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We Had All the Good Songs

A St. Cecilia Thanksgiving


It has become an annual Thanksgiving tradition on this weblog  -- see prior instances here (2005) and here (2004) -- to post a version of Fairport Convention's "Now Be Thankful."  Today, November 22, is also Saint Cecilia's Day, so the inclusion of music in our holiday observance is especially timely. 

This year, courtesy of The YouTube  -- get it while it lasts, and be thankful -- I offer up a video version of the tune, taken from an outdoor Fairport Convention appearance at Maidstone, Kent, in 1970.  Sandy Denny had departed the band at this point, and Richard Thompson was about to do the same.  Thompson's little grin at the conclusion of this performance is particularly lovely.*

As for another of my annual Traditions, the space following this paragraph will soon be occupied by here is a photograph of the President of the United States pardoning this year's turkey.  No Karl Rove jokes, please:


The White House provides the text of the President's Remarks at the Pardoning.  There is video of the blessed event to be had as well.

Following the presidential precedent of last year, the Nation's Turkeys will be packed off to Disneyland following their pardon, there to appear as Grand Marshals of the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade and to serve out their natural lives under Mouse arrest.  It is to be hoped that the Disneyland birds will be spared the fate of "Clyde," last year's official Pardoned Turkey of the State of Alabama, whose fate it was to be eaten by a wily coyote.

Speaking of clever predators, the presidential turkey pardon turns out to be the subject of a book by Magnus Fiskesjö, a Swedish anthropologist.  A sample observation: 

The Thanksgiving turkey pardon is a prime example of an act that is only seemingly innocuous but actually serves to shape our modern consciousness.  Masquerading as a joke, it is really a symbolic pardoning act which, through public performance, establishes and manifests the sovereign’s position at the helm of the state by highlighting, as an attribute of his position, his power to control matters of life and death.  Alas, the etymological coincidence of the words ‘executive’ and ‘execution.’

Alas, indeed.  Meanwhile, Jack Kelly of American Heritage magazine ladles out heaping platefuls of turkey lore, including the disputed origins of the annual Pardon and this:

Sarah Josepha Hale, among the first American women to write a novel (she also composed 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'), began to campaign for an official Thanksgiving holiday in 1846.  There were only two national holidays at the time, Washington’s Birthday and Independence Day.  Many states adopted the autumn celebration before Lincoln proclaimed it for the entire country during the Civil War. Hale, who had not previously connected Thanksgiving to the Plymouth settlement, mentioned in 1865 that 'the Pilgrim Fathers incorporated a yearly Thanksgiving day among the moral influences they sent to the New World.'  It was not true, but, Smith notes, 'textbooks were retelling the tale of the first Thanksgiving dinner by 1870.'  The myth of that original feasting ritual became established and was embellished by Victorian novelists, who attributed elaborate menus to the struggling Pilgrims.

The President having hurried home from Asia just in time to bestow the Nation's pardon on this fine fowl, it is appropriate to consider the Thanksgiving challenges faced by our fellow citizens in far away places.  Samia Mounts, an American in Seoul, explains the holiday for Korean readers and reports:

Many Americans live in Seoul, and Thanksgiving can be a challenging holiday for them.  They find it a challenge to find a turkey to roast, because the markets in Seoul do not carry turkey.  However, if one is creative, one can overcome any culinary obstacle.  A large chicken can substitute for a turkey, and almost all the other Thanksgiving trimmings are available here in Seoul.

Ms. Mount provides an intriguing recipe for Ginger Peanut Stuffing, which is sure to give your large chicken real global flair.

  • Given that characters nicknamed "Turkey" and "Ginger Nut" both appear in Melville's tale of "Bartleby, the Scrivener," one might rename this dish "Herman Melville Dressing."

Or one might prefer not to.

And on those eclectic and festive notes, here's wishing to each of you a bountiful, healthful, mellifluous and Happy Thanksgiving.


*  Apropos of St. Cecilia and the art of which she is patroness, this fool enthusiastically endorses Richard Thompson's 2003 recording, 1000 Years of Popular Music, which covers exactly that: from "Sumer is icumen in" to "Oops, I Did it Again" by way of Henry V, a memento mori ("Remember O Thou Man), mining protest songs ("Blackleg Miner"), Gilbert & Sullivan ("There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast"), Cole Porter ("Night & Day") and the Easybeats ("Friday on My Mind").   Now available in a deluxe edition with accompanying DVD (which I have not seen myself).

Illustration for Dryden's "Ode to Saint Cecilia" from The Illustrated London Reading Book, by Various Authors (Third Edition, 1851).



Thanks for the video -- I've always liked that song. Although everything's better with Sandy Dennis.

I also am quite fond of that Richard Thompson cd. Did you know he actually did a tour for it? We saw him in Santa Cruz, and he absolutely rocked the house. His "Oops I Did It Again" was better than the original (natch), but I was shocked to discover that the same was true for his cover of "Season of the Witch," and exponentially so. I don't hear that song the same since then.

[Whispering] He's not as good on the early-period music as he ought to be, given his history with the Cambridge Buskers. [/whisper]

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