The Unexpected ABlinken

By Edward Epstein

Washington, D.C.

Friday, October 21, 2022


Sometimes you encounter Abraham Lincoln through the most surprising and circuitous paths.


Recently I attended a concert performance by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the beautiful and acoustically wonderful Strathmore concert hall in Bethesda, Md. The main piece for the day was Leonard Berstein's Kaddish Symphony, a deeply moving work originally written to honor President John F. Kennedy for which Bernstein wrote a narration in which he wrestles with the question of why God allows bad things to happen.


After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bernstein's friend Samuel Pisar rewrote the narration to reflect Pisar's experiences in the World War II Holocaust and the events of 9-11. Pisar died in 2015; Bernstein in 1990.


Pisar's narration at Strathmore was read by his widow Judith and daughter Leah. They were escorted onto stage by guest conductor James Conlon and by another man, who I didn't immediately recognize. After several seconds, I realized he was Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. What was he doing there?


Turns out he is Sam Pisar's stepson. And he came to say a few words before the performance.


All this led me to look up Pisar and then Blinken. At the very end of Blinken's Wikipedia biography, I found the fact, new to me, that he and four other musicians have recorded a few "nerd rock" songs that are available on the audio service Spotify. Blinken is the songwriter and the singer on the pieces, recorded several years ago.


The name of the group? ABlinken, as in Abe Lincoln.


NPR has reviewed Blinken's songs. It called the work "a decent amateur demo... Anthony Blinken sounds like what he is -- a hobbyist who loves playing music."


Turns out that this fact got some publicity in late 2020, when President-elect Joe Biden nominated Blinken to serve as secretary of state. But I missed it. As President Harry S Truman said, "The only new in the world is the history you don't know."


So ABlinken was new to me.