Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just a few of my thoughts

Thanksgiving is a cultural ritual Americans partake in every year. We prepare meals, watch a parade, eat, watch football, eat again, go shopping and eat some more.But how much do we really know about this holiday? Do we stick to the stories we were told in grade school or have we ever thought there’s more to the story — a story more intense than can be told to 8-year-olds?Before I delve into the difficult stuff, let’s start with some fun facts.
According to www.history.com, an estimated 38.4 million people traveled 50 miles or more from home during the 2009 holiday.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Minnesota is the top turkey producing state with a production of 45.5 million turkeys in 2009. The National Turkey Federation estimates that year 88 percent of Americans ate turkey at Thanksgiving. It the average weight of a turkey purchased is 15 pounds, that means more than 682 million pounds of Turkey were consumed in the U.S. in 2009. That’s a lot of poultry.
The first Macy’s parade was held in 1924 and Snoopy has appeared in the parade more times than any other character.
The Detroit Lions have played on Thanksgiving Day each year since 1934, except during war time.
And yes, tryptophan is real.
Now to the Pilgrims.First, they probably didn’t eat turkey. The only written account of any meal with the Native Americans recounted eating deer. No mention of our feathered friends.Another problem is that history seems to place all the fame on the pilgrims. Sometimes we forget that the Wampanoag Indians are the real heroes of this story.The pilgrims were starved, stealing from the Indians and scrapping for all they had. By the time the feast passed down as Thanksgiving occurred, there were only 52 colonists left on their settlement. The Mayflower originally set sail with 102 people.Squanto of the Pawtuxet tribe and the Wampanoag Indians had been treated terribly by earlier explorers, some enslaved and others killed by disease.But they came to help anyway and taught the pilgrims how to survive.While peace remained for a short while, eventually the gratitude disappeared and colonist continued to take and take and take and drove the Native Americans farther and farther away.We tend to forget that the pilgrims not only scavenged, or stole to put it more accurately, to survive but also considered cannibalism to survive the winter. We forget that the natives of the land were the ones who came to their rescue, teaching them planting and harvesting techniques.While a story of cannibalism, disease and war isn’t necessarily a pretty tale for young school students, we do need to remember that history is real and despite the measure taken to make it look “pretty,” sometimes it is far from it.This Thanksgiving, while sitting around our 690 million pounds of turkey, take time to thank God for the gifts of the year. It is something we should do every day and not just one day a year.But also, take time to do what those early Native Americans did. Help others. That may be one of the best ways to honor them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

This week's column

Gaga gag me
Can anyone tell me what in the world has happened to the musical taste of the young today?Why do people today like musicians with poor lyrical standards who cover up their lack of talent by over-the-top stunts and crazy performances? Yes, I am referring to the bad romance herself, Lady Gaga.And please, Usher, do you really have a song called “OMG?” What has happened? And a bigger question is why have the youth of today and, even worse, the music industry bought into it.Don’t get me wrong. There are some talented musicians out there, but the ones with no talent seem to be getting all the accolades.I started thinking of this question the other day when the class of 13-year-old girls I teach talked about studying and passed around study tips.I told them I once heard that if you listen to Mozart or Sting while you study you will remember what you studied because their music was written mathematically and somehow stimulates the memory.You won’t believe what they asked.“Who’s Sting?”Who’s Sting? Are they kidding? I told them he was a singer and mentioned he was with The Police.“The E-town police,” they asked.See my frustration.I couldn’t imagine why they wouldn’t know who Sting is but would listen to a performer’s whose lyrics say “Rah-rah-ah-ah-ah Roma-Roma-ma-ah Ga-ga-ooh-la-la.” That doesn’t make any sense. It’s like we’ve reverted to the days when someone put the bomp in the bomp ba bomp ba bomp.Maybe this is how “The Macarena” became so popular?It just seems like the crazier, more perverse or dumber a song is the more popular it becomes. Good songwriting has been replaced by a tempo mix and a wild outfit.Maybe we have Michael Jackson to blame. He started the showcase musical phenomenon, but he was one of those rare talents that could do both. Not everyone can.It could be that I’m getting a bit older. I truly don’t mean to rant. The music is just maddening.It also seems that every musician — and I use that term loosely for some — has some sort of cause or message, but it’s nowhere to be found in their music.Music used to say something. Every generation’s music says something about it. What does today’s music say?Songs used to be about good songwriting. Look at Simon and Garfunkel — great music that’s beautifully written lyrically and musically. But have you ever watched them perform? Kind of boring, but great music. They didn’t need all the craziness because their music in and of itself was good.There are some musicians out there who are still great songwriters, but it seems like they are drowned out by all the “pop” noise. We call Gaga creative and leave the real creativity on the shelves.It’s like listeners have succumbed to the American Bandstand motto of musical taste — it’s got a beat and we can dance to it.But music is more than that. The music you like says something about you. So I guess the real question is, what does your iPod say about you?