Tofurky Day 2021

You might need more than one glass of that black wine to get through this

I became a vegetarian during my freshman year of high school, on Thanksgiving Day. I was fourteen years old and, excluding the first few years, when digesting such things would have proved difficult, I figure that I had between 10 and 12 traditional Thanksgiving dinners before purging myself of the consumption of flesh.

Earlier that year, I had met a girl who was a vegetarian, the first I had ever met. I knew such exotic creatures existed in the wild but the actual practice was something I had only heard about, not experienced. At the time, pizza and PB&J were about the only meals I knew of that fit the bill of vegetarianism. Now, even most steakhouses have something vegetarian on their menus.

The first record of vegetarianism comes from the writing of Pythagoras around 500 BC. The idea of treating other species with respect and dignity remains a tough one for most people these thousands of years later but it is estimated that there are about 10 million Americans who currently observe a vegetarian diet. It seems to me that the practice is gaining credibility with young people, and that has to be a good thing.

Thanksgiving Day is traditionally celebrated as a time to reflect on the good things in life: the things that are still bountiful as nature becomes stingier with her light and heat.

There are a lot of things to be thankful for this year. I am thankful for everyone who has gotten the vaccine, who wears a face mask and practices social distancing, for their help in overcoming a pandemic that currently sits at number 6 on the list of history’s worst.

Number six with a bullet

It takes no effort to see what is wrong with the world. Just turn on your TV or scroll through some social media. It is easy to get angry, discouraged, or frustrated. But what is easy is often the enemy of what is useful. So, as you tuck into your meat- or plant-based feast today, it would be a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity this day gives us to stop everything else we are doing and reflect with gratitude on everything that is right with the world.

Here is a song of thanks from a few years back, from another world:

For the time you made me smile
When you were crying all the while
For the time you helped me see
The other man who I could be

I want to thank you
I want to thank you

For the time you held my hand
When I had nothing but who I am
For the time you said to me,
"It's OK. Don't worry."

I want to thank you
I want to thank you

Bloggiversary 2021

Another year, another number. Eight years ago today this blog was launched and now, 983 posts later, is another chance to consider the consequences of the passage of time.

I am on my third day job since starting this blog, with dimming prospects from making a living from my more creative pursuits. Still, the inescapable lure of the muse keeps drawing me along a path that has brought more enjoyment to my life than anything but love. And speaking of Anything But Love, that is the title of the final song on my next album, a collection of songs written over the last year, and tentatively titled That Kind of Fool. I am also 60 pages deep in a play I am writing called Renewal. I hope to have both of those projects finished before this blog turns nine.

Eight is a strange number. Cut it in half and you have two zeros (or two threes, depending on how you slice it). Lay it on its side and it becomes infinity. If you are Billie Eilish, you give the name to the eighth song on your album When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

Wait a minute, let me finish
I know you don't care
But can you listen?
I came committed, guess I overdid it
Wore my heart out on a chain
Around my neck, but now it's missing, hmm
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da
So I think I better go
I never really know how to please you
You're lookin' at me like I'm see-through
I guess I'm gonna go
I just never know how you feel
Do you even feel anything?
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da
Da-da-da-da-da-da-da
You said, "Don't treat me badly"
But you said it so sadly
So I did the best I could
Not thinking you would have left me gladly
I know you're not sorry
Why should you be?
'Cause who am I to be in love
When your love never is for me?

Eclipse

Last night, for a few hours, Earth insinuated itself between the sun and the moon. It got me thinking that the alignment of celestial bodies is a sign from the universe that other realignments might be possible.

I have been around long enough and travelled far enough to see much of the beauty on this planet, both natural and human-made, from Denali to the Egyptian pyramids, and have seen them in my own state and city from the Catskill Mountains to Bleecker Street on a Saturday night, and even in my living room watching the mighty Hudson River flowing to the sea or watching the sun set over the palisades. Or watching a lunar eclipse out my bedroom window.

We are going through a bit of an inferno on our planet and in our society. Temperatures are rising and it is getting everyone a little hot under the collar. Hate, anger, and violence are bubbling up and are likely to boil over, resulting in more dead bodies piling up, on top of the millions that have already fallen to a global pandemic.

But maybe something else is happening. Maybe last night was a sign from the universe that a realignment is at hand. Maybe all the hate, anger, and violence are the last gasp of the ancient ignorance and bigotry that have plagued our species since before those pyramids were built. Maybe a new spirit of understanding and love will insinuate itself between and among us.

Or maybe it is just an eclipse.

All that you touch
And all that you see
All that you taste
All you feel
And all that you love
And all that you hate
All you distrust
All you save
And all that you give
And all that you deal
And all that you buy
Beg, borrow or steal
And all you create
And all you destroy
And all that you do
And all that you say
And all that you eat
And everyone you meet (everyone you meet)
And all that you slight
And everyone you fight
And all that is now
And all that is gone
And all that's to come
And everything under the sun is in tune
But the sun is eclipsed by the moon

The Unknown Soldier

A tomb guard of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” walks before a centennial commemoration event at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia on November 9, 2021. (Photo by Alex Brandon / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ALEX BRANDON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

100 years ago, the United States chose to commemorate a different kind of soldier. Not the hero whose exploits were known and witnessed and reported. Not the child whose parents kept a photo on their of the soldier they would never see alive again. Instead, the place of honor in Arlington National Cemetery would go to the soldier that nobody knew.

In America’s Civil War, 750,000 soldiers were killed and it is estimated that half of the dead were not identified. In the first World War, about a half-century later, the machinery of killing was more sophisticated, and 20 million people lost their lives. Repatriating so many dead bodies to their country of origin was, to say the least, unfeasible. Great Britain repatriated one, unknown, soldier and buried him on November 11, 1910, in Westminster Abbey. On the same day, France buried its unknown soldier at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. The American government guaranteed any family who lost a soldier that they would repatriate the body.

On November 11, 1921, one hundred years ago today, the body of one American soldier, who had been exhumed from a grave in France, was given a state funeral ceremony, including a procession through Washington DC and across the Potomac, was awarded the Medal of Honor, and became the first to be interred in the tomb of the unknown soldier.

In November of 1967, navy brat Jim Morrison paid a visit to the tomb of the unknown soldier while his band, The Doors, were in Washington DC for a show. He wrote this song, inspired by that visit:

Wait until the war is over
And we're both a little older
The unknown soldier

Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Unborn living, living dead
Bullet strikes the helmet's head

And it's all over
For the unknown soldier
It's all over
For the unknown soldier

Make a grave for the unknown soldier
Nestled in your hollow shoulder
The unknown soldier

Breakfast where the news is read
Television children fed
Bullet strikes the helmet's head
And, it's all over
The war is over

Genius in our Midst: Billy Bragg

The Bard of Barking: Photo by ITV/REX Shutterstock (941555ds) ‘The South Bank Show’ TV Billy Bragg ITV Archives

In 1983, Billy Bragg released his first album, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, unleashing his ferocious talent on the music world. In acts of pure alchemy, he merges the rough-edged punk of The Clash with the earnest protest folk of Phil Ochs and sprinkles his songwriting with a unique perspective on the relationship between men and women. Unlike almost every folkie out there, when he rocks out he does it right.

One of the things I love about his songwriting is the fun he has with words. He likes to take them apart and rearrange them, like this:

I’m not any good at pottery so let’s lose the ‘t’ and just shift back the ‘e’
And I’ll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our heads

from Handyman Blues

and this:

Take the M for me and the Y for you
Out of family and it all falls through

Now, I’ve got friends who are telling me
They’re living in clover
But lose the C for commitment and the L for love
And it’s over, baby, it’s all over now

You keep on come telling me about your problems Let’s pull the Y off of your and throw it on the fire
And make ’em our problems, baby
Our problems now

from M for Me

Last month, Billy released his 13th studio album, The Million Things That Never Happened, and listening to it is like reading a letter from an old friend. The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom that comes with age and my old friend Billy shares a lot of it on this album.

Like an old friend…photo by James Millar

Earlier this week, near the end of a very long day that found me driving for 14 hours, this song came through the speakers of my car as I headed up the New Jersey Turnpike and I could not help but smile. If that is not genius, I don’t know what is.

Woke up this morning there was something dawning on me
Something I'd never seen, someone I'd never been
Came down for coffee and I could not find
Where I'd left my troubled mind
Opened the windows and the day blew in
It was fresh and new and it caressed my skin
It set me reeling, it was such a feeling
That it made me smile for the first time in a long while

But don't ask me how
I just don't know
Don't ask me why
I've got nothing to do but smile

And when I hit the street, felt light on my feet
Like if I tried, I just might fly
And every single face I see
Had a smile for me like I was royalty or something
The sun was shining on the avenue
And the shadows knew just what to do
They kinda parted as I walked on by
And the clouds went off to some other part of the sky

But don't ask me how
I just don't know
Don't ask me why
I've got nothing to do but smile

When I walked up to a traffic light
And to my delight it was set just right
I didn't even have to break my pace
It was like I owned the whole damn place
And all the birds were singing in the trees
I was hearing some amazing melodies
Before I knew it I was whistling along
So I sat right down and wrote this song

But don't ask me how
I just don't know
Don't ask me why
I've got nothing to do but smile