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Are you ready?

Having written pop fantasies set in the fall of 1979 and the spring of 1975, we now go back to this time of year in 1970. I was too busy having a functional, pleasant visit with my family to get this written in time for Thanksgiving, but I like to imagine no one will really care.

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The mood in the three-bedroom ranch house has already been festering for months. There have been harsh words back and forth, and insults, and silent rejection, and tears.

It’s 11:30 on Thanksgiving morning — November 26, 1970, to be specific — and the teenage boy of the family still hasn’t made an appearance. His father begins to pace around the living room, an increasingly familiar anger building inside him; the relatives will be here soon.

Then, from the farthest room down the hall, a muffled, distorted din erupts … a sound that combines rolling tanks and roaring voices and mass frenzy.

Dad runs down the hall at a sprint and throws the door open, bringing the sound into point-blank trebly sharpness.

He has not heard a cacophony quite like it since he shouldered a rifle for Uncle Sam … and out of reflexive habit, he summons a voice he has not used since the last time he had to make himself heard over enemy fire.

“WHAT … IN THE FUCK … IS THAT NOISY SHIT?”

His son, slumped on the bed in a pool of long hair, doesn’t say anything. He just lets his dad get an abrasive faceful of the noise.

And it sounds …

(this is the point in the story where you turn the speakers on your computer up real, real high)

… like this.

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Lester Bangs once described Metal Machine Music as “the all-time guaranteed lease breaker.” I believe Grand Funk’s altogether less heralded Live Album might have been — as described above — one of the all-time guaranteed Thanksgiving breakers.

Here are the ingredients that make up my theory:

The generation gap. It’s pretty well-established at this point that the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

That’s not to overstate things — not every household was a generational war zone — but there were plenty of homes where parents and kids saw life from vastly different, and difficult-to-reconcile, perspectives.

The voice of teenage America. Every Grand Funk review I’ve read from the group’s first period of success (1969 to 1971) comments on the band’s remarkable connection with a youthful audience, and its complete inability to connect with anyone older. It’s as if Mark, Don and Mel broadcast on a frequency that didn’t come through clearly unless you were somewhere between 13 and 21.

So great was the disconnect that Lenny Kaye, reviewing Live Album for Rolling Stone, devoted 95 percent of his review to verbatim quotes from Grand Funk fans explaining why they liked the band — closing with the logic, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

Or, take the aforementioned Lester Bangs, reviewing the Survival album in Rolling Stone later that same year:

“Grand Funk are one of the very few groups rising recently that do reflect the aspirations and attitudes of their audience in that most basic way. And they’ve achieved that vast consensus not only through hype but because they are that audience, are the rallying point for any sense of mass identity and community in Teenage America circa 1971.”

So, in a nation divided along generational lines (among others), Grand Funk carried the banner for one side about as strongly and divisively as any other American band.

Timing. After releasing three successful studio albums in a year’s time, GFR decided to commit its live show to vinyl. Two shows in Florida were recorded in June 1970, and the resultant live double album was released on Nov. 16 of that year — with no overdubs or other fancy sonic processing, according to the liner notes.

According to the RIAA’s searchable database of gold and platinum records, Live Album was certified gold on Nov. 23.

This suggests that a decent number of those American teens who’d tuned in to Grand Funk’s frequency had the record in their hands by Thanksgiving, and were primed and ready to give it a good loud spin if they wanted to.

Pure din. None of the above would have been an issue had Grand Funk gone back and neatly recut all their parts in the studio, the way major artists were already doing on their live albums in 1970. (GFR appears to have given in to the overdub temptation on its second live album, 1975’s well-manicured Caught In The Act.)

Instead, Live Album is — with a few exceptions — pretty much sheer jet takeoff from start to finish.

Grand Funk was never blessed with lyrical or melodic excellence. But they had amps enough to reach the back row of any festival, enough to make Nigel Tufnel look like Bert Jansch, and they didn’t believe in letting anyone in the same area code go home without getting the full experience.

Check out the version of “Paranoid” from Live Album — in particular, the point starting at about 3:40, when Mel Schacher’s overloaded-truck bass and Mark Farner’s thousand-pound-violin guitar get moments in the spotlight:

Out of concern that computer speakers do not do Live Album justice, I step in with a first-person testimonial, as someone who owns the record on original vinyl:

This is as grungy and simplistic as a major American rock band has ever gotten on record. And when played through a half-decent stereo system — or, even better, a deficient one — this is music to make the Sinatra generation feel like they’re passing through a garbage disposal, headfirst and slo-mo.

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Which brings us back to our aggrieved father and his passive-aggressive son, in their ranch house in Agawam or Omaha or Fresno or wherever.

What they do in the short term — at very least a pulled power cord, at most a fistfight — doesn’t really matter that much.

Nor does what they do in the long run. (I like to imagine the kid grows up and gets a job on the line at the local brewery, and years later, before lung cancer kills the old man, they share six-packs and shake their heads at the emotions that used to feel so strong.)

Instead, we’ll leave the moment unresolved on the knife’s edge, with rage surging on both sides, family ties forgotten, and the clamor of festival-level tube-driven white noise claiming sensory primacy over the scent of roasting turkey.

Five For The Record: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

A recurring feature in which I take something I enjoy but have never thought deeply about, and force myself to state five reasons why I like it.

Today’s subject: Animated prime-time special featuring the characters from the “Peanuts” cartoon strip. First aired Nov. 20, 1973, two days before Thanksgiving, and has been shown annually since. The 10th “Peanuts” prime-time special and the last of the Holy Trinity of “Peanuts” holiday specials (the others being 1966’s It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas).

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And here’s why I like it:

1. A quick death. Thanksgiving is lousy with football — from high-school rivalries to embarrassing Detroit Lions losses — so it’s appropriate that this one opens with the Lucy-holds-the-football gag. Offered the chance to kick the football, Charlie Brown responds:

“Hold it. HA! You’ll pull it away and I’ll land flat on my back and kill myself.”

So, thirty-one seconds into the show, the Everyman lead character with whom we are all supposed to identify is already contemplating his own death.

Yes, I know he is speaking metaphorically. But he picks the ugliest, bleakest possible metaphor — he doesn’t say, “I’ll land flat on my back and hit my head.” When you’re as put-upon as Charlie Brown, why not take every situation straight into the crapper from the get-go?

I love “Peanuts.”

2. The theme. Vince Guaraldi’s score for A Charlie Brown Christmas is rightfully celebrated, but it’s not his only memorable music.

I’ve long liked the theme song to A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. The main theme reminds me of a Moebius strip; its return to the home chord makes perfect sense, and yet the path it takes to get there never fails to surprise me. And the gentle, drifting middle section reminds me of leaves falling, or even early snow.

(Guaraldi also gets extra points for some tasty, desolate Fender Rhodes-ing elsewhere in the show, as well as for the clavinet-driven “martial” music that accompanies Snoopy and Woodstock’s pilgrim scene.)

3. With friends like these. We all know how Lucy and Peppermint Patty, ostensibly Charlie Brown’s friends, dump or impose on him at various points in the show.

But it is Linus, the one character reliably on Charlie Brown’s side, who gets him deeper into trouble by suggesting the idea of holding a special dinner just for Peppermint Patty and her self-invited guests.

Better answers might have included: “No, Charlie Brown. Call her back and make yourself heard if you ever want to stop getting stepped on,” or, “Tell you what. I’ll talk to her and get her off your back, and you can owe me a box of Zingers for my trouble.”

But nooooooo, for all his book-learnin’, the middle Van Pelt sibling can’t provide the necessary backbone when his friend needs it.

In that same conversation, Linus also gets off one of the best diss lines in the televised “Peanuts” canon:

Charlie Brown: I can’t cook a Thanksgiving dinner! All I can make is cold cereal and maybe toast.
Linus: (thoughtfully) That’s right, I’ve seen you make toast. You can’t butter it. But maybe we can help you!

4. The (first) supper. There are all kinds of ponderables here:

  • Even in the suspend-your-disbelief world of “Peanuts,” I love that they said: “Cook and serve Thanksgiving dinner? We’ll have the dog do that.”
  • The dog who’s human enough to cook knows what humans eat for Thanksgiving dinner. He cooks himself a nice turkey at the end of the show. But, pressed into service to cater to his master’s guests, he serves toast and junk food. (Charlie Brown and Linus make no effort to redirect him.)
  • What’s in the cherry-topped cups at the table? I don’t believe we see the kitchen crew assemble those, and they tend to get left out when people recall the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving menu. Wiki would have us believe it’s vanilla ice cream, and perhaps it is.
  • We don’t actually see the mystery ice-cream cups arrive at the table; they simply appear while everyone is blinking at each other, trying to come up with a suitable grace to say.
  • Snoopy is awfully quick to cower when Peppermint Patty berates him about his cooking. A more delightfully puckish, yet still totally characteristic, response would be for him to shrug and start eating her unwanted jellybeans.
  • A station wagon that seats six kids comfortably in the wayback is my kind of car. But where’s Lucy?

icecream5. Skies of America. One of the great things about Great Pumpkin is the backgrounds — wild, lurid autumn skies of orange and red and lavender and star-streaked dark gray. Most of the outdoor scenes in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving can’t compare, with the skies the same uniform color of washed-out blue-gray.

At the end, though, Snoopy and Woodstock enjoy their own holiday meal al fresco, under a gorgeous salmon-pink sky gently shot through with clouds. (In a nice if probably unintentional touch, the sky gets gently darker when the turkey is served and stays that color throughout the closing credits.)

For the last two-and-a-half minutes of the show, there is no human speech — just a small-group arrangement of that wonderful theme, while two best friends enjoy a meal in an autumnal wonderland.

With no disrespect meant to Charlie Brown’s grandma, I know which dinner I would have wanted to attend.

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Mundane Moments: Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

My maternal grandpa was a well-meaning but mediocre photographer, skilled at bringing the shutter down a moment too early or late, or in taking pictures of things that were not as quirky or offbeat (or well-lit) as he thought.

I’m going to dredge some of his efforts out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then.

Thanksgiving is probably the most unchanging and constant holiday this country has to offer.

At Halloween, the costumes differ from year to year.

At Easter, the kids outgrow their fancy clothes from year to year, and maybe the Easter basket holds some new or different treat.

And of course Christmas is defined, at least in part, by that year’s gifts. If you have a snapshot with gifts in it, you can extrapolate how old any given member of your family needed to be to receive that particular present.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, can only be judged based on how many members of the family consort are there to take part in the festivities, and how gray they look compared to other years.

Thanksgiving snapshots fall into the realm of  The Eternal. All across America, there is One Turkey, and One Boat of Gravy, and One Tureen of Mashed Potatoes, forever and ever, world without end, amen.

The person who said “you never step into the same river twice” never took part in an American family Thanksgiving. It is the same river of lumpy gravy every year, as long as the background setting (your grandparents’ house) does not significantly change, and as long as cirrhosis or cardiac arrest or diabetes do not carry off any of the principal players.

(Someone once quipped that Thanksgiving is the one holiday at which all thoughts of sex disappear. And so it is — a rejection of the outside world, and an embrace of the family structure you have already built for yourself. Dressing in brown sweater vests and overeating on turkey and pumpkin roll doesn’t make anyone feel sexxay, either.)

Here, then, is an underexposed picture of a family gathering. It is probably Thanksgiving, though the labeling is not crystal clear.

If you are missing a year of Thanksgiving from your family photo scrapbook, feel free to borrow this one. It will do as well as the real photo — the long-lost one with your actual family members in it.

The turkey and gravy tasted the same to our family as your turkey and gravy did to your family. It was doubtless an hour or two late and maybe a little on the dry side, as yours was. There was football on a bulky TV beforehand, and pie and wiped-out conversation afterward, just like at your house in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Idaho.

There is no chandelier in America powerful enough to cast real light on the withdrawn, somnambulent suburban parade that is Thanksgiving.

Pass the cranberry sauce, won’t you?

Stamford, Connecticut, 1979.

Encore performances: Thankful.

From the old blog, November 2010. Edited in spots.

Things I am thankful for, besides freedom, home, family, good health and those other bedrock things:

* Ballparks, any size.

* The continued availability of 35mm film.

* Cashew nuts.

* Music. All of it. Even country.

* The Internet.

* Rational discussions.

* Rye whiskey.

* Bourbon.

* Beer.

* The fact that America tried Prohibition and got it out of the way decades before I was born, making it much less likely someone will try that silliness on my watch.

* All those bloggers who write better than I do. Even if they remind me of my limitations, they also entertain me, and inspire me to keep at it.

* However many readers I have on any given day.

* Continued employment.

* The Great Lakes.

* D.B. Cooper.

* The Fourth of July.

* A nice fat hamburger every once in a while.

* Old-growth trees.

* Public parks.

* Peace and quiet.

Happy Thanksgiving.