silenced, never considered compromising. Coates answers his question with another question: “How do you defy a power that insists on claiming you?"

In short, if the way you carefully and systematically structure your work has allowed you entrance into the culture, where do you go for your next act? How do you maintain credibility and legitimacy and continue to shine a spotlight into the darkness if those who had for years been marginalizing you are now (perhaps begrudgingly) offering you a seat at the table?

Ta-Nahisi Coates's We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy is supremely structured, burning with rage, yet always focused and clear-headed. These eight essays are at times museum pieces to a more "innocent" era, if you will, starting with 2009's “This Is How We Lost to the White Man: The Audacity of Bill Cosby's Conservatism". The original premise of the article remains strong. In the first decade of the 21st century, Cosby had assumed the mantle of the Black Conservative, assembling town meetings in various inner-city neighborhoods, calling out those in the community he saw as irresponsible:

“It was revival… a hunger for the uncomplicated time when all black men worked hard, all black women were virtuous, and all black parents, collectively, whipped each other's kids."

Later in his preface, Coates considers whether or not these “call-outs" of Cosby's were covers for the rape allegations that had been collecting under the surface for years and would not explode until approximately half a decade after the publication of this essay. Coates notes all this and also suggests that “…in every piece in the book there is a story I told and many more I left untold…"

The story of Cosby's rise to the top level of Black Conservative thought is fascinating to read now, as all histories seem in retrospect. (That his sexual indiscretions eventually caught up to him and erased this legacy of public service was completely his fault.) It was 2004, at the NAACP Awards Ceremony 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, Cosby gave what would be known as “The Pound Cake" speech, in which he disparaged those in his community he saw as lazy, those who stole soda and pound cake and turned around to charge the justice system with racism. He disparaged African-American naming traditions. Bill Cosby was the TV sit-com icon of the '80s, the garish sweater-wearing Dr. Huxtable. The Cosby Show (1984-1992) was the template for uplift and accomplishment through secondary education at historically black colleges like Spellman. Cosby's transition into conservative motivational speaker was predictable, but it wasn't new:

“Black conservatives have been dipping into this well of lost black honor since the turn of the twentieth century… populist black conservatives like Cosby point to pre-1968 black America as an era when blacks were united in the struggle: men were men, and a girl who got pregnant without getting married would find herself bundled off to Grandpa's farm."

Coates understood in 2009, as he understands now, that the gift of hindsight might make this essay irrelevant now. He only mentions in passing that some believed Cosby's entrance into the world of black conservative speakers was to cover for his own sexual transgressions. At that point, he was only three years away from having settled (in 2006) a major lawsuit. This essay works best as an opening chapter in his retrospective of the Obama years because Cosby represented a mentality that seemed to be dying but has since been clearly revived. Cosby was seen as “one of the good ones". In all his pontification against rap lyrics, unwed mothers, and young African-American males with their droopy pants, Cosby's anger was the best testimony for Fox News to keep its lights on and ratings up.

In “Notes from the Second Year", the preface for “American Girl", (his profile of Michelle Obama), Coates explores how he and his wife were trying to develop lives of meaning. For him, “…the axis was race. The axis she chose was gender." The tone of this section is especially heartbreaking in its optimism and hope. For Oates and his wife, the very fact of Barack and Michelle Obama in the White House was life-changing. “I felt that I had not changed, but the world was changing around me." Oates mirrors Michelle's infamous (to some) quote after the Iowa primaries when she noted this was the first time in her life she was proud of her country. For Oates, “Everything was bright. Everything was rising. Everything was a dream." That it would all evaporate upon the election of Donald Trump is something we know, Coates knows, and everybody understands there's nothing that can be done to change the outcome.

Coates knows that to effectively see Michelle Obama is to understand the South Side of Chicago: “In most black people there is a South Side, a sense of home, that never leaves, and yet to compete in the world, we have to go forth." Coates goes on to explain the concept of code-switching, of becoming bilingual in those non-verbal ways we all have of adapting to different cultures. The premise of “American Girl" is based on the notion Coates sets forth that when he first saw Michelle Obama, he took her for, in a way, a white woman. He explains: “…it was not because of her cadences, mannerism, or dress, but because of the radical propositions she set forth… a black community fully vested… in the country at large."

Was it the Barack Obama-inspired “Audacity of Hope" that drove the first couple, Coates and his wife, and countless others who saw a new opportunity with our 44th President? Coates seems to be developing that narrative, which again makes it all the more heartbreaking in “Notes from the Third Year", as he introduces “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" For Coates, those who dismissed the current relevance and overall importance of the Civil War were tantamount to “…a country trying to skip out on a bill, trying to stave off a terrible accounting." The essay itself is solid and filled with clear assessments of dubious observations, such as Ken Burns' favorite Shelby Foote, who called slave-trader and Klansman Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest “one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history". Coates notes that for African-Americans, the war was already 200 years old by the time it started for everybody else in 1861. In the light of recent protests regarding the removal of statues honoring Confederate heroes, Coates's 2012 words are prescient:

“The Civil War confers on us the most terrible burden of all-the burden of moving from protest to production…"

In his introduction to “The Legacy of Malcolm X: Why His Vision Lives on in Barack Obama", Coates writes about how he was influenced by hip-hop. He wanted to flow like Nas, Raekwon, or Jay-Z, but he wasn't going to stop there. He saw and heard that music in what he was reading: Ulysses S. Grant, Edith Wharton, E.L. Doctorow, and George Eliot. Coates was compelled to write of Malcolm X in the fourth year once the scourge of “birtherism" was introduced and championed by then prospective Presidential candidate Trump. He concedes that the premise of this piece sounds better than it reads and that he strained to make the Obama-Malcolm parallel. Still, this essay is strong. He begins by placing us on election night and indicating that by 2008, the legacy of Malcolm X was not as strong as it had been:

“Stanley Crouch… dismissed Malcolm X as 'one of the naysayers to American possibility whose vision was permanently crushed beneath the heel of Obama's victory on Nov. 4.'"

This notion from Crouch seemed to dismiss the fact that Malcolm was a strong embodiment of black pride identity. Whether or not that had any role in the development of American culture in 1962 (when Malcolm asked “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin?") seemed to be irrelevant to black conservatives like Crouch. For Coates, “…the self-created, martially disciplined Malcolm is the man who lives on… Among organic black conservatives, this moral leadership still gives Malcolm sway." The strength of this 2011 essay rests in the dual narrative of Malcolm X's post-life reputation and Coates's re-embracing of the man who, as actor Ossie Davis put it in his 1965 eulogy, was “our living, black manhood". For Coates, Obama was the only other black leader who could share that description.

The question of marginalization surfaces most clearly in the preface to “Fear of a Black President". By the end of Obama's first term, Coates was firmly fixed at The Atlantic as their “black writer". He understands that, yet he sees it to his advantage. “I wasn't boxed in as much as those who dismissed my chosen beast were boxed out. The notion that writing about race… is marginal and provincial is… partial to white supremacy… premised on the notion that the foundational crimes of this country are mostly irrelevant to its existence."

In many ways, We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy is a dual story of growth, of two men (Coates the writer/ intellectual and Obama the writer/ intellectual/ leader of the free world) finding and forging a new identity from what's been both inherited and earned. As he starts “Fear of a Black President", Coates emphasizes how the murder of black teen Trayvon Martin was the turning point for this story of a young man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Before Obama claimed “If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," it was an American tragedy. Afterwards, Trayvon became the subject of cruel internet memes featuring hoodies, Skittles, and Arizona Iced Tea. No matter how deftly Obama had been able to evade and avoid the subject of race during his first term, this episode in history changed everything. For Obama, “…his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches."

Coates doesn't hold back in this essay, and nor should he. Virulently racist quotes from the legendary racist late Senator Robert Byrd are excerpted here, along with those of elitist intellectual publisher/ political commentator William F. Buckley, Jr., who claimed in 1957 that “…for the time being, it [the white community] is the advanced race." Coates notes that rather than being a man obsessed with the politics of racial identity, “Obama talked less about race than any other Democratic president since 1961." The fear Coates illustrates so clearly in this essay is nothing new, and Obama's legacy was built more on the approach of Booker T. Washington than it was anybody else. Still, the fear was real before and during Obama's presidency. The racism was just concealed in ways more lethal in their subtlety.

Coates embraces the persona he's assumed in the public cycle of long-form journalists whose mission is to fly as close to the truth as he can without his wings melting. “The black public intellectual need not be wise," he writes, “but he had better have answers." In 2014's “The Case for Reparations", perhaps the most famous and well-reasoned essays in this collection, Coates takes the opportunity in his preface to properly acknowledge some sources for the narrative background. He also notes something not included in the essay, “…that reparations are not reserved for the unimpeachably virtuous and cannot solve the problems of human morality…" Coates reflects here that he loved the "invisibility" of writing, but this essay changed everything.

“The Case for Reparations" is a careful, exhaustively researched examination of times when reparations had been proposed, how “…the myth holds that fatherhood is the great antidote to all that ails black people." Coates proves that for every myth about how an unstable home life was the singular reason for the failure of black lives, there are exceptions. “Liberals… ignore the long tradition of this country actively punishing black success -- and the elevation of that punishment… to federal policy." The greatest strengths in Coates's writing are not exclusively ideas carefully argued. It's also the rhythm of his sentences that never fails to please the reader:

“What I'm talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal… Reparations would mean a revolution of the American consciousness, a reconciling of our self-image as the great democratizer with the facts of our history."

“The Black Family in the Age of Incarceration" starts with a picture of the erudite sociologist and diplomat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a white intellectual who eventually became a New York Senator in 1976 after first coming to attention with “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action", a report based on his '60s-era work with President Johnson's War on Poverty. The report “…argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by 'three centuries of sometimes unimaginable treatment.'" While some saw the report as victim-blaming, denying the matriarchy and condemning absent fathers, Coates argues that it eventually “…was portrayed as an argument for leaving the black family to fend for itself." Coates cites a quote from Moynihan printed in a 1967 Time profile that resonates with unabashed callousness:

“'When these Negro G.I.s come back from Viet Nam, I would meet them with a real estate agent… who looks like Diahann Carroll… I'd try to get half of them into grade schools, teaching kids who've never had anyone but women telling them what to do."

It's from this basis that Coates builds his argument that “the carceral state has… become a credentialing institution…" Whether he's looking back to the early parts of the 20th century, and how W.E.B. Dubois's “…language anticipated the respectability politics of our own era…" or citing how FBI Director J Edgar Hoover systematically targeted black leaders (from Marcus Garvey in 1919 through Martin Luther King in the '60s), this essay burns with the logic of how systems put into place many years ago worked to conspire against the underclass, the underserved. “The blacks incarcerated in this country are not like the majority of Americans," Coates writes. “They… hail from communities that have been imperiled across both the deep and immediate past… Peril is generational for black people in America…"

In the notes that precede “My President Was Black", Coates expresses the urgency with which he sees this mission of writing: “I don't ever want to lose sight of how short my time is here." Later, he writes “…my ambition is to write both in defiance of tragedy and in blindness of its possibility…" The essay itself is as carefully delineated as all the others, and it's here where the book truly earns its subtitle. Obama was more than accomplished, more than qualified, but Coates reminds us that the man “…was born into a country where laws barring his very conception… had long been in force." It's a remarkably succinct paragraph that deserves to be quoted in full. In short, the election of Obama was an attempt to resolve a major contradiction in this country. This was a black man with deep roots in the white world, but Coates does not hold back. Of Obama's legacy, he writes:

“The price it exacted, incredible. The world it gave way to, unthinkable."

Coates's We Were Eight Years In Power takes its title from the post-reconstruction period when many states, particularly South Carolina, attempted to set into law standards to undermine and keep newly freed enslaved people as the permanent underclass. That state's Congressman Thomas Miller who, in 1895, fought for the rights of freed men and women, noted that we were eight years in power and “upon the road to prosperity". The fact that Obama was succeeded by a man who, as Coates put it, “…spent the campaign freely and liberally trafficking in misogyny, Islamophobia, and xenophobia" simply means we need to work harder, deeper, longer to ensure we get back on that road toward a better direction. We Were Eight Years In Power is a remarkable, heartbreaking, thrilling collection that should keep us all hopeful in the unknown and dangerous days ahead.

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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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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