FEATURE: The HALF CLOTH Guide to Thanksgiving
by Chad Jewett
Thanksgiving has long been odd-man out when it comes to seasonal entertainments. Halloween pretty much adds a dozen movies to the imaginary shelves of what was once your town’s Blockbuster (R.I.P., 2013) every year, especially since movies are a fundamental part of the holiday; Christmas is the half-hour primetime special holiday, so even if the last really good Yuletide movie came out in 1990 and featured Macaulay Culkin fending off bandits with a BB gun and a cardboard cutout of Michael Jordan you’re guaranteed some Pixar magic right around December 10th or so. Plus Christmas is to the NBA what Thanksgiving is to the National Football League, only without massive head-trauma cover-ups. So, to be frank, I had to get a little creative here. Thanksgiving is in need of a canon, a set of go-to cultural artifacts for you to look forward to every year, the way I look forward to the SNL Halloween Special or dusting off my copy of The Vince Guaraldi Trio’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. To that end, I’ve gathered seven records and movies, along with a few can’t-miss college hoops games, on the off chance that your family is cool enough to put on some basketball instead of the Lions. Some of the choices have obvious Thanksgiving tie-ins, some carry a late-autumn aura, others are just specific to me, entertainments that I’ve just come to associate with this time of year. Either way, here is the Half Cloth Guide to Thanksgiving. Bare with us, and enjoy!
Talking Heads, More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978)
In some ways, we could let the title of Talking Head’s sophomore album do the work here, since, if you’re headed home for Thanksgiving, you’re seeing a lot of buildings, and eating a lot of food. You could be cynical about it, and let the middle-class bum-out of “The Big Country” soundtrack your eye-rolling as you glide through the fly-over states. But even though David Byrne sings “I wouldn’t live there if you paid me,” that malaise is belied by the beauty of observational lines like “I see the school and the houses where the kids are / Places to park by the factories and buildings / Restaurants and bar for later in the evening / Then we come to the farmlands, and the undeveloped areas / And I have learned how these things work together.” Take the opportunity to find the beauty in mixed-feelings about ideas like “home” and “the burbs,” or find a sympathetic ear if the comfort and separation that makes suburbia what it is becomes a bit alienating. Plus, if you’re trying to find room for that last slice of pecan pie, take a little more of the Heads’ advice and “Stay Hungry”.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I know, I know. Obviously this is technically a Christmas movie, but the movie starts off on Thanksgiving Day. Indeed, the film begins with the real Santa Claus, played by Edmund Gwenn in the definitive portrayal of Saint Nick, as he pleads with the film’s working-mother protagonist, played by Maureen O’Hara, to remove the drunken department store Santa before the kick-off of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Beginning with a wry take on the pageantry of the holidays before ending with a powerful affirmation of seasonally-appropriate wonder, Miracle on 34th Street is just the thing to win over the cynics in your family into true believers, while also giving them plenty of time to snicker before their conversion.
Saves The Day Stay What You Are (2001)
This one is all about that cover, all orange, gold, and brown and featuring a young man making his way through a rolling wheat field. Combine that with the album’s crisp, Telecaster-driven emo, and you have a record that screams late Fall, even if it was released in July. I’m sure this was in my Discman at least once (read a zillion times) on the way to my aunt’s house for the family get-together, to the point where I can’t help but hear this album without imagined vistas of sparsely-leaved maples and weak autumn sun, all rolling by over the course of about 33 minutes and 33 seconds.
Saturday Night Live, Various Sketches
You’ve got a lot of options here. I was probably a bigger fan of Bill Hader’s “Vincent Price Television Special” sketches than anyone else on earth, so I’m obviously recommending you watch the Thanksgiving edition, which features Price’s insane theories on the holiday’s origin (pagan sacrifices it turns out), along with Horatio Sanz as Alfred Hitchcock and Kristen Wiig as a particularly manic Judy Garland (a role she was seemingly born to play). But, since a “Debbie Downer” Thanksgiving sketch exists, we’re going to go with that (whoomp whooooooooooomp). In addition, NBC is running a Saturday Night Live Thanksgiving Special, which you can DVR in hopes that everyone in your family who cares about football falls asleep early enough for you to watch it after you eat.
Miles Davis, Cookin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet (1957)
Once again, obviously the title has something to do with this choice, but it’s also a lovely, lyrical, autumnal record, perfect for post-dessert coffee. And don’t be thrown off by album opener “My Funny Valentine,” this record is pure Fall, right down to it’s recording sessions, which took place in later October. And when the album begins to “cook” in the traditional sense, especially on second track “Blues By Five,” you can picture the hustle and bustle of a late November, 1950s Manhattan, sound tracking the exciting upbeat days between Thanksgiving and Christmas while fantasizing about stopping off at The Blue Note for a break between Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, crisply-wrapped packages in tow.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2010)
The Fantastic Mr. Fox somehow manages to feel like the perfect Thanksgiving flick, right down to the arts-and-crafts aesthetic of its stop-motion animation. It doesn’t feel at all dissimilar from your second grade construction paper turkey that your mom refuses to throw away. Considering it’s a rustic cartoon, bathed in yellow, orange, and brown, that begins with poultry-heavy feasts and ends with an extended family gathering in a grocery store, it’s a bit surprising that Wes Anderson’s 2010 Roald Dahl adaptation hasn’t caught on as the Thanksgiving movie. And if there is a more perfect Thanksgiving image than a nicely clothed family sitting down to a perfectly arranged dinner, only to tear into it ravenously, I’d like to see it.
Kansas Jayhawks vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Creighton Bluejays
Again, you may have to wrest the remote from your grandpa to make this happen, but between various cable channels and streaming ESPN3 (with which you can wow your relatives by hooking up to the TV), there are some decent-to-great college basketball games on this Thanksgiving. Arizona State vs. Creighton will be the best of the bunch, while Kansas and Wake Forest gives each of your uncles the chance to reminisce about the days when Wake Forest was good (trust me, uncles love this kind of thing). Lastly, Oklahoma State gives fans of the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns, and Philadelphia 76ers a chance to weigh the benefits of losing 60 games in hopes of drafting Marcus Smart. That said, this is probably all hoop dreams (pardon that pun), since, for whatever reason, everyone will insist your family watch some anonymous team trounce the Detroit Lions – you know, a Thanksgiving tradition!