21) Arthur

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.

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?


  1. 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.

  2. Mike Debenham | 2006-02-18 @ 11:23pm (EST)

    Love how the looseness crystallises into those stately choruses. Satisfying bass slides too.

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 5:22 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. ya this is great what ya tryin to do for tha presidents we need these keep goin

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