Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The White Meat: How one Beatles fan spends his Thanksgiving morning every year for 23 years running

Cover of "The Beatles (The White Album)"Cover of The Beatles (The White Album)By Matt Kindelmann

It's been roasted turkey, fluffy mashed potatoes, and Glass Onions for me every Thanksgiving since 1987. I've spent the morning hours of the last Thursday of every November since I was 12, in my bedroom, with the Beatles' 1968 White Album playing on my stereo. No snow storms, meddling houseguests, or holiday traveling inconveniences have interrupted my 23 year ritual. The album and the holiday have merged so strongly in my subconscious that it's now odd for me not to taste cranberry sauce or brown gravy when I hear I'm So Tired or Sexy Sadie.

Whether it was borrowed from the library, bought at the local record shop with paper route money, obtained in a swap with a classmate, or given to me for my birthday; the initial listening of a Beatles' record was always a major event when I was 12 or 13. The record was always anticipated, analyzed, absorbed, and ultimately adored. From the moment it was in my hands, I started a countdown to when I could be alone in my room with my prize spinning on my player.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1987, a new friend from art class lent me the White Album and I spent the rest of the school day wondering about the magic the shiny black grooves held. I studied the stark white cover with its matching gatefold, which was a complete departure from the garish Sgt Pepper and cartoonish Magical Mystery Tour. The vibrant satin uniforms and animal costumes were replaced with four separate black and white portraits of each unsmiling Beatle. I studied the printed song names on the bus ride home and while some rang bells, others like Why Don't We Do It in the Road? and Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey made me scratch my head.

I'd mastered a bunch of Beatle records by that point and had done a fair share of reading about the band at the library, but the White Album was still a mystery. Instead of darting to the turntable as soon as I got off the bus, I took my time getting home, pensively shuffling my feet through the fallen leaves. I'd wait until tomorrow, I thought. The White Album, with its 30 tracks, could not be rushed. Little did I know I'd be starting a tradition I still cherish 23 years later.

The next morning, after combing my hair and finishing my cornflakes, I returned to my room for the first spin. The scent of roasted turkey wafted under the door as my fingertips gingerly placed the record on the turntable. I rested the needle on the first groove, and after a few pops, jet engines soared to introduce Back in the USSR, Paul's pastiche of the Beach Boys and Chuck Berry. It took only the first few thumping measures to pull me in. The Beatles, once again, made it seem as easy as Honey Pie.

The White Album offers an array as eclectic as a Thanksgiving Day supper table. Paul sings reggae influenced pop about the marital bliss of Desmond and Molly Jones, John and his acoustic guitar lament his dead mum, Ringo's drumsticks give him blisters on the fingers, and George's six string sobs through our speakers. A big game hunter, a vengeful cowboy, a reluctant shut-in named Prudence, and a menagerie of piggies, a blackbird, a sheepdog, and a monkey who's got nothing to hide, join the Beatles' cast of characters. The band throws a pair of Revolutions our way, gives us a whole new melodious way to celebrate a birthday, and lulls us to sleep with the lush Good Night. Listening to all four sides of this stuffed album is a rich experience and it still leaves me coming back for seconds.

The juxtaposition in the tracking is a key ingredient of the album's appeal. The gritty saturation of Yer Blues is followed by the serene and sunshiny Mother Nature's Son. Helter Skelter's droning guitars and smashed cymbals still cast shadows as Long, Long, Long softens the mood. Paul is a guttural and raunchy Mr. Hyde in Why Don't We Do It in the Road? and immediately morphs back into the sensitive and doe-eyed Dr. Jekyll with the subsequent I Will. Songs about chocolates and kings and queens are followed by an eight and a half minute freaky sound collage filled with fire sound effects, football chants, and piano noodling. I feel like my plate is overflowing.

The White Album is a potluck Thanksgiving dinner with John, Paul, George, and Ringo each bringing a number of tasty dishes to the table, but the tracks on the record show that by 1968 the Beatles were each cooking in a different kitchen. Things started to change for the Beatles after Sgt. Pepper's glow began to fade. Their manager had overdosed, the amateurish Magical Mystery Tour film had scotched their legacy, and they grew disenchanted with the Maharishi. The cracks that started to show when the band hung up their touring suits two years earlier began to broaden.

The fact I associate the White Album with a cold and gray Thanksgiving does make sense. The album was originally released in November of 1968 during the Beatles' autumn years, 18 months before the band was pronounced dead. Listening to the Fabs during this period is like looking at a tree with its few remaining browned leaves waving in the brisk wind. Just like the changing weather before a deep winter, the sessions for the White Album were acrimonious and unpredictable.

Neglected and irritated Ringo stormed out halfway through the sessions. Perfectionist Paul pissed off the others when he sneaked off to other rooms at Abbey Road to polish off tracks alone. Scowling George griped about his slice of the album pie and brought in chum Eric Clapton to play a solo. Acid tongued and heroin induced John had a bed rolled in for his pregnant and intrusive girlfriend. The final product is more like a collection of solo songs by John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The band's future during the White Album sessions mirrors what the album's cover looks like: a cold and snow-blanketed winter.

Oddly, my parents who usually made me fetch folding chairs from the cellar or a card table from the garage turned a blind eye to my meditative Thanksgiving mornings. Maybe they knew how much it meant to me. They let me stay in my dimly lit room with the Beatles playing, right up until the first guests arrived for supper. The sounds of my mother mashing potatoes or the football game my father was watching in the den intertwined with some of the tracks.

Today I have my own home and moved my ritual to my living room. I still feast on healthy helpings of the White Album each Thanksgiving morning, but now the sounds travel throughout my entire house. I like to keep the lights off, but I open the blinds and allow the gray morning sky to come through. I sip coffee, stare at the ceiling, and listen to each track. I hear the music in my head and sometimes look out of my window at the handful of leaves waving on the branches of the strong oak in my yard.

Matt is a full time contributor to the The Dirty Mac, the official newsletter of

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