25) McKinley

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.

25 McKinley (Czolgosz’s Dream)

by Christian Kiefer — 2006-02-17 @ 08:37pm (EST) — Alt/IndieFolkRock

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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Published in: on May 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

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