Hello all, and Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been too preoccupied with other projects and responsibilities to devote much time to these pages as of late, however, I wanted to pop in today to try and sweeten up our modern slant on a harvest feast with some thematically appropriate sounds. This holiday, as we Americans have come to celebrate it, has been an official tradition since 1863, when, in the midst of the divisive horrors of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln responded to a 74-year-old magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, who urged the president in a letter dated September 28, 1863, to unite the states through custom by having the “day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.” On October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the following proclamation written by Secretary of State William Seward:
By the President of the United States of America.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State
Nearly eighty years later, On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress changing the national Thanksgiving Day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth Thursday.
Now with that little history lesson out of the way, I’d like to first present to you The Robins backed by the exceptional Johnny Otis (“the blackest white man in America”) and his Johnny Otis Orchestra, who in 1950 laid down these swinging rhythm and blues instructions to dance the “Turkey Hop.”
——————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)
Like it? Buy it.
From Turkey to Thanks, up next is Eddie Jefferson, the innovator of Vocalese: a style of jazz singing wherein words are sung to melodies that were originally part of an instrumental composition or improvisation; basically, it’s like scat singing with a lexicon. Tragically, while exiting Baker’s Keyboard Lounge on May 8, 1979 at approximately 1:35 a.m, Eddie Jefferson was shot and killed by a disgruntled dancer who once worked for him. Jefferson was 60-years-old. However, a few years prior in 1974, Jefferson released the album Things Are Getting Better, which featured a freewheeling and funky rendition of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1969 hit, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” Here in this song, Stone gives thanks for perhaps the greatest gift one can receive, being permitted to just be who you are.
—————————————–(CLICK TO LISTEN)
Like it? Buy it.
Eddie Jefferson – Vocals
Sam Jones – Bass
Billy Mitchell – Flute, Clarinet (Bass), Sax (Tenor)
Joe Newman – Trumpet
Mickey Tucker – Organ, Piano, Piano (Electric), Saw
Conrad Buckman – Vocals
Eddie Gladden – Drums
Mildred Weston – Vocals
—Alright, I’ve given you the gravy, and now it’s time for some dry turkey meat—
First published in the 1989 chapbook Tornado Alley, “Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986” features William S. Burroughs giving thanks as only he could. Two years later, director Gus Van Sant created this short film of Burroughs reading the poem over a montage.
For John Dillinger
In hope he is still alive
“Thanksgiving Day, November 28, 1986″
Thanks for the wild turkey and the Passenger Pigeons, destined to be shit out through wholesome American guts
Thanks for a Continent to despoil and poison
Thanks for Indians to provide a modicum of challenge and danger
Thanks for vast herds of bison to kill and skin, leaving the carcass to rot
Thanks for bounties on wolves and coyotes
Thanks for the American Dream to vulgarize and falsify until the bare lies shine through
Thanks for the KKK, for nigger-killing lawmen feeling their notches, for decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces
Thanks for Kill a Queer for Christ stickers
Thanks for laboratory AIDS
Thanks for Prohibition and the War Against Drugs
Thanks for a country where nobody is allowed to mind his own business
Thanks for a nation of finks—yes,
Thanks for all the memories all right, lets see your arms
You always were a headache and you always were a bore
Thanks for the last and greatest betrayal of the last and greatest of human dreams.
Now, as a bit of a palette cleanse, I’d like to conclude with what was a radio-wave tradition in my youth and what must be the most epic of Thanksgiving songs, a twenty-year-old Arlo Guthrie’s hilarious and poignant true story, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree.” With a runtime of 18 minutes and 34 seconds, this song served as the opening track (and took up the entire A-side) of Guthrie’s 1967 debut album, Alice’s Restaurant, which later inspired an amusing and underrated 1969 movie of the same name co-written and directed by Arthur Penn.
Yet, before I leave you with the song I’d like to say that we need to remember—to paraphrase colonist William Bradford’s words of 1621, in “Of Plymouth Plantation”—Thanksgiving is the time for the people to “fit up their houses and dwellings against winter,” and to celebrate both “being all well recovered in health and strength.” and having “all things in good plenty.” However, more importantly, if you find yourself fit up and with all things in good plenty, Thanksgiving should serve as a reminder of a fundamental principle for humanity, perhaps best expressed as a succinct maxim in Bob Dylan’s 1967 song “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest”:
When you see your neighbor carryin’ somethin’
Help him with his load
And don’t go mistaking Paradise
For that home across the road
———————————(CLICK TO LISTEN)
Like it? Buy it.
THANK YOU———————————BOBBY CALERO—————————