Monday, February 13, 2006

Penny For Your Thoughts

By Mitchell

I meant to post this earlier, but as usual I just didn't get around to it. Yesterday was, of course, Lincoln's birthday; and I'm probably dating myself in saying that I remember the days when both Lincoln's and Washington's birthday were holidays. By the time I was in school the system had adopted a cumbersome policy whereby they alternated the dates that would be school holidays. One year it would be Lincoln, the next year Washington, and so on. Eventually both were replaced by the much blander "Presidents Day," which in my more ambitious political years I came to think of as "my day."

At any rate, you're almost certain on Lincoln's Birthday to hear some classical music station play Copeland's famedLincoln Portrait, in which the great composer's music is matched up to some of Lincoln's most memorable phrases. Nowadays it's common for the words of Lincoln to be voiced by a black actor (most often James Earl Jones) or a woman (I even ran across a recording in which Lincoln was read by Katharine Hepburn). I suppose the record producers felt they were making some kind of political statement; after all, Lincoln freed the slaves, and you can't have freedom anymore without including the oppressed female.

But for my money the definitive Lincoln Portrait is that narrated by Henry Fonda. Fonda had, after all, played Lincoln in the movies. Like Lincoln, he came from the Midwest, and spoke in the flat tones of a Midwesterner. Most of all, like Lincoln he was a man; and there just seems to be something appropriate about hearing Lincoln's words recited in this fashion. They become living words, more real - not simply something read from a history book. As we hear them we can see the man, feel his era, and appreciate even more the meaning of what he says. And, of course, Fonda was one of the best actors of his time. Can't say I liked the man's politics, but I admired his talent.

So don't accept any substitute. If you want to offer a toast to Honest Abe, celebrate with Henry Fonda's voice, Aaron Copeland's music, and the words of the Great Emancipator himself. Honestly.

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