Something amazing happened last May. I know; that’s two seasons back, ancient history by gardening standards, an earlier era in the blogging world. But that’s when it happened: that’s when the Manic won the one of the awards in the second annual Fork ‘n’ Monkey Awards. Attention must be paid, however belatedly, and thanks rendered, both to the Garden Monkey and James A-S for sponsoring the second F ‘n’ M awards, and to everyone who voted for the Manic as best North American blog. Being nominated is an honor; winning still has me blinking in disbelief. Wow.
(And then I promptly shut down operations; y’all must have been rethinking those votes!)
The category, of course, did not bear a name as dull or obvious as “best North American blog;” consider who was running this thing, after all. No, the official name, “The Francis Scott Key/Leonard Cohen Award” recognizes two mis-matched songwriters, one of them responsible for (sigh) “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the other for dozens of great songs, including “Suzanne,” “That’s No Way to Say Good-bye,” “Hallelujah,” and one of my favorites, “Everybody Knows.”
(Here comes the extended digression.)
Actually, Key can only be held responsible for half of his song, as he borrowed the tune from a British drinking song of the day—a fact that leaves me pounding my tankard on the boards and gasping with laughter. I mean, really—this poet writing during the War of 1812 (against the British, mind you) and celebrating America’s independence had to borrow his tune? From the British? And then— a drinking song! And a popular one at that. Given that most Americans can’t begin to manage the octave and a half range when dead sober, one wonders what this implies: that Brits can sing better than Yanks even when seriously in their cups?
Moving right along, let’s consider those great, stirring lyrics. Given that Key only had to cope with half the song, you’d think he’d get that part right, but no; those lyrics are commonly and famously mangled not only by school children but by “artists” singing it before sporting events and political rallies.
Cohen, on the other hand, wrote both the words and the music—imagine!—to dozens of great songs. I’m afraid I’m with Lawrence Downes, who a couple of years ago, in an article aptly titled “The Star-Strangled Banner,” wrote that “"The Star-Spangled Banner" is a song nobody can sing, commemorating an event nobody cares about, in a war nobody remembers” (N.Y. Times, Apr. 12, 2006).
Fortunately, in their brief overview of US culture, the Monkey and Co. mention other things in which I, as a proud citizen of these proud United States, may take pride: the invention of the Zamboni, for instance, for which the ice-hockey-mad Canadians must be eternally grateful, and which alone may be credited with smoothing relations (and ice) between these two great countries. My patriotic heart soars once more.
On the down side of the US ledger, M. & Co. mention “the Neutron bomb, bubblegum and Ketamine.” (I had to look up that last entry, which tells you more than I want you to know about how unworldly I am.) I’m just glad the F & M co-sponsors had the tact to stop there, and not to include “world-wide recessions," which probably heads the list of US exports in any responsible geography book these days.
I'll of course appear in person at the official Fork 'n' Monkey Awards ceremony in November, though equally obviously, I'll lie about my nationality once I'm out of the country; no American these days reveals his or her citizenship when traveling. Things may have improved since Obama's election, but I'm taking no chances. The fall-back lie is to claim that one is Canadian, saying "eh?" from time to time to establish verisimilitude.
If you need me in the meantime (to measure me for my Official Fork 'n' Monkey Awards Ceremony gown, for instance) you can find me in the back yard, burying my Stars and Stripes in the compost pile, while I practice my "eh?" and sing "O Canada!" That anthem combines the insipid and the bombastic to an astonishing degree, but at least it's singable. On second thought, maybe I'll skip the anthems altogether, and stick to Leonard Cohen songs.