Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Lincoln Vs. Cage

Penny and Jimmy and Samantha have all written stuff for this blog since our FYS ended, so I guess I'll join them and keep it going. All the Honors students are taking a course about Abraham Lincoln now (nowhere near as fun as the Cage class of course), so I decided to write some John Cage-Abe Lincoln crossover fiction. I can't decide if that's clever or pathetic (I'm going with pathetic), but anyway, here it is. Enjoy.

So, I was talking to some friends about Abe Lincoln, and as the conversation turns, as conversations about Lincoln inevitably do, to what would have happened had Lincoln and noted experimentalist musician John Cage met. (For a scholarly look at this topic, I cannot recommend a better article than Alfred Johnson’s Lincoln vs. Cage: A Juxtapositional Examination, published in the January 2005 edition of the Atlantic Monthly). So I decided to write my own account of their meeting.

Lincoln was walking home from delivering a penny to a widow who had overpaid at the post office. This honesty, Abe reflected, was the consequence of the godly teaching at the feet of his kindly old stepmother, although he wished she had included some fractions in her teachings as well so he wouldn’t keep making these math mistakes and have to keep walking ten miles to give widows back the money he overcharged them. Still, he knew, people were starting to call him “Honest Abe,” which would be advantageous if he ever decided to open a general store or run for postmaster or try to become president.

He trudged on, and saw a man standing next to a fence post. “Hello, honest sir,” Abe said, “who are you, and why are you standing by that fence?”

“I just stand,” explained the man.

“But why?”

“I just stand. That’s all there is to it, actually,” said the man in a quiet voice, with the sounds of hidden meanings swimming in subterranean pools of connotation.

“I don’t think we are getting anywhere,” said Lincoln briskly. “I like my conversations like the old lady’s dance—short and sweet.” (Lincoln didn’t develop timing with his jokes until he entered political life; until then, his jokes were pretty bad).

The man responded gravely, “Now, more than ever, we are getting nowhere, and that is a pleasure.”

Lincoln’s eyes narrowed, like those of a very large, tall cat who stood on his hind legs and had a beard. “There’s only one man in these parts who talks like that,” he said through gritted teeth, “and that’s John Cage. MY MORAL ENEMY!!!”

“Beethoven was wrong, Lincoln,” said Cage randomly. “We must duel to the death.”

“Yes, we must”, replied Lincoln, pulling out his jews-harp. “Let’s see how you stand up to—Turkey In the Straw!”

“Ha!,” Cage cried arrogantly, but in a meaningful way. “I have with me—the Cone of Silence! None of your screeching can reach me here. This cone is dedicated to the proposition that all sounds are created equal.”

Lincoln played away on his jews-harp, but no sound could pierce Cage’s field of silence. Then, out of a clear sky, someone said “I’ll help you finish that rebel,” Lincoln.”

Lincoln gave David Bowie a look of paternal respect, just like he looks on the Lincoln Memorial.

“What a wonderful idea,” he said. “My jews-harp doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Well,” said David Bowie, “If you want to be one of the heroes, you’ll have to make some ch-ch-changes. Fill your heart with the spirit of young Americans.”

“I don’t understand,” Lincoln stammered.

“Whatever,” Bowie replied. “You haven’t discovered marijuana yet anyhow. But now to the matter at hand.”

He started singing “Life on Mars?” (That’s my favorite Bowie song, so that’s why he’s singing it. The BBC TV show is good too.) Cage’s Cone of Silence collapsed, and Lincoln ran up and caught him under his top hat.

“Thank you,” he said to David Bowie, because he was polite as well as honest.

“Oh, you’re welcome. Think nothing of it. But my time here is at an end; I must return to that time of my life I enjoyed the most.”

“The Seventies, where you toured with some of the era’s brightest lights and inspired the development of music for years?”

Bowie looked a little embarrassed. “Er, actually, it’s the 2000’s, where I was a knight and really rich. It’s much superior, actually, and the drugs are so much better. The Seventies got old really fast. Now, if you’ll excuse me I must be off.”

Bowie faded away, sort of like his acting career did after Labyrinth.

BOOM!!! went a huge noise behind Lincoln. John Cage had blown his way out of Lincoln’s hat with exploding mushrooms!!!

“I’ll be back!” he said menacingly. “We carry our homes within us which enables us to fly.”

“Grrr,” Lincoln growled. He could have caught him, with his long legs, but he had four more pennies to deliver, and he had to write the Gettysburg address when he got home. “I’ll catch you next time.”

To Be Continued*

(“To be”, this case, should be read as “certainly will not be.”)


penny said...

Daniel, I'm laughing so hard that people in the student center computer lab are looking at me funny.

jerome langguth said...


This is both very funny and quite perceptive regarding musical connections and influences. Bowie is a fan of Cage, and has frequently used chance operations to come up with songs. In particular, many songs on the albums Heroes, Low, Lodger, and Outside were written this way.