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So, Thanksgiving. I’m guessing I’ll have my son bunking here, and I don’t know how to roast a turkey. Going out to dinner sounds like unnecessary stress. I’ll see if he will go for a roasted chicken — that’s in my repertoire — with some good side dishes, dessert, and a DVD or two. Japanese anime is what he likes. Not me. It won’t matter, though. I’ll be asleep on the Barcalounger after stuffing my gob.

Still, as this holiday approaches, I feel compelled to recall Thanksgivings past. Family gatherings come to mind. At the home of my Italian relatives, the order of the day would invariably involve too much food and too much yelling, as if my aunt, uncle, grandmother, etc. were cheating each other at a streetside fish market. Going to a Blackhawks game — viewing broken bones and blood drawn — would have been more restful.

As a kid in our home, Thanksgiving would be equally chaotic, an occasion to take turns upbraiding each other: first from Mommy dearest, then my dad trying to keep the peace as my seven siblings took their cue to insult each other. This would have been true at any dinner during the year. But somehow, when called upon to list that which we were grateful for, this would trigger my sister’s sense of license to accuse my three brothers and me of cruel and unusual punishment — largely accurate. This would segue into trivia such as, “John was picking his nose in church,” or, “Paul was masturbating when I went into his room to help him with his homework.”

“Bullshit!” Paul would respond, “You never helped me with my homework in your life.”

One of my most memorable Thanksgivings was at Fort Ord. I was with a country/Top 40 band with a name that should have given us all diabetes: Misty Mountain and Peggy, featuring (I’m not kidding) “Little Peggy Parsley” from Casper, Wyoming. Our first gig was actually in Casper in an after-hours club, mostly for truckers. We played behind a chicken-wire fence à la the Blues Brothers. During our rendition of “Fortunate Son,” by Creedence Clearwater, an ashtray was thrown at the stage accompanied by the shout, “Take that shit back to Jew York!”

But I digress. Thanksgiving at Fort Ord was a gig at the officers’ club, and it was “Bring-Your-Sergeant Thanksgiving.” The 50-cent whiskey and 35-cent beer flowed across the bar in a rapid stream.

By the beginning of our third set, many of the officers and their wives had left after an “outstanding” meal. (“Outstanding” seemed to be a favorite word around every officers’ club we played, most of them in all those rectangular states.) The room was left with maybe two dozen drunken sergeants. Three of them charged the stage and seized our instruments. There wasn’t a damned thing we could do about it. The sarge on the drum kit announced loudly, “Gross-out contest!” which was met with unanimous cheers around the club.

The noncom band was creating a hellish noise comprising much Telecaster feedback, the drums and cymbals imitating the clangor of 50-gallon drums filled with household appliances and broken glass tumbling down a flight of stairs.

The guy bashing away at my Fender bass — sounding like a barrage of wet rags hitting a hollow wall, only at high volume — dropped his pants. The Telecaster continued to screech at volume ten like an army of fighting cats. The guy holding that guitar unzipped himself and took a leak on a potted palm at the corner of the stage. This was nothing. The sergeants at the bar, on the dance floor, and at tables were now performing unnatural acts with leftover dinner items, their body parts, and those of their mates. I refuse to describe this in any more detail, and besides, I was keeping a close eye on my bass. What infuriated our drummer was the guy who had hijacked his kit, freed his unit from his pants, and began pounding his member on the snare, screaming, “I’m the fuggin’ grossest!” Repeating this several times.

Someone pulled the plug on the electricity onstage and the room erupted with MPs and nightsticks. There were several fistfights. Handcuffs and nightsticks were produced as we smuggled our equipment out the side door. I’ll never know what happened to those NCOs, and we never got to eat.

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kmsound Nov. 24, 2011 @ 12:02 a.m.

Hi John, great story. I have always said that any musician, who has spent time on the road, could write a great book, but no one would ever beleive it! People wouldn't think solders would act like that on there own turf, but we know differently, don't we! Playing music has taken me places I would never have gone and I have seen things I never thought I would. Most times were great, despite the poverty caused by travel expenses vs. gig money. But some are forever etched in my mind as the weirdest most unpredictable moments of my life. As exciting as tales are to hear about famous tour-bus/jet touring acts nothing beats talking about cramming 5 guys and all your gear into a 15 yr old Chevy van and heading down the highway, hoping to make it to the next truck stop greasy spoon, dive motel and the next roadhouse gig ,each full of it's own unique script of events and a cast of caricatures that would overcast a Fillini movie. Ken Minahan


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