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(Public domain, hopefully? Let us know if this is a problem)

After the fact, he would simply refer to the performance as “beautiful” in an attempt to deflect accusations of controversy in the face of a divided nation. A few months after that, around the change of the calendar, he would roll out his true protest, the finest electric guitar symphony ever conceived, in what would end up being the only showcase for his talents that were actually on his terms. He would be dead within the year, nobody the wiser.

But in this moment, at 9 am the morning after the damn thing was supposed to end on the saturated grounds that were never as good as they looked on film long after the fact to the millions upon millions who were nostalgic for something that never was, he was free. He hoped only for as much as that for everyone else. Fifty years ago today, at right around the time this post is publishing, Jimi Hendrix played the longest set of his career at Woodstock, a sloppy, convoluted mess which nevertheless gave us an interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that has confounded and inspired ever since.

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You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.

But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.

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Graphic by Brian Kraker

Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.

Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.

As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.

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aretha franklin songs

Citation needed

The first time I internalized Aretha Franklin – not “heard,” because as an American growing up post-1966, you never hear her for the first time – I was playing a video game against my oldest, not older, brother, back in the relatively nascent console days when video game producers didn’t know what to do other than to license actual music to fill in gaps in gameplay.

Specifically, the first time I internalized Aretha Franklin, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 76, was during one of the marathon sessions of NFL GameDay 2000 that yours truly used to play against his older, wiser sibling. To give you an idea of how the games themselves usually went, I relied on the fake punt-pass as my go-to fourth down play, and it never worked, and the most memorable game we ever played rests on that guy using that play, my play, to beat me in the final seconds of a game in which I was already ahead. He kept a running log of this particular series, but that is neither here nor there. It’s in Chicago, if I had to guess.

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I.

You’d have to really be up on your Eastern European saints to know Stanislaus Kostka; the 16th century Jesuit novice somehow isn’t even the best-known St. Stanislaus from Poland (an honor that goes to Stanislaus Szczepanów, the 11th century bishop martyred at the hands of a guy literally named Boleslaw). Long story short, Kostka grew up a boy of weak constitution but strong religious fervor in a (surprise!) harsh patriarchal family with six siblings and one older brother in particular who – we are told, probably by way of the younger siblings – ragged on him often. After education in Vienna, an alleged visit from St. Barbara and a long trip through Germany and Austria that ended with employment in a Rome boarding school, Kostka realized in a vision that the last fever he had would get the better of him, promptly wrote a letter to the Virgin Mary and died in the small hours of August 15, 1568, at the age of 17. In the Renaissance, being self-aware enough to realize you had a weak immune system was basically enough to get you beatified and canonized; in the Gilded Age, it was enough to get you Chicago’s first Polish Catholic church.

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Brian Kraker / Tuesdays With Horry

Brian Kraker / Tuesdays With Horry

Right from the very start, 2016 stood to challenge us. From the very start, we knew it wasn’t going to be a run-of-the-mill annum, from North Korea’s interstellar aggravation to the deaths of every stranger we thought we knew, from our laughter at nationalistic shortsightedness abroad to the joke turning on us with an apolitically exhausting election cycle that, even now, seems interminable, this year has cast shadows into every corner and fear into every heart, asserting its overwhelming pessimism past the point of absurdity and into realms of dystopian ennui.

But then, light is said to shed out of darkness; without the light, we wouldn’t know dark from darker, and pitch blackness would be broad daylight. As historically low as some of the valleys insisted upon going, a great many peaks, more than we’ll care to recall, shot up with a distinctly human, distinctly empathetic vitality. 2016 was the equivalent of the Gordie Howe hat trick: a goal first, an assist next and one giant, inevitable fight, with indescribable rage having finally boiled over to manifest itself in hideousness antipathy. It is with this in mind that we at TwH look back, one final, bitter time at the insanity of the preceding twelve months, with an eye toward what society has constructed as 2017. If Earth is really dying, and if we’ve only got five years left to cry in, U better live now.

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slager

Brace, as defined by the dictionary, as a verb: prepare (someone or oneself) for something difficult or unpleasant.

Sometime last week, I saw a tweet from the Michael Slager trial where he (Slager) alleged that he never received proper training on how to de-escalate situations (Okay, I don’t have the verbatim. I’m not a journalist, so please just trust that I have the gist of things). If you are unfamiliar with Michael Slager, he is a former cop in North Charleston, SC, who was on trial for the murder of Walter Scott (Also, if you’re unfamiliar with Michael Slager, tip of the cap to ya! I consider myself a pretty connected person, but this story might have been pretty challenging to avoid, especially in South Carolina. So, I mean this when I say that it’s impressive to *not* have known about Slager or Scott in any capacity.)

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