This month, we asked the Program department and new Museum Program Associates to come up with a soundtrack for the Cottage during a training and reflection exercise. From the drawing room to the veranda, each staff member was asked to pick a room of the Cottage and then choose a song that either represented the theme or the feeling of walking into that space. The songs span bluegrass to Drake.
DISCLAIMER: the views and opinions expressed by the performers do not necessarily reflect those of President Lincoln’s Cottage. Some of the songs contain explicit language.
Here are some of the explanations for a few songs:
Song: I Can See for Miles
Artist: The Who
“When I think about Lincoln sitting out on the veranda, I always try to picture the incredible view he had. In his immediate vicinity he could see his fellow residents at the Soldiers’ Home, signs of the cost of war. He could see the Smithsonian Castle, a sign of the scientific potential of the country. He could see the unfinished Washington Monument on the National Mall, a sign of the interrupting chaos of the Civil War. He could see into Virginia, literally enemy country which he hoped to bring back into the Union fold. And of course, towering before him, he could see the Capitol Dome, whose construction he ordered to continue so that the Nation would continue.
Thus, the song that immediately came to mind when thinking about the veranda is the Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” The song is perhaps a bit angrier than we think of Lincoln. But some of the lyrics I think work well as an inner monologue of him venting frustration. “I know you’ve deceived me, now here’s a surprise / I know that you have ’cause there’s magic in my eyes,” the song starts. Well perhaps that could be him speaking to the Confederacy as he’s conjuring up the Emancipation Proclamation, a war measure that he thinks will weaken the CSA. But it’s that repetition of “I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles” that really strikes me. Lincoln’s view from the veranda that stretched for miles inspired him and gave him the vision to continue his fight for freedom. Though we’ve lost some of that view shed, a large part of it still remains, thus providing a key connection from today’s world to his. By standing on the veranda, we too can see for miles.”
Song: Started From the Bottom
Room: Drawing room
“This Drake song I think not only embodies the kind of bootstraps rise Lincoln talks about in his drawing-room conversation with Borrett, but also more and more of the complexity behind that idea. Drake is a black man, and he’s singing triumphantly about his rise from the bottom. But, more than 150 years on, why should his starting point be any lower than anyone else’s? The song lyrics also include the n-word, with its complex history and baggage around racial tensions in the US. And, as the song brings up – how can you bring your ‘team’ up along with you? Is the ‘whole team’ really here (at the top) now? His song is defiant, energetic, and embodies all the complicated aftermath of people’s experiences with ‘the American dream.'”
Song: Get Up, Get into It, Get Involved / Soul Power
Artist: James Brown
Room: Emancipation room
“I chose it because the lyrics to the first part urge people to not sit on the sideline and ignore a problem. The second half is an acknowledgement of the power of the inner self to resist attempted degradation. Then musically, the song involves an enormous band and co-lead singer all working together to produce the propulsive beat that gets more insistent and driving as the song progresses. A metaphor in some ways for what was needed to enact emancipation.”