Happy Thanksgiving! On this weekend’s show, I’m playing “Pilgrim’s Progress (Take an Indian to Lunch)” by Stan Freberg, from his brilliant 1961 satire, “Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Volume 1: The Early Years.“
“Pilgrim’s Progress” is a parody of the first Thanksgiving, as it was traditionally taught in American schools — and still is, in a lot of places.
You know, the humble Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, and nearly starved to death — except that they made friends of the noble Native Americans who helped them through the winter. In solemn thanks to the natives and to God, the Pilgrims celebrated by inviting the indigenous tribes to a Thanksgiving feast in 1621.
As Roy Edroso points out today, almost no one still buys that story: “The kind of paternalistic bullshit you’d hear about it a couple of decades ago sounds ridiculous to everyone now; not even readers of the Wall Street Journal are buying it.”
Myself, I’m not so sure about that. I’ve heard from friends with kids in religious schools that the noble-savages-kindly-pilgrims myth is still taught.
But the Thanksgiving myth was definitely the dominant narrative in the early 1960s, when Freberg and a cast of the best talent from old-time radio (a veritable who’s who of early TV cartoon stars, too, including June Foray, Daws Butler, Peter Leeds, Paul Frees, Billy May’s orchestra and Jud Conlon’s chorus) recorded “Pilgrim’s Progress” and the rest of “United States of America” at the famous Capitol Records studios in Hollywood.
As a result, I’m not sure that listeners in 2023 appreciate just how vicious this satire was. In fact, I’m almost worried that some folks may think that Freberg was celebrating racism.Continue reading “Two, four, six, eight? Who do we tolerate?”