If he had not been assassinated 147 years ago, Abraham Lincoln would be having a pretty good year. In an already rancorous election campaign, our 16th president remains the ideal of statesmanship, common sense and decency in the Oval Office, virtues all but alien in modern-day Washington. This Friday, Honest Abe comes to the big screen as a commander in chief whose duties include being a death-dealing undead fighter in Fox’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.
Although we know Lincoln enjoyed a good play, he has also been called one of America’s least musical presidents. Illinois musician and folklorist Chris Vollillo told the Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge project, “The accounts that I have heard indicate that he was not necessarily a good singer, but an enthusiastic participant, if you will.
“He took great joy in the comedy and minstrel songs of the era,” adds Vollillo, “but he was also deeply moved by some of the more sentimental pieces.”
With Vampire Hunter opening Friday, Rocks Off took it upon ourselves to come up with a list (of course) of acts Lincoln might have been into if he really were still around. Not on: Brooklyn’s Titus Andronicus, whose song “Albert Camus” contains the line, “Because even Honest Abe sold poison milk to schoolchildren.”
Despite what you saw on The Simpsons, he didn’t — although a plant growing on the Lincoln farm and then ingested by one of the family’s milk cows is probably what led to the death of his mother when young Abe was but age nine.
5. Johnny Cash: There aren’t many musicians with the same imposing physical features and quiet dignity Lincoln had, but the late Johnny Cash did. The Man in Black – whose “The Man Comes Around” is used in the Vampire Hunter trailer – was very statesmanlike himself, and recorded Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for his 1972 album America: A 200-Year Tribute in Story and Song.
4. Nice Peter: Someone had to do it, so American musical comedian Nice Peter came up with a rap song pitting Lincoln against America’s No. 1 latter-day folk hero, Chuck Norris, the third installment of his “Epic Rap Battles of History” series. In the appropriately titled “Abe Lincoln vs. Chuck Norris,” Lincoln gets in a good shot (sorry) with “You block bullets with your beard? I catch ’em with my skull,” but Norris has the last word with “I’ve spread more blood and gore than 40 years of your puny Civil Wars, bitch.”
3. Clutch: The funk-influenced Maryland hard rockers released “Abraham Lincoln” on their most recent album, 2009’s Strange Cousins From the West, although it’s more of a screed against Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes Booth than a tribute to the former president: “The assassin, the coward, no grave for you.”
2. Johnny Horton: Raised in Tyler, Johnny Horton was one of the more underrated country and rockabilly singers of the ’50s whose career was tragically cut short in a car accident after a show in Austin in 1960. Best known for his songs “Honky Tonk Man,” “North to Alaska” and “The Battle of New Orleans,” Horton recalls a few of his lessons from American History for his song “Young Abe Lincoln (Make a Tall, Tall Man),” released the same year he died on the album Johnny Horton Makes History.
1. Wilco: In spite of his high moral character, innate leadership abilites and folksy sense of humor, Abe Lincoln was not a happy man. His doubt-riddled, tumultuous private life sounds more like something out of a Wilco song, whether the marriage gone cold of “Hate It Here” or his partner’s wild mood swings in “A Shot In the Arm.” Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy, who deserves a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Americana music, can no doubt relate to his fellow Illinoisan.Google+