A belated thanks, Fork ‘n’ Monkey (together with an extended digression on national anthems)

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. 

7 Responses to A belated thanks, Fork ‘n’ Monkey (together with an extended digression on national anthems)

  1. I tried to learn the Star Spangled Banner this year because we took 4th July really quite seriously, but it’s really impossible, the words are so hard to learn.

  2. Just after we emigrated my son (then eight) went on a school trip to a pioneer museum here in Ontario. In the school room, the children were told that their Victorian counterparts would have sung ‘God Save the Queen’ every day. My son (being newly arrived from England) was called upon to give a rendition, but he didn’t know the tune or the words.
    I get the impression that this couldn’t ever be the case with American or Canadian kids. He certainly knows the Canadian anthem off by heart now.

  3. Congratulations, Kate!!! And Leonard Cohen’s songs, especially as interpreted by Judy Collins, really are marvelous. Something of which all Canadians can be proud and Americans can be envious! (Ditto for that other great Canadian songwriter and artist, Joni Mitchell, and I am extremely fond of Canada’s Crash Test Dummies impresario Brad Roberts’ songwriting as well.) Anyway, have fun at the awards!

  4. I like Leonard Cohen, but he needs more jokes. K. d. lang (also Canadian) too. Maybe Canadians are just naturally likeable but unfunny?
    No, that can’t be it. The single funniest stand-up routine I have ever seen on television was a bit from Caroline Rhea on Comedy Central (I think originally from HBO, though) which I desperately wish I had on tape because I laughed so hard I thought I was going to suffocate and die. Literally. At the very least I thought I was going to be injured. That funny. And then afterwards I was exhausted and had to go to bed. The husband and I still refer to it occasionally.
    So obviously it’s something about being Canadian and singing, not merely being Canadian.
    “The Star-Spangled Banner” is deeply problematic for all the reasons you mention, but for reasons I can’t quite explain, the problems make it seem more appropriate. It’s like, of course the U.S. national anthem would be unsingable and borderline irrelevant and the music would come from something stupid and then we’d all pretend like it was super-dignified and awesome anyway. I like that kind of thing about us. We need more harmless weirdness like that. Especially lately.

  5. I don’t enjoy listening to our national anthem when it’s tortured by professional singers at football games, and it is a hard one to sing (I have to just mouth the highest notes), but it makes me teary when we sing it simply and fervently at church. And not because others are singing off tune, you know, it’s that happy-cry that kids can’t understand. Americans today would be better if we remembered more about the vision of our country’s founders and the sacrifices they made for it. Have you read 1776 by David McCullough? Or Washington’s Crossing by David Fischer? I was really inspired. It was a miracle that we escaped defeat in the Revolutionary war and the war of 1812. We’re so cynical about our country today – myself included often – but it’s sad. Don’t you ever wish we could stop rolling our eyes at politician’s meaningless platitudes and actually work together for some higher goal, like Washington and Jefferson and others (though they bickered with each other, too)? It is great fun to poke fun at ourselves (I love your wit, MG), but once in a while isn’t it worthwhile to sincerely love the good things about our country? There are so many of those good things. Gah, I don’t mean to sound all pious here, but you get my drift.

  6. A well deserved and highly prized honour.(Or ‘honor’ if you must mangle the language.)
    I am particularly keen on the last verse of the British National Anthem. It is never sung and is considered deeply insulting to Scots (speaking as one myself I am not at all bothered).
    The lyrics are:
    Lord grant that Marshal Wade*
    May by thy mighty aid
    Victory bring
    May he sedition hush
    And like a torrent rush
    Rebellious Scots to crush
    God save the King
    The main problem with the Star Spangled Banner is that there are far, far too many words. Simplicity is good in popular songs. (eg She Loves you.Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!)
    * Field-Marshal Wade was sent Northwards to squish the Jacobites in 1745. He failed and was recalled but not before gaining immortality in the National Anthem.

  7. Heavens, Emma, why were you taking the 4th so seriously? Anyway, I’m with you about the words to the Star Spangled Banner. There have been some great collections of mangled versions, usually by school kids trying to make sense of what they don’t understand, but I couldn’t locate one, dang it. I’m all for knowing how to read long, complex sentences, but the national anthem doesn’t seem the place for them, somehow.
    I’m shocked, Amanda, shocked, that your son didn’t know his country’s national anthem. But I’m not surprised that he knows Canada’s now. When we first moved to Canada—in fact, after we’d been there three days—my younger sister had to stand in the corner of the classroom because she didn’t know “O Canada”. Maybe it’s that sort of thing that’s given me such a jaundiced view of anthems in general.
    Yes, OFB, Judy Collins does some great renditions. I happen to love Don Henley’s version of “Everybody Knows,” which I suspect was way too cynical for Collins flower-strewn style.
    Ah, Mr. Subjunctive, bless your heart; you’ve given me the opening I’ve been looking for to mention Rick Mercer. Anyone who doesn’t know “Talking to Americans,” in which Mercer would ensnare Americans into inane statements about Canada, has got to check it out. The best is the sequence in which he gets people—including then-presidential hopeful Mike Huckaby—to support Canada’s efforts to preserve their parliament buildings (a copy of the American ones (!) except built out of ice (!!)) from global warming. I actually saw Mercer present this stuff on one of my recent Toronto trips, and he is incredibly funny. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BhTZ_tgMUdo
    (Clearly I need to learn to embed a link in a comment.)
    Let’s hear it for harmless weirdness. Oh, here’s a local example: Bozeman’s response to the local teaparty idiots (those opposing Obama’s taxes) was a group titled the Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus. Yes!
    Yes, VW, I do wish sometimes that I could enjoy an unqualified rush of pride in my country, but that seems a bit like wishing I was back in fourth grade—more or less the last time I felt like that. Since Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act and what was essentially a stolen presidency, it’s especially hard to do so. Still, I agree that we do need to work together to preserve some of those best, early ideas—which is what everyone who opposes the Patriot Act (including, I am proud to say, Montana, which did so quite loudly), is doing. Unless I’ve quite lost my touch (which might be the case!) I try to direct my cynicism to flag-waving jingoism and not to the ideals on which the US was founded.
    It’s funny what living abroad does. Having spent my high school years in Canada and three years as an adult in Japan, I find that nothing makes me value home like being away. On the other hand, the whole rah-rah routine begins to seem rather silly. And my humanity has always meant more to me than my nationality; my first allegiance has always been to human beings everywhere.
    Ooh, James, that is nasty. (Not you; the verse.) How very embarassing! No wonder that’s never sung!
    –Kate

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