Sunday, October 03, 2004

Songs from the Land of Lincoln

You know how it is. You're doing a little housecleaning (and believe me it's been a way too long since I've done enough of that), the radio is on, but your not really paying attention. Then slowly the words of the song floated into your consciousness. And suddenly, your mind is blown wide open by what's on the radio. This happened to me just yesterday. And ever since the same tune has been playing over, and over, and over in my head. What radio song changed my world?

It was a punk rock song about Nauvoo, Illinois.

In my housecleaning sweats and houseslippers, I started dancing. The song had a catchy tune, a driving drum beat, a lead singer who sounded like Kermit the Frog, and knowledgeable insight into the history of the Mormons in Nauvoo. What's not to get your feet moving? Here's some lyrics:

We left Illinois for a land called Utah
Under the leadership of Brigham Young
We left behind the City of Joseph and followed the setting sun
But now we have Salt Lake City
So raise your voices higher
Sing this song about the town of Nauvoo
With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Come to find out, the band belting out the story was Illinois First! A band dedicated to retelling the Prairie State's history in rock clubs throughout the Chicago area. Imagine a dark smoky nightclub, imagine guitar, base, drums, and accordion players on stage, imagine tribal dancing in the mosh pit--all soaking in the band's motto that "Illinois is Not as Boring as You Think!" What a great line, what a great band.

Illinois First! gets it's name from the public work project enacted by Governor George Ryan. The band has a song dedicated to the former Governor. According to the band, George Ryan is the "Coolest Republic since Honest Abe." Of course, the band also has a song about Abe Lincoln's early days in New Salem, Illinois.

In 1800 and 32, he fought in the Blackhawk War
Then he went to work in a store in New Salem
When he was not busy, he spent hours reading and studying
And talking to people passing through
He was honest, friendly and brave
So they called him Honest Abe
Then he worked as the postmaster and surveyed

In the fine tradition of Schoolhouse Rock educational cartoons and the rock band The Presidents of the United States of America, Illinois First brings the message that history can be fun to punk fans everywhere. Other songs by the band include "Starved Rock," a song about the Native American siege that pervades the Illinois founding myth. Joliet and Marquette both share a song, while Jean DuSable gets his own ballad. Carl Sandburg, the poet from Galesburg, has a song, too. And of course any self-respecting rock band that sings about Illinois history would have to write a song about the town of Rock Island. According to the band, "Rock Island ROCKS!"

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