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From my latest Times guest column:


The march toward universal music extends back to the days of Edison. But I recall, with a perverse fondness, the latter days of the 20th century, when the franchise was still the exclusive property of record pools and radio. Only the Fates could compel your local station to deliver "Fresh Is the Word" or "Sucker DJs." This was before the lords of FM took to bragging "All hip-hop, all the time," when, outside of the five boroughs, rap was midnight music for the urban avant-garde. 

Kids with substantive allowances could purchase actual records, but the rest of us, trapped in prudent homes, had only Memorex tapes to save our favorite jams from the yawning void beyond the memory of playlists. Who knew how long it would be before we again beheld the splendor of "Cold Gettin' Dumb"? Even the artists were ethereal. There was no Vibe or XXL to confirm the death of the Human Beat Box or Scott La Rock, or explain why UTFO faded away. Overrun by mystery, you had only divination and hours upon hours of deciphering cover art, hoping to confirm that the great Humpty Hump really was Shock G. 

The mystery of music was the calling card of that pop age. Comic books were equally esoteric, alluding to back issues that would take months to procure, or that simply couldn't be procured at all. Favorite cartoons would come and go -- mid-continuity, plotlines dangling -- without explanation. The star receiver of your favorite football team would vanish, leaving you in wonder, until years later when an announcer's off-hand mention of a tragic car crash brought you up to speed. But the distance between what you knew and what you didn't was magic, was a shared realm of legitimate fact and fan fictions. It demanded interpretation, completion, creation.

I would say more, but I don't really want to. Maybe on Monday. Check out if you have a moment. As always, let's talk.


Ok, I do want to say this: Writing at 800 words is really hard. For me, it's like writing a sonnet. I actually think about like an MC with 16 bars, mostly because I really believe the the thing should sound good. All my favorite sentences have a dash of Nas or Billy Collins (Alec Baldwin--"carrying two hundred and twenty-five pounds, like an athlete in his sportscaster years"). There's a beat you have in your head, and you don't want your sentences to be off. And then on top of that you have to try to actually say something. My point isn't that it always works. It doesn't. But that's what you're trying to do.
Some of the Times columnists have caught some flack around these parts. And that's fine, this is exactly as it should be. But it's really hard. I just feel the need to say that. It doesn't mitigate any criticism because ultimately, I believe the job of the writer is to Say Something Beautifully.  (Which is different from making fluff sound "pretty.") Still I want to note that it's really effing hard.

Ok, I'm done here.

Wait, one more thing--This is why I've been thinking of Jem and Transformers recently. It's about El P's "beautiful use of negative space." The gap between what their budgets and formulas allowed us to see, and what we imagined when we went on with our lives. 

I imagined so much. I think you did too.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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