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.
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.