Back in February of 2006, Jefferson Pitcher, J. Matthew Gerken, and I set about writing and recording the original demos for these Presidents songs as part of the February Album Writing Month challenge (www.fawm.org). We wrote and did demo recordings of 42 songs (all but G.W. Bush) in Februrary–28 days and 42 songs. Sheesh.
In any case, as part of that, we wrote little texts to accompany each new song as we got them up on the FAWM website. I like looking through them now as they seem part of a crazy, crazy time.
Burr Settles, a fine songwriter in his own right and the FAWM-lord, was kind enough to get me an html backup of all the original texts we wrote, and it includes the comments other songwriters wrote on the demos as we got them up. I’m including those as well.
Note that this is a long document, and these also appear in the Of Great and Mortal Men blog, where they are indexed by President. Point being: If there is a particular President you are looking for here and don’t want to slog through the entirety of the texts, you can look for that category (to your right).
Here, then, are the original texts, notes, and comments, date-stamped as they original appeared from the FAWM website. Enjoy!
FAWM 2006 Presidents
01 Washington (Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus)
Jeff Pitcher, Matthew Gerken and I are embarking on a project wherein we will write one song each for each president up through but not including the current one. By luck of the draw, I got the first president, and so my song.
A really rough, completely unpolished demo, then. (Probably the roughest thing I’ve ever let go “public.”)
As for the song itself:
I read that Washington’s dentures were not made of wood but of human teeth and the teeth of hippopotami. The song tells of a terrible nightmare that Washington has towards the end of his life, wherein the dead and toothless hippo comes for him for the lies he has told during his life. Those lies include (in the dream or perhaps in reality) the inagural speech (which forms the first verse) and his love for his wife (which forms the very end of the song).
Go team! I can’t wait to hear Adams (from Matthew) and Jefferson (from Jefferson).
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-02 @ 11:33am (EST)Powdered wigs and piggy eyes! Love it. I’d love to see the whole lyrics posted. I think they are brilliant. (The song is plenty polished for FAWM)Musically I dig the progression – I don’t think I’d change anything there.. just add a percussion track maybe or other little polish things… but the whole thing is very solid. The harmonies are great!I’m really looking forward to hear more. (Can’t wait till you guys get to Old Hickory… I was just listening to lecture about him… talk about a character!)
- Ben J. | 2006-02-02 @ 01:14pm (EST)Like it, and like your vocal delivery too. Would be nice to hear this with a fuller production, but that’s not the point Accomplished lyrics, if a little “wordy” in places. Good stuff!
- Steven Moser | 2006-02-02 @ 01:40pm (EST)This song is great! The melody and chorch changes bring home the story behind the lyrics in a haunting way. I love the subject matter…really nothing I can say about this one…great job!
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-02 @ 02:49pm (EST)i really like it… in that the story is framed around (hippo) has little to do with the image most of have when we think washington. the intro is pretty nice like it is… in a studio version i’d hold off on percussion until the second verse (“martha…”) looking forward to hearing the rest of this series.i think i might have given up on my concept this year. we’ll see when i actually have time to start writing songs. that’s okay, i’ve already broken my other new years resolutions…
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-02 @ 05:38pm (EST)Ben J.: I agree that it’s rather wordy. Maybe I can parse out some of the lyrics in some later rewrite while retaining the song’s overall lyrical feel. Thanks for your comments Eric, Steven & Burr. Looking forward to Matthew’s John Adams and Jeff Pitcher’s Tom Jefferson! Rawk!
- tomtomtom | 2006-02-02 @ 05:49pm (EST)very cool song Christian, I’m looking forward to more…. I love that you went with the hippo theme, a very original take on Washington.
- elizadonelittle | 2006-02-02 @ 10:31pm (EST)nice chorus, ck. amazing, actually – a catchy chorus about g.wash. also, i enjoyed the wig on the bedpost image. very sugar ray. are you guys serious about doing all the presidents? full marks for ambition! xox
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-03 @ 11:15am (EST)this song is just great. the purple head. george, gnashing his hippo teeth. what a great image. that guitar sounds so damn good too. yes, i am biased.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-04 @ 04:37pm (EST)This song is gorgeous. It reminds me of that Nick Drake song we did at DuNord. Great recording. I was one of the several folks that got to hear this song performed live last night with Fidel Castro playing drums. It was really one of the more special shows I have ever attended. The great new material you played reminds me of how brilliant you are; what an active and beautiful mind!
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-05 @ 01:28am (EST)”Come back to claim his ivory prize” – gotta love that. Great chord progression. Damn fine lyrics. The melody line of the chorus is haunting..especially when it get’s to the “believe me” line. Good stuff Christian.
02 Adams (Armed with Only Wit and Vigor and the U.S. Navy)
John Adams felt like an idiot being Vice President. He was a powerful intellectual. Navy used to get pirates out of the Atlantic. French pirates. Sorry about the buzzy sound on all these tracks. I will fix my soundcard and re upload ASAP.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-13 @ 10:35pm (EST)the chorus kills me, especially the first line (more specifically the pregression). and the bass line one this one is wonderful. “shaking this failed grenade between heart and harmony.” and you got the word agrarian in there…i’m jealous. i had intended to do that with jefferson, but the mouldboard sort of took over.
03 Jefferson (the mouldboard of least resistance)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-02 @ 10:01pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
i return. excited as last year, but overwhelmed as i have so little free time this year. alas. anyway, as christian kiefer wrote, he, matt gerken and i are writing songs about the presidents. i have been given those divisible by 3. so, jefferson. he and i share the same name, which was my initial lyrical content, but it all changed which i suppose is the point.
this year, i happen to be quite a bit busier than last and so the songs will be super-rough. a good thing perhaps. i’ve also given myself a rule this year, which is simply that i will use no effects on instruments, as i tend to rely on them all too heavily. it turns out that jefferson had quite an affinity for billiards (which was illegal at the time in virginia) and he was the first president to live in the white house. and quite an inventor. i read last night while writing, that he invented the moudlboard of least resistance which was a new form of plow back then.
cheers to all jeffersons.
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-02 @ 10:33pm (EST)i like it. rough but good. so you’ll paint the red wooden house white, huh?
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-03 @ 12:08am (EST)incidentally, thomas jefferson (as i discovered last night) was the first president to live in the white house…i imagined it as a dream of his. the red house shall remain.
- Steven Bacon | 2006-02-03 @ 11:01am (EST)i like it too. i could vividly see the picture you paint with this song. cool rock out jammy part at the end. I could see this being used for a documnatry or era movie. your voice sounds great too…. wow….it must be tough trying to come up with lyrics about dead presidents..
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-03 @ 11:40am (EST)I too like it. Good guitar work. Raw in a good way.
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-04 @ 05:27am (EST)Okay, first off…what are you recording on? This sounds great! What mics are you using? The acoustics sound beautiful, same with your voice and the drum at the end.I love the song. Great concept. While listening I was able to close my eyes and see everything you described in your lyrics. The music fit the lyrics very well, very Americana/Appalachia (is that the right word?).If this is “rough” I don’t want smooth. Keep ‘em coming.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-04 @ 04:32pm (EST)Beautiful. I am among the folks that got to hear this song live last night at a house party in Sacramento. The audience was warned about the mouldboard, but when that lyric came, the audience burst into laughter. What a title. What a lyric to try to work into a song! Beautifully recorded and executed. I like the loose jammy part at the end, too.
- CageyHouse | 2006-02-04 @ 07:14pm (EST)Man, this is pretty. Great lyrics. If I didn’t know what they were about, they’d still be strong enough to be about just about anything.
- Todd Norem | 2006-02-04 @ 07:42pm (EST)Damn. Minimal is good. If every song I listen to on FAWM has half of the potential as this I’ll be sceaming for this sort of challenge every month. Keep going..you’ve got my ear.
- friendof | 2006-02-06 @ 01:29pm (EST)Wow, this is right up there with some of the best indi music out there. Really great job. I love the President concept. lol. Kinda like Sufjan Stevens’ 50-states project. Can’t wait to hear more.
- tomtomtom | 2006-02-06 @ 05:04pm (EST)especially love the singing on this one…
- Ben J. | 2006-02-06 @ 08:27pm (EST)My god, what a voice! Incredible. And beautiful playing – this is the kind of stuff I aspire to (well, can’t really do much about my voice…)To be honest, you could be singing about milk cartons and it would still sound amazing… ..and I love recordings with people talking in the room. It’s kind of honest, it’s like saying “this is just me playing, nothing special, listen if you want” rather than putting the artist up there on the pedestal. It brings the audience right into the room. Love it.Oh, am I supposed to be offering constructive criticism..? Er… hmm.. Ok, you haven’t posted nearly enough songs. 5 minutes of singing about milk cartons would do, just lemme hear more!
Superb. This is why I can never consider myself a singer.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-07 @ 08:16pm (EST)i thank you all so much for your compliments…if you knew me well, you would know how much it means to hear that you like my voice. you would perhaps be surprised what one can “do about their voice” ben. for years, people told me mine was awful and that i should stop singing. i just worked really hard at getting better. i haven’t listened to your stuff yet, but i promise you too (anyone) can learn to sing better. but thank you. dearly. as for what i’m using to record, it is the exact same equipment i had last year…perhaps i’m becomming a better engineer. a $150 mic, and the onboard preamp on my tascam 1884 mixer, into digital performer. that’s it. cheers. and thanks again. i’ll try to listen to all of your stuff too, just so bloody busy this year. keep at it~
04 Madison (Zinger)
Gads, I thought the last mix was rough. This is rougher yet.
In any case, this one, on James Madison, is about jealousy. Washington and Jefferson are well-remembered presidents. Adams perhaps less so, but Madison is completely forgotten. What the hell did he do? Quite a bit, actually, but it’s all mostly forgotten because Jefferson and Washington were real showboats in dapper coats and powdered wigs. Madison, on the other hand, was an ugly little fucker, and so that certainly effected his public image. He’s on the $5000 bill, but who has one? Not I. A Washington, sure. Even a pocketful of Jeffersons, but alas no Madison.
But who’s famous? His wife: Dolley Madison. Drop the extra “e” in her first name and you have a name sacred to, as the song says, “every sticky fingered chubby from sea to shining sea.” So James is, perhaps understandably, a bit miffed. His jolly, buxon Dolley gets the royal pop culture treatment but alas James is only the lapdog of obscurity. Destiny is a mean fucker, to be sure.
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-06 @ 01:04pm (EST)I’ve tried to listen to this track like 4-5 times and the download halts at diffrent spots… frustrating.The zinger references are great! Lyrically it’s very solid, conveyed the sense of Madison’s bitterness perfectly. Can’t wait to hear the demo.
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-06 @ 01:09pm (EST)Finally got it to work. The banjo/high vocal combo is interesting… not something you hear every day. It really works here… something about the bitterness of the lyrics with the sweet vocals and the banjo just seems to fit.I would love to hear an organ part reinforcing things on the latter half of the song.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-06 @ 04:58pm (EST)I was actually thinking of adding Hammond or pump organ on it. Pump organ would make more sense in terms of meshing with the banjo, but Hammond is more attractive to me because it makes LESS sense. But then again, that’s the dumb way I think.I think my server was having a crapout, but hopefully it’s better now and will keep on working. If people have a problem, please shoot me an e-mail to email@example.com and let me know & I’ll reload the song.
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-06 @ 10:55pm (EST)wow. way to co-opt “zinger” too. i’m really impressed with these. the bridge is a little weird… not quite sure how to put my finger on it. but i’m impressed with the 3 prez songs so far… they run the risk of being cheesy, but indeed, they are rather well-formed and interesting.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-07 @ 08:26pm (EST)i like the busom reference…subject matter in whole. high voice is great. where do you find it by the way, i’m still looking? i think it would be cool if you ran the banjo through a ring modulator (or something) to make it distort in a weird way, then recorded a super pretty piano or organ part. split them left and right. but then that would be me. the lapdog of obscurity. brilliant.
- PlushBaby | 2006-02-08 @ 08:46am (EST)Jiggly boosom pressed to every open mouth… is indeed a wonderful image…I didn’t like the highness of the vocal in the beginning but now I think it suits the song very nicely!
05 Monroe (The Last Cocked Hat)
The subtitle is really his nickname. The chorus summarizes the gist of the Monroe doctrine.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-13 @ 10:31pm (EST)this song is really beautiful to me…perhaps it’s just that it seems to fit the springlike weather here in california quite well, but i REALLY like it nonetheless. rain or shine that is. just damn good.
- friendof | 2006-03-13 @ 11:25pm (EST)I feel bad because I actually downloaded all your songs, but haven’t commented on them all. But I love this one, as I do all of them. I love how you make it about the U.S.’s “position” as if the song is about the U.S. more than just Monroe or his statements alone. Nice work with this one. And kudos to makig words that don’t rhyme totally work and sound great. Oh and your voice, as always, sound great.
06 Quincy Adams (Death in the Speaker’s Room)
little time to write. this year for christmas, a friend of mine gave me a set of brian eno’s oblique strategies. as i struggled with how this song would come together, i pulled a card that read, “ghost whispers.” which i suppose that should explain it well enough.
difficult to mix, but with limited time, this is what we get. i feel strange about this song, and didn’t like it at all when i finished it last night, but it has grown on me some. i will say, that i believe one of the greatest strengths about this project (fawm) is that it potentially forces us to experiment and try new things, so in that way i must commend my efforts. i also felt it should be shorter, and tried to trim off some of the intro and outtro, but had technical difficulties.
anyway, a few facts about John Quincy Adams: 1. he watched the battle of bunker hill from his porch as a young boy. 2. he used to often skinny dip in the potomac before sunrise. 3. in 1848 he had a stroke in the house, was carried to the speaker’s room, where he died two days later.
i was writing from the perspective of a ghost telling his forthcoming life story. off to work on harrison. cheers~
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-08 @ 12:30am (EST)this *is* long… but i don’t thing that’s so bad: it works. in the end, it might depend on the context (monroe/jackson songs) in the final project.feels quite ghosty… though the whispery vocals bug me a little. the melodies during those parts are cool, the 2 voices is a nat way of doing it, but this particular execution is a little jarring… i keep losing focus on the narrative, i think. just my $0.02. the electronic textures here and there are great, and the piano is, too… especially toward the end. the dissonance and such.
- jroberts | 2006-02-08 @ 02:05am (EST)This is a beautiful song. Very Radiohead-esque, which is quite a compliment. Lovely piano. And I like the lack of narrative, the wandering. It feels like a nighttime stroll through woods.
- lindy | 2006-02-08 @ 02:13am (EST)hi, jeff. i liked this piece. i liked your piano work a lot. did you notate it on paper, note for note, or did you improvise most of it?
one thing that was jarring to me (and it may just be because of the limited time you had recording) was whenever the guitar came in. it was too abrupt, like it didn’t quite fit the piece. maybe it was the wrong instrument. i’m not sure. in any case, kudos to you, big time, for even attempting a piece like this. i appreciate the difficulty of writing music of this nature because i’ve tried.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-08 @ 12:27pm (EST)burr and lindy. i know the chorus is abrupt and the verses long and strange. i have been increasingly interested in experimental music of late, and while i woudn’t define this as experimental music, i would say perhaps that it is influenced by such. the fact is that i have written so many songs over the years that just work. the chords all work together, the melody fits, the voice is good, etc., that i’ve grown somewhat bored with the predictability. therefore, with fawm this year i decided to try to push myself. to be entirely honest, i’m not sure that i like this song either, but it may function as a pathway to something new for me. ultimately an experiment. therefore folks, it is jarring on purpose. quite effective i suppose. as for the piano, i did write it out. as a matter of fact, i’m taking lessons (i’ve had 3) and just learning to read and write notation. cheers~
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-08 @ 02:26pm (EST)The piano work is great! Very mood setting… In fact it might be fun if you cloned the piano track and added some delay, so the percussive chords sort of echoed off into the distance. I actually like the contrast with guitar vs piano, though I agree it is a bit abrupt. A fade up ringing guitar chord might help there.Just thinking out load really. Very interesting track! I look forward to more! (Man what are going to do for Harrison, other than he died 30 days into office…) (=
- Ben J. | 2006-02-08 @ 05:25pm (EST)Interesting piece. The unconventional stuff kind both works and doesn’t work for me. When you come out of your first vocal/guitar section (“Close my weary eyes”), back into the randomness, that’s really beautiful. It really feels like sleep closing in and the thought patterns kind of ramping down.The only part of it that doesn’t work for me is the intro – I feel myself “hunting” to make sense of what I’m hearing, to find the centre, and I find that difficult (I realise that’s kind of what you were going for, so in that sense I guess it’s successfu). When the main vocal finally comes in the first time my brain goes “Aha!” and from latching on at that point, then you got me emotionally for the rest of the song. But until that point, I’m hanging in there on the edge of my fingernails…And a great vocal – I’m listening to the other stuff on your website too Jeff – “Georgia” gives me goose bumps. A real pleasure to listen to.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-08 @ 06:03pm (EST)great comments (and compliments) ben~i tend to agree with you about the song in its entirety, especially the beginning. i attempted to remedy that by cutting off the front, but had technical difficulties and ran out of time…..thanks for your words~
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-12 @ 11:28pm (EST)”who knew bunker hill would grow such legs?” is a beautiful lyric. I know you said that you wanted to trim the intro, I quite enjoyed it. It set a nice mood. The transition between the ghost whispery vocal and your normal vocal is very cool. The ghostly voice at times almost sounds like a muted flugal horn.
- Mike Debenham | 2006-02-14 @ 06:24am (EST)Jeff, I’m very impressed by these songs. Epic sweep.For now, I’d just like to pay respects to your lyrics, here and in your other presidents. There’s a bare, weathered poetry that opens up the strangeness of it all. Uncanny.
07 Jackson (Benevolence)
Andrew Jackson was a bad man, to say the least. How he made it onto our currency is a mystery I will probably take to my grave. Responsible for some of the most reprehensible acts of official policy against Native Americans, Jackson can be squarely credited for the decimation of (in particular) the Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee.
Of course, it’s not like Andrew Jackson was alone in his general sentiment that the Indians needed to be removed to reservation lands. It was a much lauded feeling at the time that such an act would “benefit” the Native population. Fuckers. If Andrew Jackson wasn’t dead I’d kick his pale ass.
In any case, I suspect that my little banjo riff thing rings too much of that Led Zeppelin song. It’s not something I noticed until I was actually singing over it. Anyway, it’s just a riff and can be changed. The rest of the song remains the same. (Har har.)
- Sean Brown | 2006-02-08 @ 03:46am (EST)I like it quite a bit. It has a nice sound to it.
- CageyHouse | 2006-02-08 @ 08:10am (EST)That banjo really hits the mournful soul.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-08 @ 12:19pm (EST)good title. i LOVE the harmonies, and the banjo melody is great. just great.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-08 @ 06:44pm (EST)The lyric is superb, and damn your harmonies are tight! I like the vibe on this too…
- mike skliar | 2006-02-12 @ 02:21am (EST)great banjo riff (sounds more neil young then zepplin to me) , great harmonies, I like this alot!
08 Van Buren (The Little Magician)
Van Buren unsuccessfully ran for re-election three times.
- PlushBaby | 2006-02-13 @ 01:55pm (EST)just to let you know, the current link doesn’t seem to work
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-13 @ 01:57pm (EST)I fixed it. Sorry!
09 Harrison (So You Don’t Have To)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-08 @ 02:57pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
while i believe the first two presidents in my bunch were great men, William Henry Harrison was an incredibly horrible and attrocious piece of shit. early in his political career he was the “aide-de-camp” to general “mad-anthony” wayne, who was ultimately responsible for a big portion of the genocide of native americans, and more acutely those living in what is now ohio. harrison’s prime task as a political leader was to obtain title to “indian lands,” give it to white settlers, and then defend it by systematically killing the indians.
in 1811 at the battle of tippicanoe, the indians led by tecumseh, attacked harrison’s army killing 190 of his soldiers, which led to his obsession with killing tecumseh. he was successful in this at the battle of the thames in 1813, after which the indians never again threatened the northwest territories.
just before his run for president, he began the whig party and proceeded to give the longest inaugural address in history (1hr 45min) outside in the snow, where he boasted of his accomplishments, saying that he had killed “17 roman proconsuls as dead as smelts.”
he contracted pneumonia days after his snowy address, and died having been president for less than a month…hence the chorus, where i sing that the reaper will claim him so that you (tecumseh) don’t have to. perhaps there is some small ounce of karmic retribution, of course not enough in my opinion to justify the breadth of his attrocities.
had i time (and the means) i would love to add vocal harmonies, cello, and mandolin. and i would fix the off-key vocals at the end. but work calls. such it is.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-08 @ 05:16pm (EST)Beautiful. Your best song for this project thus far. “He will lay there just as dead as smelt.” Fucking hell that’s good.Reminds me some of Ryan Adams when he’s at his spookiest angle.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-08 @ 05:33pm (EST)Lovely. I also liked some of the background guitar parts – maybe coulda done some more abstract stuff with that for some kind of weird distorted other-wordly ambience.I love the air around your recordings too. I been stuck with computers too long…
- elizadonelittle | 2006-02-08 @ 10:24pm (EST)What a super opening line. I’m a big fan of opening lines, and this one gets my vote. The piano sounds great on this song too – good choice. In general, a rather ghostly offering. -lis
- CageyHouse | 2006-02-08 @ 11:26pm (EST)Love how it drifts around harmonically. Wow.
- Erin O’Brien | 2006-02-09 @ 12:48am (EST)I love the contrast here: gentle delivery of anything but gentle subject matter. Very compelling. The melody will stick with me tonight and I can definitely hear those harmonies you’re interested in adding.On another note, you and I broke bread and swapped songs at Jake & Helen’s when you passed through Madison on your epic bike journey. Good to cross paths again in cyberspace. eob
- lindy | 2006-02-09 @ 01:49am (EST)i like the “dead as smelt” line, too. this is, like your others, an interesting piece. what i’d like to hear is you experimenting with a little counterpoint. there’s a portion in the song where the vocals are running parallel with the piano. that’s the place i’d like to see some counterpoint. if you have time, try it out and see what you think.your instrumentation ideas are good. maybe a little oboe as well.
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-12 @ 11:34pm (EST)The piano sounds amazing. What mic did you use on it? I love the reaper and pneumonia lyrics. Using his “dead as smelt” line against him is perfect. Not sure if this is corny or not…but I can hear a single indian tomtom drum coming in at the end of the song…the sound of Tecumseh’s victory. Loved it.
10 Tyler (Untitled)
How many readers out there can name one significant thing that John Tyler did? Probably very few. I hazard to say none, unless some of your are political science historians. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was the campaign slogan of Harrison and John Tyler was “Tyler Too,” Harrison’s V.P. So of course when Harrison died after 30 days in the office, Tyler Too became the President.
Tyler was, in many ways, a great man. He voted and vetoed by his own conscience, not along party lines. As a result, the Whigs that had supported him in office all quit, leaving him essentially without a cabinet. Unfortunately, he also voted along the lines of States Rights, moves that eventually led to the Civil War. A great man, perhaps, but also one who was, in the end, on the wrong side of the coming war.
Incidentally, this song was the most difficult to write yet. I had almost no ideas and the chord structure is so simple as to be somewhat laughable. Maybe it will seem better than it is tomorrow.
- The KB EP | 2006-02-11 @ 05:32pm (EST)Hurray for the Air Organ(?). I remember studying John Tyler in my AP History class last year. Tippecanoe is more or less the only thing I remember. A like this combination of organ and tambourine, by the way. And that last closing dichord was everything that I ever wanted. An interesting project, nonetheless. Good work, sir.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-11 @ 08:41pm (EST)I like the low-key vibe of the vocal and lyric. Dunno much American history (you guys are teaching me something! but the tone feels mournful, reluctant and cautious, and this works well. I wasn’t too keen on the repetition on the “they woke me up” section, it seems a redundancy that could be better used to express a further emotion or consequence, but that’s just nit picking.Interesting choice of arrangements too, I’m getting ideas from this as I’d never do anything like that – it’s too easy to fall back on guitar/piano stuff…
- Steven Bacon | 2006-02-12 @ 01:40am (EST)nice harmonies, christian! great melody and progression. i like the instrumentation as well. sounds a bit like an accordian or an old breather organ. for me the “oh hell yes” seems a little out of place, but maybe i’m not gettin’ it? but back to the harmonies..terrific!
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-12 @ 02:48pm (EST)personally, i LOVE the oh hell yes line. absolutely brilliant in context, and delivery. the pump organ, as always is just gorgeous. i also like the fact that two people (at least) on this fawm thing have now used the word tippicanoe in a song. the harmonies are wonderful. i like the tamborine too. “break off the bread of virgina” damn that’s good. i like this song a lot. the tremolo works for me.
11 Polk (Might Have Been Cuckoo, Too)
James Polk graduated from one of my alma maters, the University of North Carolina. This song imagines the world through his eyes and considers territorial expansion alongside a narrowing of social perspective in the White House. Polk’s wife, out of religous fanatacism akin to present day evangalist Christians, banned drinking, playing pool, playing cards, and dancing from the White House, among other things. We imagine Polk getting a broader view of the world through his presidency and beginning to question his wife and previous religious leanings. This one is probably (like most of my songs) difficult to exactly literally understand and interpret, but this is intentional. I admire great lyricists and lyrics. I don’t like to write lyrics that specifically mean one thing, though. I hope that’s ok. I’m really in it for the music anyway.
- Josh Schramm | 2006-02-20 @ 01:50pm (EST)This is a different sound for you. I like the chord changes and the unified beats a lot. Yeah I really like the minor chord sound. Some organ might sound good here too. I think this is my favorite of yours so far.
- friendof | 2006-02-21 @ 11:43pm (EST)All your songs are depressing… hehe, there has to be some good things to being the President. I like beat behind this… it gives it a really velocity that goes with the natural build of the song. Nice work.
12 Taylor (Rough and Ready)
this one was a beast. problem after problem after problem (mainly computer related) that i won’t even bother to explain. some songs just don’t want to come out i suppose. last night, after writing here and explaining the song, lyrics etc. the computer crashed again and i simply went to bed. how is it that we can be so angry at these machines?
so, zachary taylor. number 12. i have crested into the double digits. taylor was a complicated man. incapable of making any firm decision about the issue of slavery, he essentially avoided the issue until his abrupt death. he himself had over 100 slaves, but felt that the new states forming in the west such as california and new mexico, should be free to vote about the matter themselves. this of course caused great frustration from the southern states, whom he attempted to placate for years. just after his death (he was in office just over a year) the compromise of 1850 was passed which basically ruined the idea of freeing the slaves for a while longer; not really a compromise at all. it basically said that any slaves found anywhere in the united states (those who had fled to free states) could be arrested and brought back to their slave owners. anyway, he was ultimately a bigot who didn’t want to be. he felt that the best way for whites and indians to get along was to be seperate.
he ot his nickname “rough and ready” by starting a battle with mexican troops which ultimately led to the mexican american war. amazingly, his troops of 6000 defeeated a mexican army of 20,000, which made him a national hero and led to his presidency.
as for the song, it is nothing like i intended, which i suppose is the point of this project in some way. i was given a drum kit this year, but no cymblas, hence the rumbling drums. the weird space in the middle after the 1st chorus was again one of brian eno’s cards, which read “do something unpredictable and destructive; incorporate.” i chose silence. i thought it sounded so stupid that i added some stick clicking and then tried to make that sound interesting with efects, then gave up as the computer kept crashing. ugh. were i to re-track this, the eno section would disappear. the song longs for piano i think. off to work.
- sweetmusic999 | 2006-02-10 @ 05:09pm (EST)The first thing that occurred to me while listening this song was that your guitar riff is beautifully unique. My favorite part of the song was the first time you sang “rough and ready” – it just seemed to fall into place perfectly. The fade out instrumental in the end is both pretty and a good idea. Keep em coming.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-10 @ 06:45pm (EST)Nice! No constructive comments, you’re too good at this. I can feel what you were going for for the quiet section, and if maybe the execution wasn’t working, at least the idea was a good one, I think… sometimes those details take a little time to crystallze, and for FAWM, the temptation is to not dwell on it if it’s not coming there and then, and move on, which is a good one, seeing as how may of us obsess over everything for too long. Lovely guitar work – as always.
- friendof | 2006-02-14 @ 02:07am (EST)Taylor is actually my 12th great grandfather. I really enjoyed your song and breif bio. As I saw you doing these presidents I was certian you were going to focus on the mystery of his death (it was thought to be poisoning, but when the dug him up years ago, they determined it was not likely poisoning).I love the change in tempo of the song. I also love the drums… it really gives it that military feeling, which is essentially what Taylor is known for. I also love the harmonies on “oh rough and ready.” You’ve done an excellent job. Now I am off to listen to the more recent presidents!
- Matt Hopper | 2006-03-02 @ 01:04pm (EST)This tune is nice…reminds me of the band Gomez…I think it’s the harmony in the verses…very soothing.
13 Fillmore (The Proof In the Pudding)
What I probably should have done is written a song about how great the Fillmore is as a venue. I just saw Jeff Tweedy of Wilco do a solo show there last week and had a wonderful time. But I didn’t write that song.
President Millard Fillmore was, as all of the Presidents in this era, deeply concerned with the country’s growing awareness that slavery was perhaps not the best idea. Fillmore was a great compromiser, which in the end only meant that he got kicked out of office rather quickly. His great legacy was the Fugitive Slave Act, which he passed in order to placate the Southern states (who were on the verge of war), and which ultimately pissed off whatever friends he had up north. Without friends, he was pretty much hated by everyone. Compromise in government just doesn’t work, or so it seems.
As a song, this reminds me heavily of Buffalo Springfield, particularly of the early Neil Young song “Mr. Soul.” It wasn’t intentional, but then again influence seldom is.
- PlushBaby | 2006-02-11 @ 08:52pm (EST)I love the sound of your little midget singin partner – but he sounds like he is cold, maybe a pygmy fleece would help But sersiously, the tremelo type voice effect track works well in places but can get a little too much leaving me a little nausiated. This could just be my jelly like state, leaving me susceptible to vibrations in the air. XD Overall the song has a good feel.
- mike skliar | 2006-02-12 @ 01:50am (EST)interesting sounds and vibe. good use of that central riff, which is, as you point out, very mr-soul-like, but thats ok. lyrics are a bit fragmented for me, maybe needs a bit more rhyming or something? neat effort tho,, and i like that tremelo high voice, tho i agree with plushbaby that it might not be needed everywhere.. tho it doesent bother me
- jroberts | 2006-02-12 @ 02:15pm (EST)A bit of a departure, stylistically. I like it, particularly the melody when it approaches the bridge … or the chorus. Anyway, the melody is great. The tremolo part is a clever bit of cleverness. The more I listen to it, the more I’m impressed with your songwriting range.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-12 @ 02:53pm (EST)wait, this is the tremolo i meant to comment on. so many songs. i gues the other voice was the wah. yes, the tremolo is bit much for me, but the song is damn good. what a strangely compelling vocal melody. the simple fact that you wrote a song about millard fillmore called “the proof in the pudding,” is fucking great. i love the “oh no,” part. this song makes me feel like driving an old plymouth.
14 Pierce (My Only Enemy Is Myself)
This song makes ambiguous reference to several elements of Franklin Pierce’s life, including his role in the Mexican War and his defeat of his commanding officer in the presidential election; his alcoholism; his religious convictions, which at that time did not require one to know or understand less of the world (in fact, the church was a major force in liberal and advanced education in those times — this is largely in contrast to today, of course); the death of his child and children around him; the nature of historical writing and the shortfalls thereof for this time in history; and, Pierce’s avoiding prosecution in a horse trampling case. I told Josh Schramm last night that I think I wrote a totally straightforward minor country song. He wondered what that sounded like to my ears. I truly do not believe I can make clear judgments about my own writing anymore. I am not convinced that is a bad thing. But I digress…
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-21 @ 05:50pm (EST)I’m not sure this is quite a straightforward minor country song… it’s too complex for that… and that’s a good thing. The wandering melody and, to some degree, progression bring out a certain Pathos (if that’s the right word)I dig it! Excellent work!
- friendof | 2006-02-21 @ 11:32pm (EST)You president people are all amazing. I’m impressed by the lyrics alone. But the melody and delivery are also fantastic. Your voice has a really deep sexy vulnerability. I love the harmonies. Really amazing. Now I am off to listen to more of yours.
- jroberts | 2006-02-22 @ 12:21pm (EST)This is Gerken-straight-forward for sure. Cool song.
15 Buchanan (God Will Strike You Down)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-12 @ 02:30pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
buchanan. the first thing i read about him was that he “disapproved of slavery morally, but felt that the slave states should remain that way,” which simply says to me that he must not have felt all that strongly about the matter. hence the line in the song “oh you poor slaves…” i felt like he was a bit patronizing and ultimately unsympathetic and useless. he really didn’t do all that much with his presidency. the southern states were threatening to secede, and as he didn’t want to really upset anyone, he really did nothing about it, and left it for lincoln to deal with. i thusly sing “abraham, what a mess we’re in,” as it just seemed to me like he was waiting for a more courageous person to deal with the situation.
right at the end of his presidency, there was an issue at fort sumpter in south carolina…the house was trying to decide what to do with federal forts on southern land if they did attempt to secede, and it turned into a big mess at the end of his presidency…a battle ensued, that some would argue led ultimately to the civil war, though it seems to me that the war was completely inescapable.
my singing “god will strike you down,” is my imagining of what buchanan thought of the southerners, but also what may have come to him as well. the last line of note in the song, is the second half of the chorus where i sing “a war it will come to bury lonely me.” as it turns out, buchanan was the only president who never married and died alone, with no resolution about the slavery issue.
i’m not terribly happy with the lyrics in the verses, but suffice it to say, that one grows a bit tired of singing about presidents, especially when the material runs thin.
- Amy Curl | 2006-02-27 @ 07:34pm (EST)Gorgeous, painful song. The music is…I’m out of words. I love it and can’t stop listening.Congratulations on this totally fantastic Presidents project.
- Erin O’Brien | 2006-03-15 @ 07:32pm (EST)I like the haunting feel of this one and the military-esque drums really resonate. I was reading “you will not secede, you will not secede” but thinking “you will not secede, you will not succeed.” The outro surprised me but gave it a nice shot of extra flavor.
16 Lincoln (Malice, Charity, and the Oath of God)
I’m a huge fan of Derek Bailey and European free improv scene (and, for that matter, the American improv scene). Lately I’ve been listening some to the Nels Cline / Jeremy Drake collaborative CD (just out!) and to Bailey and others of that ilk.
Of course I’ve also been listening to Belle & Sebastian’s Tigermilk album so there has been some balance.
In any case, I thought I’d try a more abstract approach to Lincoln. With a truly revered President like Abe it’s so easy to fall into cliches and idiocy (I suspect Matthew Gerken will have similar issues with Kennedy). I’m sure Lincoln had his good days and his bad days, was probably a dick sometimes, etc. The historical record tends to show that he was pretty roundly disliked during his day, and of course there’s the old axe that he wasn’t interested in freeing slaves so much as keeping his economic base together as a single unit, and in keeping a hold of renegade states.
In any case, this was essentially an improvisation with lyrics and ideas then pasted over it. The material inbetween the three part harmony sections are clips from Lincoln’s speeches. Lots of political rhetoric about “binding up the nation’s wounds” and whatnot.
This one reminds me a big of some of the stuff from David Crosby’s first solo record, which remains one of my favorite albums ever.
- Daniel Jacob Horine | 2006-02-12 @ 06:37pm (EST)just want to say, I absolutely love what you’re doing.
I’m a huge fan of Presidential history to start with so right off the bat this series you’re working on is absolutely interesting to me right off the bat. I think you’ve handled your subjects amazingly thus far with your mix of the revered and the obscure, handling both with equal tact and intelligence. I particularly enjoy this one, being a huge fan of Lincoln myself. The lines “John is coming” is brilliant and is the huge payoff for this tune. I really enjoy the abstract approach of this one and I can’t wait to hear your new material. Are you planning on doing all the Presidents eventually? If so, i’d buy that album(s) in a heartbeat. Carry on, carry on!
- Daniel Jacob Horine | 2006-02-12 @ 07:07pm (EST)ah…a little research and i’ve figured it out
Great idea you guys had and I can’t wait to hear the all of these songs as a whole! Perhaps I should round up some friends and do something of this sort…maybe with the minor prohpets of the bible or something…or each member of the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers. Hmmm…
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-12 @ 11:26pm (EST)No DJH, I have the perfect idea: Round up some friends and do the Vice Presidents! Think of it! The mind boggles!Incidentally, if anyone wants the whole breakdown, the best place to look is http://www.christiankiefer.com/presidents.htm
- jroberts | 2006-02-12 @ 11:29pm (EST)Wow. Awesome. Inspired. The “you have no oath registered in heaven” melody gave me goosebumps … or goosepimples. Whatever. A guitar god!
- mike skliar | 2006-02-13 @ 09:48pm (EST)this is weird, wild, and fascinating…. i like it alot, i think the scattered music and the words work together, and using lincoln’s many words themselves is a great choice… is this a guitar in some open tuning btw? i hear alot of open ringing harmonics in there….
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-15 @ 02:45am (EST)Nope standard tuning. Glad you like the piece. It’s my favorite thus far.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:37pm (EST)Union is coming!! This song references what I love about Joan of Arc. I don���t hear the influences you describe in the liner notes, but nobody hears anything I hear in my own music. Love the hand clapping. Very unusual song but great in this context. The huge church harmonies are great.
- AXL | 2006-02-26 @ 04:44pm (EST)Great harmonies and an inspiring bold approach. Thanks.
17 Johnson (Was Ever Alone?)
This song imagines Andrew Johnson as the Military Governor of Tennessee milling about with his southern compadres only to take over the Vice Presidency under Lincoln. The republican party used to be the good guys in these days but this is the time when the democrats and republicans began to morph into each other with civil rights being the first driving issue.
- Josh Schramm | 2006-02-17 @ 02:28pm (EST)I really like the rhythm of this one and the chord progression. The open chords and tonality really fit your voice. I would like to hear the instruments panned off to the sides with your voice in the middle so it stood out a little more. Good tune.
18 Grant (Helicopters Above Oakland)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-12 @ 07:54pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
friday night my wife and i went to have dinner with some friends who live in oakland. just down the hill from where they live, we could hear the car tires screeching (sideshows) and while we stood outside talking before dinner, the helicopters flew overhead. as it turns out, those helicopters (the enforcers of a “police-state”) are there every weekend night, in my belief essentially a form of organized terror against those living in the inner-cities. there is a great book on the subject by the way, titled “american lockdown,” by christian parenti if you’re interested.
so i wrote this one from grant’s perspective, imagining that in the first half he is speaking to general robert e. lee, as lee surrendered to none other than ulysses s. grant. in the chorus, i jump ahead 150 years or so, as if grant had the prescience to know that although these people would be freed, they would be systematically oppressed for many years to come. thus the line about the helicopters.
the second verse is grant singing (speaking) to lincoln…fairly self-explanatory. if only he knew that the slaves (freed as they may have been) would never receive their 40 acres or their mules or any real rights for some time, and sadly, even now the country is still run by relatively conservative, wealthy, white men. in a sense, i wanted to look at the fact that these men may have been great, and may have done great things, but that the severity of the oppression of black people in this country, has incredibly long lasting and pervasive effects.
heavy no? i wanted to write about the fact that though he was a career soldier, grant disliked guns greatly and hated hunting. he found killing in general to be abhorrent. he might have some words for george w. during his presidency, the transcontinental railroad was finished (what about the oppression of chinese-americans here?) but that didn’t really make it into the song either.
at song six, i found myself writing something painfully simple (chord structure) as my songwriting soul is a bit tired. i’m not in love with the middle section (too busy) but frankly i’m too busy to change it. so there. perhaps i should do something like christian kiefer’s 6th song on my next.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-12 @ 08:34pm (EST)Jeff – one of the things I’ve learnt from you over the past week is a much more narrative song structure – I tend to be really conventionally structured with an obvious flow and rhyme scheme – chained to it in fact.Now I know the stuff you have been doing is not supposed to be traditional pop songs (which I’m sure you would structure more conventionally) but I find this structure interesting – you definitely get away with it from your vocal delivery, and as I am starting to trust my vocals a little more, I may well for FAWM try and do something much more narrative prose-ish (as I’m trying really hard to bust out of my conventions and not fall back on the verse-bridge-chorus thing).Anyway, enough of me, back to you
I like this a lot. I guess the music being simple and more predictable gives the vocal a little more leeway to meander, although I think this is more focused than a few of your previous works. I love the vocal delivery – in fact this is one of my favourites so far. Maybe the performance and the simple language connects more directly with the emotional content.
I love the fact that you aren’t chained to a rhyme scheme. I need to work harder to break out of that too.
One thing I would say, is that in some ways, the music seems to be of lesser importance to the lyric and delivery – it’s like “yeah, the music has to be there as a vehicle to convey the meaning, so lets get on with it”. That’s all well and good, but I’d quite like to hear some musical themes and development rather than “just” a supporting chord structure.
(I know these comments are based on a few listenings of a small subsection of work – I know you do interesting music & film stuff too. It’s sometimes difficult to get a balanced view of a complicated subject from a few comments when you really need to be in a room and get to know someone to understand it fully).
In any case, this wasn’t so steeped in American history and so was more accessible for a non-American, so this gets the thumbs up from me, as it doesn’t rely on associations with names and places from history to get across some of its message.
In short – this works for me! Good stuff.
- xeena | 2006-02-12 @ 08:58pm (EST)i like it. it sounds great, but i think it might sound interesting with a female vocal harmonizing along.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-13 @ 03:22pm (EST)I agree with the female vocal harmony idea. That would be beautiful.This is one of the most simple and accessible songs you’ve written in a good long while. I think you & I sometimes forget to write songs that are just songs are don’t try to break some new ground (even if that new ground is new only to us). This one is straightforward, gets to the point, and kills. Nice work, my friend.Last night I read an interview with the authors of, among other standards, the song “Mona Lisa.” They commented that it was groundbreaking at the time because the bridge was 9 bars long rather than 8. Such a small change but the arbiters of culture were up in arms about it. There shouldn’t be any rules and yet there are. It’s been an interesting exercise for me to try to occasionally write within the rules, rather than always trying to write outside of them.
I’m not sure if the above paragraph has any relevance whatsoever but there it is. Great song. Yours, and Nat King Cole’s too.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-13 @ 03:22pm (EST)& come to think of it, Nat King Cole could sing the fuck out of “Helicopters Above Oakland.” Then again, Nat King Cole could sing the fuck out of anything.
- friendof | 2006-02-14 @ 02:19am (EST)hehe, okay, so Taylor is my 12th great grandfather… and Lee is my 4th great uncle. So your songs are pretty much all tied to my family tree! This song is incredibly moving in its structure and delivery. I really love all your songs so much. I love the guitar solo bits. I love how depressed your voice sounds in this song. It fits the mood so perfectly–this feeling of “we’ve done good, but god it took so much out of us.” The Civil War, after all, was bloody as hell and left nearly everything destroyed. The ultimate bitter-sweet outcome to the North-South divide. Your song really gets at that and is perfect.Anyway, I am off to your website cause I can’t get enough…
- PlushBaby | 2006-02-14 @ 11:17am (EST)I guess that not knowing much about American history the words don’t really mean as much as they do to others, however they do stand up on their own…Although maybe helicopters sounds as if it has been shoehorned in and goes against the smoothness of the rest of the song…but then helicopters do make a lot of noise!! Cool song
19 Hayes (The Beard of God)
In order to truly comprehend the glory of this song, you must understand The Winter of the Beard. Myself, and 9 others (including Jeff Pitcher, my cohort in Presidential madness) are involved in a film project wherein we all grow beards for 6 months with absolutely no trimming allowed.
The first thing I noticed about Rutherford B. Hayes was his beard. An enormous, shaggy, imperial looking beard. I thought about it as I ate my dinner of supermarket sushi (awful, but desperate times call for desparate sushi orders) and wondered what it would be like to sit with a man who had been wounded 5 times in the Civil War and had a beard that would make God feel like a sissy.
Frankly, the thought made me feel like crawling up into my obviously inferior scrotum and hide from the sheer manliness of the man.
In any case, I’ve also used a drum loop on this: My first experiment with drum loops ever. It was fun having an absurd, ridiculous beat to go with this absurd, ridiculous song. It’s also the first song I’ve ever written that could fit into the “novelty/humor” category, although I grant you that it’s something of an in-joke.
Enjoy. More Presidents to follow as always. And if you’re really wondering what all this Presidential stuff is about: http://www.christiankiefer.com/presidents.htm.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:32pm (EST)What do you mean humor/novelty? This rocks! I love the drum tone and the super high Michael Anthony singing.
- elizadonelittle | 2006-02-26 @ 05:49pm (EST)CK, this has got such a great groove. And my husband laughed, so there. Humor. I do tend to think it kicks more ass than it gets laughs. Clip it off and hang it out to dry! This one’s done. xox
20 Garfield (Seven Months)
James Garfield was president for about seven months, I believe. This song is a comparison of the strategic thinking of his would-be assassins and that of his doctors, who actually gave him the blood poisioning that killed him, as well as the honesty and midwestern sensibility that probably got him shot in the first place.
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-20 @ 01:16am (EST)the vocal melody and delivery is really interesting. very clever. like the theme of the song…very strategic in the way it’s sung. I like the musical break before the last verse. The guitars have a very eastern, whirling dirvish quality to them. some sweeping strings, tablas, and sleigh bells would be really cool on this.very clever this. nice job
- Josh Schramm | 2006-02-20 @ 01:45pm (EST)I get a Cat Stevens vibe from the guitar break, and you know i like that!
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-20 @ 02:11pm (EST)The breakdown sections is sweet. Interesting vocal phrasing. I dig the ending and the constant “ticking” percussion in the background.Very Nice!
- friendof | 2006-02-21 @ 11:37pm (EST)I don’t even know what else to say except damn. I’m in love… beautiful.
21 Arthur (The Epitome of Dignity)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-14 @ 03:32pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
what i’ve not written much about (and will refrain from henceforth) are the plethora of computer problems i am having. last night for example, it took me two hours to record ten minutes of vocals, as the computer was crashing incessantly. what this means in the end, is that i am limited to approximately 6 or 7 tracks, with limited effects. what this also means, is that in effort to actually do other things with my life this month (ie:work, time with wife, reading, going outdoors, etc.) it often takes so long to record that i allow myself only one (or two takes). in the case of this song, i feel like it may very well be the most “unpolished” and “imperfect” things i’ve put out to public ears. too many timing issues and problems with singing off key. anyway, that said i rather like the song.
as you may notice in my bio, i list flamenco as one of my greatest influences, and have spent many years (nearly 20) somewhat obsessed with this music. what this means is that much of what i do tends to have a middle-eastern feel (largely due to the use of diminished chords, and harmonic minor scales) which is what i was going for here. as it turns out, chester arthur was a troubled man. (the middle section of the song is intended to replicate the bad news he received about his forthcoming death, while the end section in intended to replicate his actual dying….the intro is the forshadowing of bad things to come.) anyway, arthur was the vice-presidential candidate for garfield, and was widely disliked (almost costing garfield the presidency) mainly because he was the tax collector for the ports of new york, and it was believed that he took people’s money to use for his political campaign. if only the people knew what was to come huh? anyway, garfield was indeed elected but shortly into his presidency, he was assasinated, therefore leaving the task to arthur. the problem was, that arthur was disliked, and his presidency was ultimately inconsequential. to quote something from a website “no man ever entered the presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted and no one ever retired more generally respected.”
now the funny (and terribly sad) reason why he became so “generally respected,” was that halfway into his presidency he was diagnosed with a fatal kidney disease. he was terrified of dying in obscurity, so he hid this fact and decided to become “a man of fashion” (which later became his nikcname) and started speding most of his time out on the town at gatherings and what not. which ultimately worked, illustrating well how humans are frighteningly interested in appearences.
anyway, the bridge and chorus is basically speaking to the idea that i figure he must have thought rather highly of himself (overtly so) as he took to the town. i imagined him speaking of himself in the third person, as a means of self-exploitation to be remembered. but then don’t we all want to be remembered?
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-15 @ 04:43pm (EST)Very gloomy, somewhat ethereal feel. I dig it. I’m finding these songs really fascinating (I’m only sorry I haven’t had more time to comment on them) The falsetto vocal really brings the chorus home nicely.I need to listen to more flamenco.
- Mike Debenham | 2006-02-18 @ 11:23pm (EST)Love how the looseness crystallises into those stately choruses. Satisfying bass slides too.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:49pm (EST)I love the sustained guitar and voices coming in and out. Interesting melody against the progression. I would never have been able to think about that. Great lyrics in the chorus. I talk about ol��� hippo teeth in one of my songs, too; Monroe I think. Bowed bass on the chorus would be cool maybe. A lot of your songs have this kind of subtle pounding on the floor tom. I like that. I imagine you in your house bent over a floor tom just going to town on it. But I suppose I���m hearing kick and other things, too.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-21 @ 09:07pm (EST)This actually doesn’t sound that rough to me. I love the distorted ambience stuff, and the lead guitar melodies. And actually your vocal sounds great to my ears, none pitching stuff stood out to me, anyway.I like this too – it’s a little more hooky and chorusey than some of your other stuff this month, due to the repeated hook and simpler melody, and this helps anchor the song which gives you more leeway for some experimental stuff, and the piece hangs together better in my view as a result.Sorry to hear about your computer issues, that sounds like something majorly bad there going on. Logic for me is as stable as a rock…
- orange mouth man | 2006-03-20 @ 12:22pm (EST)This really is the type of music I like. It reminds me of a combination sparklehorse and Jeff Buckley (sp). I always like an octave higher backing vocal, it always brings things together. I would also agree that the singing doesn’t sound rough at all. I haven’t heard your other songs, but maybe if you really go for a super polished sound, this kind of thing is just what you need, don’t know.
22 Cleveland (Bees and Honey)
One was difficult, the other was easy.
I spent hours and hours trying to write a song about Cleveland. I did 2 different demos of a song. I finally did one that pieced the two disparate parts together into something that vaguely resembled a song. The lyrics were trite and stupid. It took days. People slept, but I didn’t. I wired myself on coffee and in the wee hours of the morning realized that what I had was just trite noncommital crap.
I typed up something here and figured that regardless of the quality of the piece, I would upload it anyway and move onto the next one. I typed something up about Cleveland. About how he essentially was the ward for a little girl, the daughter of a business partner, who he put through college and then, when she turned 21, finally married. Spooky. Gross. Weird. I had written a song about Cleveland but I hadn’t written THAT song. In a moment I realized what had gone wrong: There was a song in Cleveland but I hadn’t written the right one.
So I started over. Quick and dirty. A clunky four string Harmony banjo. A couple of vocal tracks. Nothing much in terms of lyrics. It’s a haiku of pedophilia. Sparse. Scary. And yet tender and loving. If there’s a model it’s Randy Newman’s “In Germany Before the War,” one of the spookiest, most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. I didn’t think of it when I was writing this, but I sure do think of it now.
- elizadonelittle | 2006-02-16 @ 04:03am (EST)gross! i love it. xox
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:25pm (EST)This song doesn���t really sound like you had a lot of trouble with it, but I think I can hear little faint reminders in the background that this was not the song originally. I can just barely make out a melody behind there when the instruments drop out. Anyway, I like this song. I like the pace and dynamic of it. It will fit in great with the amazing body of work that will constitute the presidents record.
23 Harrison (Sleep at Nighttime)
I think the lyrics on this one are self explanatory. Besides, I am getting weary doing this liner note part. The songwriting part is hard enough. There is a lot of historical stuff about the political economy at the time in this one. Benjamin Harrison. This was an interesting time with anti trust laws getting going and the recognition of the inherent contraditions of capitalism… etc. etc…
- jroberts | 2006-02-22 @ 12:24pm (EST)Surprisingly straight-forward. Very pretty melody. I don’t know about sexy and vulnerable. Maybe if you shaved.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-22 @ 01:02pm (EST)i’m not quite sure how you put songs together, as they are so different from mine, but i know that i really like them quite a bit. most of your work seems to have this wonderful languid quality…like someone who limps beautifully, if that makes any sense. and the melody, oh the melody.
24 Cleveland (2nd term) (Rubbermouth)
i’m bored. not with the project, but with my songwriting. i found the same issue last year…simply that the further i move into the project, the more i become entirely nonplussed with my songwriting, ultimately concluding that it is predictable, that everything sounds the same, that it’s boring, etc.,etc. needless to say, this one was quite a bit of work for me for some reason, perhaps because i feel like it sounds WAY too much like the last one…i guess i just wasn’t done with that idea. i’m also unhappy with the lyrics on this one, especially the degree to which they need be explained. (see below) alas. i had intended to make them less oblique, but it just didn’t happen. i’m also unhappy with the ending, and had intended to do some spoken word samples and loop them, but in the end i just said fuck it. my computer wasn’t behaving.
anyway, this whole song is about one event that occurred in the first months of Cleveland’s 2nd term. he discovered that he had verrucuous carcinoma, a potentially fatal form of mouth cancer. his vice president (adlai stevenson, a name that i regret not getting into the song) and he disagreed greatly on an a bill that had passed regarding laws, regulations, and worker’s rights in silver mines. cleveland wanted to repeal the bill, and stevenson wanted to keep it. (strange thinking back to a time when a presidential candidate would choose a running mate that he shared little in common with regarding political ideology, but it was the only shot he had at winning over voters on the line.) anyway, when he discovered the cancer, he was afraid that if word got out, the public would see him as weak, and he would lose political support thus giving adlai the strength to keep the bill.
therefore, he had surgery on a yacht cruising up the long island sound in the middle of the night. two weeks later, he was back on the boat having a vulcanized rubber plate installed in his palate, so that his speech would be normal. shortly thereafter, someone leaked the story to the philadelpiha press, but he and his advisors said that he was travelling for leisure, got a bad toothache, and had the tooth extracted. a long history the world has of political leaders lying to the public.
i had intended to use christian kiefer’s lyricsfrom his song about cleveland’s first term with entirely different music, but it just wasn’t working. i did though reference them in the second verse, stating that his “honeygirl,” would set him free. i also managed to creep his nickname “uncle jumbo” into the 2nd verse.
i like the unintentional fact that the word carcinoma when sung, sounds like cassanova. oh the irony.
- daniel78 | 2006-02-19 @ 12:51pm (EST)I can’t get the demo link to work… Lyrics look good though. Maybe they needed the explanation, but certainly having read it they make a lot of sense.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:44pm (EST)Wow pretty ending. Beautiful songs. Funny words. I don���t know if it is the way you arranged it or my lack of sophistication, but this songs seems to have movements for some reason. Pretty melodies and singing. Well done again my friend.
- Jen Distad | 2006-02-21 @ 12:45pm (EST)I really like the guitar-work, especially the section after “they’ll never suspect me somehow.” This comes off as a really moody song. Love the background story and lyrics. I don’t mind at all that you had to give backstory.A couple of (even more) general notes:
1) I LOVE this project you are a part of – a song for each president. I will probably come back in early March and listen to them in chronological order.
2) If you are getting sick of your music, try something completely different. Try doing a style that fits best in another land – Africa or India, or maybe a drinking song or sea shanty. Or maybe try something that would fit in with musical theater or a spoken word/sound art number. Or maybe if you have the resources, write a song on a different lead instrument (like piano, mandolin, didgeridoo, whatever’s to hand). These are just suggestions; take them for what their worth (2�� at best). (=
- Ben J. | 2006-02-21 @ 09:14pm (EST)I agree with Jen, if you get in that “it all sounds the same” place. Stay away from what you instinctively want to play. Start with percussion and have very little melodic stuff. Put the guitar down, and pick up something else. Write for an (imagined) different singer. Use a guitar in different ways to normal (percussive harmonics, tapping the case, capo up really high, bowing the strings, using some odd effects). Whatever.But I’m sure you know all this stuff anyway – that rut place is more a state of mind than an objective assesment of what you’re doing, especially when it’s under these time constraints. Looking back a month or too later whn you’ve been able to get some distance I’m sure you’ll appreciate your work a bit more objectively, it’s only natural.Love the build in this song by the way. Love it. Really intense.
- daniel78 | 2006-02-22 @ 01:24pm (EST)wow, wasn’t expecting this to be so dark… I like i though, and it fits the lyrics well.
I too love the ending – it feels like its going to build to another more angry sounding chorus…. might be worth trying.
25 McKinley (Czolgosz’s Dream)
This was evil for Grover Cleveland and hence easy for William McKinley.
Cleveland was the most difficult president to write for thus far. I didn’t know what angle to take. I had two songs, both of which had elements I liked. I tried to piece them together somehow. Grover didn’t want it though. Not like that. It was as if I knew there was a story in Cleveland but I couldn’t find the right one. I worked hard on it–harder, in fact, than any single song I’ve yet worked on for this project.
In the end, I scrapped the song and wrote a different one for Grover. That song, the second one, took minutes to write and record.
That brings us to McKinley. I tried experimentally to write some new lyrics for the old Cleveland tune. Weirdly, these came easy and the song became, at last, a song. The trick is that it’s not really about McKinley but about his assassinator, Leon Czolgosz, who shot him twice and hence killed him. Assassinators, like most presidents, are convinced that they are doing the right thing. It’s interesting to me how often they’ve chosen to hang out together.
The 78rpm opening and coda are in McKinley’s voice. The rest is Czolgosz’s.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-18 @ 02:16pm (EST)yes. yes, yes, yes. i wish i had thought of writing a song about/from the assasinators brain. and i dare say the reason you had such trouble with this song, is the simple fact that you wrote what is in effect a pop song. a damn good one at that. strange things that come out of us sometime. on another note, i found the cleveland story. yes sir. this, oddly enough, makes me think of an old smashing pumpkins song. i’m not quite sure why, but i like it quite a bit.
- friendof | 2006-02-18 @ 03:06pm (EST)I love the harmonies. I also love the way it starts all distorted. The lyrics are really beautiful. I really love the “of kings and priests and gods and men and I’ll salute every one of them” line. Fantastic.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-21 @ 12:19pm (EST)This song sounds sad to me. Perhaps they all are in their own way, these songs about dead men�Ķ In any case, the melody has such a range that it keeps me guessing and the stop and start rhythm is unusual for you and used well here. Excellent lyrics. Very interesting to read as well as hear.
26 Roosevelt, Teddy (34-23-35)
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-23 @ 02:00pm (EST)My god these are great great lyrics, Matthew. “We see now that, like capital, ideas fall to the bottom to the richest 1% and rot.” Fuck. Wish I would have written that.I also wish I had written Randy Newman’s entire catalog. It’s important to dream the dream. One day I’ll be in the richest 1% so I can watch those ideas rot first hand.
27 Taft (There was no use longer to hide the fact that it was gout)
so this last year, i have been making primarily instrumental music. much of it very similar to this piece, some of it experimental. frankly, while i enjoy singing, this is what speaks to me most, and this is what i really want to be creating. but, after christian, matt and i decided to do this project about the presidents, i felt like i needed to write things with words in oder to re-tell the history, or at the very least provide some form of narrative. anyway, this is my favorite piece of mine for the project thus far. best enjoyed with headphones on.
as for taft he was an unhealthy man. during the time of his presidency he stood 5′ 11” and weighed 320 lbs. when i began working on this song, i had intended to write about some lesser known fact of his political career, or at the very least focus on the fact that he had to have a custom bathtub made and brought into the white house as he would not fit into the one already there. but while searching, i found a website (no idea how i haven’t found it until now) that details the health history of many of the presidents. what amazed me most, was the amount of detail on the site. there were records (detailed records) talking about times when he had reported indigestion to friends. times when he had headaches. diarrhea. anyway, throughout the song i read this long piece speaking about a time in his life when taft had gout, and cancelled some golf tournaments with friends. missed a dinner party, etc. it was really funny, because he tried to hide it from his friends and wife, but they all knew. i’ll link the site in the lyrics if anyone (highly doubtful) is interested. it was really amazing to me to see the detail.
anyway, as you will hear i pulled most of the speaking out, and messed with it to the point that it is largely unintelligible, as that was what worked best for the song. poor taft. big, unhealthy, and left without a story. when the song builds, if you listen closely, you can hear me repeating “there was no use longer to hide the fact that it was gout.”
- friendof | 2006-02-19 @ 04:19pm (EST)Wow, this is really a lot darker than I thought it would be. Alas, I did not listen to it with headphones, but I was able to get the atmospheric effect from it. It’s very climactic and builds well. I heard the speaking, but couldn’t tell what you were saying, though I think that adds to it. Gives it this “voices across space” kind of feel if that makes any sense. Nice job. (And happy you got to do an instrumental like you wanted.)
- jroberts | 2006-02-19 @ 05:54pm (EST)A deeply emotional song, I think. I did listen with headphones, and it’s a lovely experience. It’s difficult to make instrumental music like this interesting, or at least to maintain interest for three-plus minutes, but Jefferson does it here. Nice work. I think the drum beat actually evolves as the song continues. It somehow becomes something different near the end, although it’s (roughly) the same beat. It’s striking.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-20 @ 02:07am (EST)I gather that your initial consideration to use no effects whatsoever has long since fallen by the wayside? Nice job on this one. It’s intriguing.
- tomtomtom | 2006-02-21 @ 01:57pm (EST)My favorite by far. Your instrumental work is unique and at the same time accessible. For this one I���d love to hear the dynamic range exaggerated even more and the drum track pulled up in the mix. 9 out of 10�Ķ
- Ben J. | 2006-02-21 @ 09:22pm (EST)Gorgeous.No more words are necessary.As a film music fan I adore music that creates and evokes atmosphere. It’s probably my first love ever since I was tiny and long before I made music – I would always pay more attention to the score in films and TV than anything else.
This track has probably touched me emotionally more than anything else I’ve heard from FAWM so far.
28 Wilson (A Life Among Men)
Woodrow Wilson campaigned as “He Kept Us Out of the War” for his second term presidency. Then he immediately put us into World War I, an essentially pointless war fought because European governments were irritated with each other. How stupid men are. Jesus.
I wrote from a soldier’s perspective, then from the Germans signing the Armistice agreement, then from Wilson’s perspective at the end. The lyrics aren’t great, I’m afraid, but time’s up for me on this song and I’m on to the next (Herbert Hoover).
What I hear inside is a big, loud, slow rock band knocking this out. But what I have time for is one Rhodes track and some (fake) drums. All my guitars and such are out in the garage and I don’t want to get them out. An interesting task doing it all in midi, as I don’t usually do that with songs (with some exceptions). Fun, though. I like listening to it, even if I think I’ve inadvertently referenced both the Beatles “A Day In the Life” (“the English army had just won the war”) and something of Pink Floyd’s (although I can’t quite figure out which–sounds like Dark Side of the Moon to me, but then again it could be something else).
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-19 @ 10:29pm (EST)What a great sound. What great MIDI tones. What a great mood. I like the lyrics actually. Is that ok even though you have said they are not great? Poo. The chord progression kills me. Great arrangement, too. You are using excellent little tricks and deceptive simplicity that makes me think, “damn, I wish I would have written that.”
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-20 @ 03:06am (EST)I think the minimal arragement works here. I like how you go all Elton John in the bridge with the falsetto and the little glam descend. Did you flange your vocal or is that double tracking? It’s a cool effect. This came out really well…though I can imagine it exploding at the end with a loud, nasty guitar solo. if you want to get really pink floyd with it you could throw in some arp string ensemble
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-20 @ 04:37pm (EST)Double-tracked in the Elton John part + some flange on both vocals too. I envision the entire band suddenly coming in for those 4 measures and then it all fading back into (relative) quite at the end. Strings. Mmmm. Strings. Production will be tricky on this as a bad production decision could steer it away from Pink Floyd and towards Queensryche. Needless the say, I’d have a problem with the latter.
- friendof | 2006-02-23 @ 07:02pm (EST)Wow, I love how Lennon this is. What a beautiful/sad song! I always like Wilson because he was League of Nations boy, but now… I also like your explanation of what started WWI. lol
29 Harding (Warren G)
This song describes the earliest version of corporate cronyism, as we obviously suffer under today with the current regime, complete with spin and lies, agency heads that are former lobbyists for the industries they purport to regulate, and the wholesale replacement of policy experts with business leaders with no knowledge of their mission (i.e. FEMA’s Michael Brown, just one of many many examples).
- AXL | 2006-02-26 @ 12:09pm (EST)The 7/8 rhythm is cool. Maybe this part would gain even more if the melody was doubled by a womans voice one octave up. I think that probably because I had a hard time understanding the words.
- AXL | 2006-02-26 @ 12:25pm (EST)Oops, the above comment belongs to the Bush song. I’m having too many tabs open. What’s sticking in my head right now is the “making sure life is harder for the rest of us.” line. As for the rest, I’m still having a hard time understanding the words but maybe that’s just because I’m german. For my ears, it stays on that one chord a little too long. This time I didn’t get the rhythm at all. The combination of soothing music and angry lyrics works well for me.
- friendof | 2006-02-27 @ 02:18am (EST)I love your voice so much. It’s so hushed and beautiful. This song is really pretty. I love the doubled vocals on the chorus and their mix in the song. They really draw the listener into the song. Fantastic job (as always).
30 Coolidge (I don’t have much to say to anyone but god)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-20 @ 02:52pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
so there is this song. then there is another song i wrote about coolidge, on that i spent an excessive amount of time on, and decided in the end that it is one of the worst, and ultimately most boring songs i have ever written. so last night, after laughing about it with my wife, i wrote and recorded this one, which largely due to the circumstance was the quickest one i’ve done yet.
anyway, the first thing i read about calvin coolidge while doing research was that he slept a lot. he typically went to bed every night at 10 and woke between 7 and 9. he also took a 2-4 hour nap every afternoon. quite a lot of sleep for a man as busy as the president. i then went on to read that this sleep was seemingly brought on by the death of one of his two sons. as it turns out, his son died rather abruptly and unexpectedly from a blister that grew infected. he acquired said blister while playing tennis at the white house tennis courts. rather ironic. he died just before coolidge’s inauguration, and it is said that coolidge was noticeably changed thereafter. i then went on the read that he was extremely quiet, hardly ever saying much at all, and that he basically did nothing in office (except pass a law that no japanese were allowed to emmigrate…were they all bigots?)
anyway, i can only imagine that if my son (which i don’t yet have) died, i too would just want people to leave me alone, a rather nagging problem if you’re the president. i wrote, attempting to imagine this broken man, with the despair of loss and the despair of being trapped in a position that he couldn’t really leave. perhaps the afternoon naps were just a means of getting away from all of the people. sad for sure. i really felt for coolidge while writing this. i mean that.
- The KB EP | 2006-02-20 @ 06:37pm (EST)The vocals and execution of this in general, reminds me of a band that used to play around her called The Denver Gentlemen. Their singer kind of… Half-yodeled and half-sang… But always put way too much vibrato on his voice in a very dramatic/drunk way. And I think it would work here really, really, really well. Whatever percussion you have here is fantastic. Consider me a fan.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-21 @ 09:30pm (EST)Me too.
- daniel78 | 2006-02-23 @ 11:06am (EST)This is really great – really sad. I love the unusal chord progression, and way the song builds.
Quite a collection of songs you’re building up here on fawm!
31 Hoover (Woe Is a Spoon-Shaped Heart)
by Christian Kiefer — 2006-02-22 @ 03:28am (EST) — Rock
Hoover was probably a good man, but he was a bad president. He made the fatal error of assuming that others were like him: good, caring, charitable, honest, brave. But human beings are not that way. They are greedy, self-serving, interested in their own small view of the universe and little else.
And so Hoover, being President during the Great Depression, called on his fellow men to help him help them help themselves. And of course it didn’t work. Hoover’s economic policies were terrible and the legacy of them continued the great depression.
Interestingly, many critics of the current administration call Bush the “Second Worst President” next to Hoover. It’s funny how these things come around.
In terms of the song, this song was written on Jeff Pitcher’s excellent Telecaster, a guitar I borrowed earlier today (and he borrowed my mandolin). It was a difficult song to write, in part because I’m exhausted and seem to be suffering from a sinus infection at the moment. Illness and creativity, at least for me, do not go hand in hand.
- spinhead | 2006-02-22 @ 10:37am (EST)I’m sure glad I no longer feel compelled to compare myself to others, ’cause this would depress me. Great song. Nice Tele sound, too.I’m not sure how you fit all those words into some of those lines. Very R.E.M. delivery. You’ve somehow made Hoover interesting again, and created an excellent song while doing it.I’d love to see the lyrics to your tunes. As a listener, I like to hear the song once to get my first impression, but after that, if the lyrics carry any meaning for me at all, I want to have the convenience of not having to sort them out of the music.
Dunno if you’re not posting them intentionally (hmmmm . . . I have the first six R.E.M. albums, and they don’t include lyrics either. A pattern?)
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-22 @ 12:48pm (EST)goddamn you and your vocal melodies. i’m not quite sure where they come from, and though i’ve been looking i can’t ever seem to find them. i can see the r.e.m. comparison, though i would cite the vocal melody as the factor. and i would compare it to more recent r.e.m. as i find his singing has changed quite a bit. i really like this song. great drumming too. and my guitar sounds really good. how often can you say that without feeling like an egomaniac?
- spinhead | 2006-02-22 @ 04:54pm (EST)Heh; shades of Jude Cole going on – his first album was recorded on a git-tar loaned by his buddy (and now recording studio partner) Kiefer Sutherland.KS may be good, but I’ll bet his axe dint never sound like it does on “Heart of Blues”
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-22 @ 05:25pm (EST)Yeah I know it has that R.E.M. thing. I ran across Fables and Document used a few weeks ago and bought them both. They were both seminal albums when I was a teenager. Now I have to admit that they sound a bit dated (particularly in the drum production). Document holds up better.I think I can probably rework the vocal melodies some so they’re not quite so Stipe-ish, although I also don’t mind it so much. It’s good to acknowledge your influences sometimes.On the lyrics: I’ll put them up when I get home tonight. The only reason I haven’t been doing that lately is because I’m just damn tired. Sinus infection too so sinus headache while recording this song–perhaps that’s another reason I sound like Michael Stipe. He always said he was “blessed by bad sinuses.”
- daniel78 | 2006-02-23 @ 11:37am (EST)Great song – i’d love to see the lyrics written down. I love the REM thing, so don’t change the melodies, they’re awesome. (Actually don’t change anything!)
- friendof | 2006-02-23 @ 12:49pm (EST)I love the reverb on the voice… I also love the Michael Stipe sound of the whole song. But I most love that second talking voice that starts around the 3:00 mark. Beuatiful job!
- tomtomtom | 2006-02-24 @ 11:45am (EST)Christian, I really like this song. Vocal melody is great. You and Pitcer are also coming up with nice percussion. I see the REM comparision… maybe with a touch of Old Beach Boys.
32 Roosevelt (Franklin Delano)
I think the lyrics speak for themselves here. Although FDR was the president at the time WWII veterens were sent away from their families for extended amounts of time (including my grandpa, who right after his marrying my grandma was sent away for three years with no break), this was a product of circumstance. His presidency, lasting four terms, was of the most significant among them. Good night.
- lindy | 2006-03-05 @ 10:57am (EST)you president guys have a real knack for doing what i call “walk and talks”, or songs that make me feel like i’m on a walk with you and you’re telling me a story. did you set out to write this song in an odd meter or did it just come out of you that way? i like this song very much. the melody is very nice and fits well with the meter. when you record it i hope you add some spare, simple harmonies in there. i also hope other fawmers stumble across this one: it’s well put together.
- dougdog nye | 2006-03-05 @ 03:49pm (EST)I really like your music but For some reason there does not seem to be a close connection to the words . Seems like you are forcing them to fit the tune and they don’t seem natural or flowing. being a republican I would argue about us being facist but that is not really related to this as a song.It seems to be more of a republican bashing song than a sorg about FDR but I guess he was the jumping off point and you took it here. I like your tone of your voice and the dynamics of the acoustic guitar
33 Truman (Suits and Fine Trousers vs. Hiroshima)
Truman was responsible for dropping the bomb on hiroshima. as i sat researching truman and thinking about this song, i tried to imagine what it must have felt like to make a decision like that. ultimately, i don’t think that any of us are even remotely capable of accessing a place in ourselves where those feelings exist.
in some way, what i found most interesting, was the fact that after serving on the front lines in WWI, truman came home and opened a men’s clothing store with one of his close friends from the war. much to their chagrin, the store went bankrupt after 3 or 4 years, and they both fell into a state of great depression and economic ruin. truman spent years living rather destitue, though he finally paid off his debts.
from there he rather quickly stumbled into politics. he was very well liked, and what seemed terribly rapid, he found himself as roosevelt’s vice president. when roosevelt died, viola. so there he was trying to figure out how to end the war (a war that he attempted to go fight in instead of being president) and was utterly confused. i spent some time today reading correspondence between him and stalin, much of which was just fascinating.
anyway, without carrying on endlessly here, i was struck by the idea that our destiny and our dreams can exist at such polar extremes. i imagined him just wishing that he could have run the mensware store, but instead he will be historically remembered as the man who dropped the atomic bomb. i can only imagine the nightmares and terror that would inflict on someone (or we would hope) so i imagined him being somewhat delusional, hence the lines about jesus, his brother (the japanese) and his very logical concerns with where to put the dead bodies.
the lines about “ruin will rain down,” were direct quotes from his diary.
as for the song, i borrowed the mandolin from christian kiefer and had never played one for more than a minute or two before this. it made me feel like a giant. i would love a full band, harmonies, and so forth. i didn’t intend for that middle section to be there (with the guitar solo poorly played) but i counted poorly and i am tired and i must awake tomorrow with only three to go. my brain (and soul) need this. trust me.
- Max | 2006-02-22 @ 10:04am (EST)Never played a mandolin before ???????? :-O
Well done ! Great song, I can imagine this will sound great with a full band.
- Max | 2006-02-22 @ 10:16am (EST)BTW I’m completely blown away by this cover.
- friendof | 2006-02-22 @ 12:02pm (EST)This is really pretty. I love chorus–it’s so sad. The “oh god forgive me” kills me. Like all your others, this is just amazing.
- daniel78 | 2006-02-22 @ 03:23pm (EST)I really like this one – the chorus is beautiful…. the mandolin is great (especially snce you haven’t played one before!!! Makes me want to get one myself…). During the first chorus i was thinking that the upcoming verse just needs to add more backing… and there it was! (in fact i’d go further and more than just the percussion – maybe some guitar and/or bass)
Keep it up.
34 Eisenhower (When Ike Walked the Land)
We have a cultural idea that life was somehow easier in the 1950s and while I’m sure it wasn’t as easy as we all think it was today, there was certainly a weird sense of hope present. Hope mingled with fear. We had just destroyed Hilter’s Reich and had recut Europe in our own image. But then there was the issue of the atomic bomb.
Nonetheless, in the 1950s we were afraid our kids were smoking pot, not doing heroin, cocaine, or oxycontin. Our fears were Elvis Presley. Morality slipping. While it’s certainly a tender and nostalgic view to cast eyes backwards to any past and think it somehow “more pure” than the present age, that’s what I’m doing here.
When Ike was President, things were simpler, even if they weren’t perfect. There’s a line in the song about moving to the midwest and being warned by the otherwise very kind neighbors not to live on 5th Street because “that’s where the Mexicans lived.” One Mexican family is what they meant, but somehow that tainted the entire street. Rednecks are everywhere, to be sure, even when they’re kindly cooking you an apple pie.
Eisenhower desegregated the military and enforced the desegretion of Southern colleges. I wonder what he would have thought of his Republican brethren pumping drugs into inner cities in an effort to resegregate. Maybe in a future song (Reagan)? I can have Ike and Ronny fistfighting in some Republican cowboy heaven.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-24 @ 10:23pm (EST)my god the chorus is good. i think i will spend my life chasing your vocal meodies through a dense forest. this is one of my favorites that you’ve done so far. i just love how it is just a bit too slow. and the phrasing is great. the subject matter and lyrics kill me. damn good.
- Erin O’Brien | 2006-03-15 @ 07:26pm (EST)I wasn’t alive in the 50′s, but you captured the nostalgia that’s peddled about that time brilliantly. I really liked the melody and simple piano accompaniment. Your lyrics are terrific.
35 Kennedy (There is No Plan)
A fantasy describing the scenario were John and Bobby Kennedy not murdered. Playing that scenario out implicates John Kennedy’s killers.
- lindy | 2006-02-13 @ 02:57pm (EST)the meter and the shifting accents of the beats help make this song work. i really like the melodic line, too. this is a good, strong song. thanks for sharing it with us.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-13 @ 03:06pm (EST)Uh…you’re not a democratic, are you?:-)Beautiful work, my friend.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-13 @ 03:07pm (EST)I mean a democrat. Jeez. A mental giant I am not. Perhaps I should run for President. As a Republican. Ba dump bump!
- mike skliar | 2006-02-13 @ 09:32pm (EST)very interesting musically,,, “there seems to be no plan” but there is- the words, for me, are a bit hard to scan, especially in the first half (not sure what you are trying to say) but i like the overall musical feel, and you’re on to something interesting here.
- Steven Bacon | 2006-02-14 @ 01:38pm (EST)I like the vibe…the melody is great. i like the sound of your guitar (the recording). i also am a little lost by the begining, although i get the sentiment. kennedy was a great man. i’m glad you took him on for your project. but..back to direct feedback…. i love your harmonies. nice tight playing. rock on!
- BigDaddyMatty & Special K | 2006-03-20 @ 07:02pm (EST)What a politically charged song! The vocals are right on and the music
embraces them. Great work!
36 Johnson (Lady Bird take Me Home)
i am usually one who sees the finish line (metaphorically speaking) and runs like hell to the end, full of energy i did not know that i had. suffice it to say, i am walking at best. limping perhaps. needless to say, just when i think it cannot grow any more difficult to pull a song out, it does.
johnson. what does one write? he is often seen as something of a failure but in some way i have much sympathy for this man. during college, he took a year off to teach mexican immigrants and said he felt a great depression that our government had failed these people who were too poor to get a college education. this experience he said, stayed with him. anyway, i could write tomes about him, as he tried to both stay in and pull out of vietnam at the same time with horrifying results, but i am tired.
i wrote, imagining him lying in bed at night with his wife (who was nicknamed lady bird) wanting so badly to just leave it all behind. much like truman, i cannot really imagine the pain these men must have had to silence. from all the reading i did about johnson, it seemed he really did feel ruined inside. i guess in some way, whether he was an idiot or not, i feel bad for johnson. what a horrible thing to find yourself mixed up in.
my mother was a flight attendent during vietnam and used to talk about how awful it was to load the dead bodies onto the planes to come home for burial, hence the line about “bodies on planes.”
i do not care for this song very much, but the finish line looms. hell, i don’t even like my writing about this song. i intended to change this quite a bit, but the computer problems are killing me. i limp onward.
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-24 @ 02:44am (EST)My friend, even your mediocre songs are better than most other songwriters’ material, and this some is hardly even one your mediocre songs. I like it. Perhaps some lyrical work could be done, but there’s a song here–basic and direct but the lamentation is present and it’s effective in its simplicity.
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-24 @ 09:45am (EST)I love the Plato line. The guitar interplay break is really sweet. the tuning you are using (is it an alternate tuning?) has a very melancholy sound which fits the lyrics well. hearing you sing “ladybird” over and over made me think: next year you guys have to use First Ladies as your song subjects! now THAT will be a challenge.
37 Nixon (2 Under Par Off the Coast of Africa)
I’ve been thinking that Nixon is America’s Napoleon: a figure who had enormous power (in the context of the U.S.) and who was essentially exiled. Napoleon’s exile (his second exile, that is) was on St. Helena island off the coast of Africa. I picture Napoleon and Dick sitting together on the beach in their big bermuda shorts, wondering what went wrong.
Again, this song needs a band. It also needs a different melody line on during the too-long bridge. I like that it changes keys there but it the current melody line doesn’t add much to the song over all and it doesn’t resolve back into the main harmony chords to my satisfaction. So there’s something to work out on this one still.
But, Reagan awaits. Cowboys, Star Wars, alzheimer’s–the possibilities are ripe.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-26 @ 02:42am (EST)Wow very 60s garage band sounding or something. This is totally to be played by three or four part harmony Pele meets the Beach Boys type band with cross rhythms galore on the chorus. Oh my god I can hear it now just like I am there in Whittier with his spirit. Nixon, believe or not, was 100 times better on humans than the Republican presidents that followed him. Wow that is saying something. Actually, you know, with the opened relationship with China under Nixon, the Headstart program, etc., it seemed like he actually cared about things, unlike Reagan, Bush, or Bush. Those people surely enjoy seeing people poor and killed. Otherwise, they wouldn’t do what they DO!! No point sugar coating it anymore.
38 Ford (Now You See It, Now You Don�Äôt See It)
This song describes Ford in his context. He was invited after his college years to try out for the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys (I believe); these were not rinky dink organizations at this time. He and his wife were both models. This is the only president not to be elected in any way to be president. This song also laments on the lowered standard for presidents that we obviously experience today. No longer are presidents expected to be bright people capable of understanding the subtle and expansive consequences of their decisions.
- dougdog nye | 2006-03-05 @ 02:30pm (EST)I like the bass and guitar groove and I believe I would like this almost better as an instrumental. did you do any instrumental ones about presidents. the music does’t exactly evoke images of how Ford was generaly percieved but as a song it is pretty neat. What great words did gerald emit anyway? I remember WIN (whip inflation now) and that is about it other than his pardon of milhouse and falling in the bathtub and hurting himself. What a different song that could be . Congrats on sticking to you challenge . I am sure there were times you wanted to write about something other than presidents. however I find the best way to figure out what i want to do is to get a job and start working and while I am working all the things I want to do keep popping into my head.Now that takes care of one more zong (zero comment song)
39 Carter (A Great Beam of Light)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-24 @ 10:47pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
the first thing i read about Jimmy Carter, was that many years ago, before he was president he called the police while in Georgia to report having seen a UFO. this got me thinking. what if instead of calling them as one of us, he was calling the police as a cover. in other words, what if he was an alien and was trying to pose as one of us, the phone call only serving as a means to cover his tracks.
and it went from there. i thought what if all of the presidents were aliens and they were sent down from the sky. in some way, it seems the only explanation for the seeming lack of intelligence, maturity, foresight, compassion and grace with our current leader. if they are aliens, it guess it would just make more sense.
so this song is about the aliens coming back to retrieve jimmy carter. i love the line about the humans standing there and “sadly waving goodbye,” as the image just kills me. i wanted to get in the song something about the fact that i don’t understand why we tend to have this image that all aliens would look like us (if they exist). ie: very human-like. why couldn’t they look like toasters? or curbs? or fog? or chair legs? (no i didn’t watch star trek. seriously) anyway, that didn’t make it into the song, nor did some ideas from a great old episode of the twilight zone, where these aliens come down and tell the people that they have one month to get their shit together or they will all be killed. of course the humans interprest this as world peace and do all that they can to SOMEHOW achieve this. which they do. a month later, the aliens come back and kill everyone, explaining to the foolish humans that they were being bred to be warriors. alas, we just can’t ever seem to get it right.
anyway, perhaps jimmy carter is an alien. perhaps they all are.
i would love to add theremin (is that too obvious), lots of vocal harmonies, strings and REAL drumming. such it is with fawm. cheers. wave to jimmy no?
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-25 @ 08:06pm (EST)Sounds like an old, old folk song. Pretty.Oh–and you’re a fucking weirdo, by the way.
- Matt Hopper | 2006-03-02 @ 01:08pm (EST)This song gives me the same feeling as lots of stuff on “Hail to the Thief”…and I love the idea for this song…
- BigDaddyMatty & Special K | 2006-03-03 @ 10:37pm (EST)I like how you made the background guitar?? sound like a flying saucer!
I hope you were trying to do that, otherwise I forgot to take my shoe off before I put my foot in my mouth!
40 Reagan (Such a Marvelous Dream)
A few days ago I decided that I no longer cared if I finished this project during the month of February or not. As long as I finished my batch of 14 presidents that seemed enough. Plus I felt just too much pressure to get it all done in time.
Then I wrote Eisenhower and everything seemed better again. It’s interesting how getting one good song together can pump up the deflated sails again. But alas I digress.
I was not a fan of the Reagan presidency, but that hardly matters. One of the interesting processes I’ve encountered during this is trying to get beyond my value judgments into something more human. I absolutely abhor soapboxy political ranting of all kinds, but even more so when it tries to pass itself off as art (it’s a banal and stupidly ineffective from liberals and conservatives alike).
The question of the song is simple: What happens to a man with alzheimers, when that man spent his life as an actor and politician? Can he tell at all what was acting and what wasn’t.
And so in the song, Ronald rides the range, becoming not a politician or an actor but one of his roles: that of the cowboy. He dreams he’s the president and it’s a marvelous dream, but it’s just a dream in the end. We think that people with alzheimers have it bad, but perhaps it’s only bad for us who remain to watch them. On the inside, perhaps everything for them is a beautiful fantasy of the best from their past.
Incidentally, all the banging around is my 2 year old beating on some plastic toy with a hammer in the other room. Adverse recording conditions, but one gets used to it when children are about.
- friendof | 2006-02-27 @ 01:26am (EST)I LOVE the Star Wars missle defense line. Subtley placed for those of us who are quite happy to abhor this man. The harmonies are beautiful here. And the melody is so sad. Beautiful job. I actually think the 2-year-old banging is somewhat appropriate–kind of gives it a sense that there is some disorientation, which is what your song is essentially about. I feel in love with yet another one of your songs.
- elizadonelittle | 2006-03-01 @ 02:23am (EST)Such a gentle song! The images are great… the desert, the field of cattle, the soapy and mild business (great line). I’m delighted that the Reagan song isn’t angsty, and isn’t what one would expect. And I’m so delighted that you guys did it! We think you three should take this record and tour the Presidential Libraries. Or at least the towns in which said libraries exist. xox
p.s. whatever it is you are always doing with that voice of yours in an octave higher than the melody… nice.
- Erin O’Brien | 2006-03-15 @ 07:19pm (EST)This is a very classy treatment of lots of difficult subject matter. My favorite line is “when he shot indians and bad men and mexicans.” The quiet tone and pace give it a nice dreamlike feel too. I liked it alot.
41 Bush (The Beginning of the End)
This song describes the historical context of war under the GOP and the origin of the dark warmongering oppressive regime under which we currently have the misfortune to live.
- friendof | 2006-02-27 @ 02:23am (EST)I love your liner notes so much I wouldn’t even care if the song was shit. But of course it’s not. It’s fantastic. I love how low this is for your voice. The melody is perfect… it has that sadness to it, but an accepted sadness as if there’s helplessness in it… like PTSD. lol.Beautiful.
- j matthew gerken | 2006-02-28 @ 11:49pm (EST)Whoa – beautiful voice and fingerpicked guitfiddle. Damn fine song. Great harmony. You seem like an incredible performer and songwriter. Don’t make your profile and comments so humble. That is no longer necessary as you rock.
42 Clinton (The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again)
by jeff pitcher — 2006-02-26 @ 11:18pm (EST) — Alt/Indie
Clinton. The end. What was i to do with clinton? he being the first president that i voted for. he being so terribly intelligent and articulate. my first idea (impulse) was to write a song about him concluding that perhaps it was indeed his destiny to assasinate george. he did after all have the connections and what not. but somehow (perhaps obviously) that felt trite and predictable. but then i imagine my final piece here is likely rather predictable as well. i simply couldn’t get out of my head all of the work he has been doing in africa. so…..
i wrote the song imagining that all of the animals were dying of sorrow, because we greedy folks here in the west do so little to help the africans. and so, as the children die in africa and we drive around in our nice cars and record our music on these machines, the animals all begin to perish. sad, i know. as i tried to approach this song from a differnt perspective, i just kept returning to the fact that clinton is indeed doing some really wonderful and important work right now. sure, he did some bad things too (didn’t they all?) and maybe this is simply him fighting his guilt for not doing anything in rwanda back when they REALLY needed the help of a wealthy and powerful nation like the U.S., but either way, i admire what he’s doing now. i imagine him, imagining himself a modern day noah (of noah’s rumored ark) out there saving the kids from the flood of famine and aids.
anyway, without carrying on…the song itself i like quite a bit, the mix no. unfortunately, i’m too poor a pianist to really play the damn thing in time, so we get a rather sloppy take. always. i think there is a good tension in this song, which leads inherently into the end segment which i think should be really loud, but difficult with limited equipment, and only one person. (who also happens to be a fairly bad drummer with no cymbals). yes, there are drums on the song. try headphones. anyway, it should get big and loud and rock. so there.
for some reason, i’m fairly dissatisfied with the mix, but unwilling to try and fix it at this late hour (metaphorically speaking). it is time for dinner, WINE, and a highly recommended film (songs from the second floor by ray anderson). i would also change the bridge and arrangement some (which happens to be this most difficult part of this fast writing process for me…the songs and melodies come out faily easily…the arranging another story. it generally takes me quite some time to mold a song into shape just right. how long should this part o? that part? should it get loud here? or quiet? etc.)
anyway, i guess that’s it. William Jefferson Clinton. Now i’ll finally have time to listen to more of other folk’s stuff here.
thanks for listening and offering such compliments. it is always much appreciated.
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-26 @ 11:59pm (EST)congrats on reaching mr. clinton. another piano-focused tune…. i haven’t heard anything since quincy adams… i agree that toward the end of this song needs to be a larger than life cacophony.this is an interesting take on clinton… the fact that you chose to focus on his ongoing stuff… rather than all the stuff that went on during his term that you COULD have. kinda unexpected. in fact, i think this would be an interesting song to just end the whole project with. skip dubbya… because this tune is kind of an appeal to us (and him) and our behaviors, etc. i dunno if that makes sense… i hope so… tired… congrats…
- Christian Kiefer | 2006-02-27 @ 01:09am (EST)Fucking excellent. I hope our G.W. song is anthemic or Burr might just be right. Hard to top this for an album closer.
- friendof | 2006-02-27 @ 01:49am (EST)Wow. This is so delicate. Though you may be too humble to say this, I really think that this is a beautiful tribute to a continent that has been torn apart by capitalism, wars they have nothing to do with, civil wars, ethnic strife, and a million other things put upon so many countries. This may be my favorite of yours. I’m not sure Clinton deserves such credit, but certianly it can apply to the many leaders fighting for Africa right now. I love the piano, but when that electric guitar comes in… oh, man, what build.
- Ben J. | 2006-02-27 @ 02:05am (EST)Wow. Goose-bumps. Tingling spine. Misty eyes.Wow.
- BigDaddyMatty & Special K | 2006-03-02 @ 12:01am (EST)This is such a sad song, I don’t perceive Clinton as being so sad. Heck he has such a great sense of humor! Jimmy Carter was the first I voted for
and he’s been doing more since he hasn’t been president But hey, the piano work is great in a depressing sort of way. Your voice sounds frustrated and tired which I think was on purpose, but it sounds good especially with the piano!
- orange mouth man | 2006-03-20 @ 12:29pm (EST)My initial reaction to the content was: oh, no, westerners writing about the problems in Africa (like Sylvia Plath writing about the holocaust) but in a poetic/fictional sense I think the lyrics and idea are spot-on. Someone like Clinton doesn’t really exist in our real lives but in our imaginations (for most of us). Music was good. Don’t like the line ” I will spare them?” as much, too melodramatic.