Many Qualified Candidates [a found poem]

“Many qualified candidates” were rejected
On a conference call,
a member of the Sept. 11 Commission, stopped short
As Senator Barack Obama courted voters in Iowa
“We have a very tightly wrapped message.”

Senator John McCain apologized
Mr. McCain condemned, after shifting explanations,
Attention turned to a giant “Mission Accomplished” sign
It’s hard to know whether McCain, deep down,
wants to protect his passenger or let the Indians have him

Has Wright been unfairly demonized?
“You don’t have the American flag pin on.”
Sixteen decapitated bodies found near Diwaniya
Four by suicide bomber at soldier’s funeral, Tal Afar
U.S. Wounded
By Month, by Week

“maybe 100” years in Iraq
Clinton has offered a lame excuse for that vote
It is a simple war
“like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime”
“First, and obviously symbolically, he must start wearing the flag lapel pin”

Published in: on June 26, 2008 at 5:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Callahan on Tyler

Our fine feathered friends at Pitchfork were good enough to offer a stream of my song about President Tyler, as sung by none other than Bill Callahan of Smog fame (soon to be of Presidential fame, no doubt).  This it the second tune officially “leaked” from the project, the other being Matthew’s song about Monroe, as sung by Marla Hansen.  

Tyler here.

Monroe here.

Dig ’em.

Published in: on June 25, 2008 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

James Monroe mp3s

I see that one of the cuts from the forthcoming 3-disc set “Of Great and Mortal Men,” is now widely available in mp3 format. Although this is a good introduction to the overall flavor of the record, I would urge listeners to obtain the full-quality version of this song and others once the compilation is released in September. On the song itself… 

 

Of course any song on the Monroe administration, to me at least, would be remiss not to discuss the Monroe doctrine, one of the most important foreign policy dictates in the history of the United States. In this cut, which is brilliantly sung by Marla Hansen, the refrain basically paraphrases the doctrine. As with most of my songs on the record, there were a few lines of ideas and lyrics that ultimately did not make it into the song. When we were furiously writing these songs in that fateful February, I found myself enjoying two- to four-minute songs that sketched out a presidency, imagined or real psychological storylines, mostly contextual interpretation of that presidency, and then left plenty of room for imagination to fill in the blanks. This song is not that much different. A sub-plot of my lyrical content for this record is strongly evident in this piece, as well as tunes on HW Bush, Van Buren, and others. I have become fascinated with the translation of specific national policies tailored to the narrow short-term economic interest into rhetorical statements with broad and nationalistic moral content. Also as with my song for this project about Van Buren, FDR, Kennedy, TDRoosevelt, and other of my presidents; with, “the Last Cocked Hat,” the character of the executive in the political-economy of the day becomes escribed to the president himself, a tangible emodiment of the historic place of the nation.

 

Throughout US history, treaties and other less formal arrangements between nation states have revolved around a negotiated distribution of natural resources. The Monroe doctrine was no different – the particular angle of this US geopolitical offer being an agreement with other hegemonic or colonial powers of the time regarding their subject nations. Basically, the US, in the Monroe doctrine, established that the Americas could no longer be colonized by European nations. The New World was basically off-limits to the Europeans. In turn, the US would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs. It was expected that European nations would not interfere in the interstate relations of the US.

 

The Monroe doctrine – this early translation of economic interest into rhetoric on liberty – is strikingly honest and eloquent, of course, compared to the clumsy, jingoistic, asymmetric, patronizing justifications often provided for today’s foreign and domestic policy. I imagine a trend where, at first, the full rationale for political-economic stance becomes, over time, simplified. A parallel set of justifications is created – one for the public, created defensively, having little to do with the situation at hand, crafted of principles only an unpatriotic person would question. The second set being the actual strategic analysis and decision making by the administration in power – never to see the light of day.

The refrains of this song are intended to illustrate these parallel versions of the same set of actions – with language both inspirational and cynical.

Published in: on June 22, 2008 at 5:59 pm  Comments (1)  

The Price of Babies Etc.

On Monday Keri and I received our “economic stimulus” check from the U.S. government. While I am certainly not well versed in modern economic theory, I can see immediately how this idea seems quite flawed. I understand the logic theoretically, but it just doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense practically speaking. In our case there is a rich irony. This irony is especially thick, opaque even, for the next piece of mail we opened was a bill from the hospital where our son was born four months past. It turns out that our insurance company paid for my wife’s time and services rendered while at the birthing center, but not my son. What? I cannot seem to find any logic for the unfairness of this, but then these insurance companies are not founded on the principal of fairness and human rights, but instead are just another corporate entity, in a sea of companies for whom the interest of shareholders comes first. Profit. I suppose it doesn’t matter that my son never even left the room, and only once left my wife’s or my arms; he must pay the rent. Alas.

So effectively, my 36 hour old child is indebted to an insurance company in the state of New York to the tune of $1,167.00. So of course we went downtown, deposited our check for $1200.00, and wrote one for $1,167.00. Which left us 33 bucks to “stimulate” the economy. On principal alone, I refuse to buy anything with this money. I think maybe I’ll start a little piggy bank for him. We had intended to start a college fund with the money, but no. Yet another blow to education. I won’t even begin to discuss the ravages of the “no child left behind” nonsense.

There is though, another layer of irony to all of this. I have grown so disgusted with the rampant, dare I say addictive, consumerism in North American (and quickly spreading) culture, that I have vowed to “Buy Nothing” from June of 2008 to June of 2009. I’m not really of a mind this morning to elaborate on why I feel this is important for me personally, and something that our culture needs to look at before we destroy any trace of meaningful existence left. In short, I feel the foundation (earning lots of money) upon which our capitalist society is built, to be fatally flawed. Suffice it to say, that I have written much about this on my site over the years. I may write more in the months to come, but feel free to peruse old posts. Or subscribe to Adbusters as they generally say it all quite well.

There are of course a number of things on the list that I will buy. Food. Medicine. Gasoline. (I wish I lived in a place where I didn’t need a car, but Keri and I are moving to the woods in a few months where the nearest grocery store is ten miles away and it snows like crazy.)

Anyway, you can imagine other things that might be on the list. Like art and music.  Somehow, those things escape the trappings of consumerism to me.  As I don’t perceive art, music, literature, film, etc. as consumer goods, they fall onto the list of things I can and will buy.  As a matter of fact, I should have more money to devote to these things which enrich my life greatly, as I won’t be spending it on other nonsense.  

I have although promised myself that I will attempt to redefine what I NEED and what I WANT. There is a difference and I think that we often blur those lines on purpose to satisfy ourselves. I bought packing tape the other day to seal boxes that we will mail. I spent some time contemplating another method of sealing the boxes, but everything else seemed foolish. I considered trying to trade something for some tape on craigslist, but that just seemed absurd. Then again, maybe that isn’t absurd. Maybe ideas like that are what we need to reshape our failing, idealized version of capitalism. I’m not sure, though I’m hoping that this exercise will enlighten me a bit this year.

I also confess now, that I am buying a new guitar. I’m having one custom built and the process took quite a bit longer than I expected. I figured that it would all be done before June, but such is not the case. I am selling one, so in some way there is an exchange. Anyway, this exercise isn’t really about my justifying the idea and the action, but is about altering my understanding of how I exist in a seemingly blind and mindless consumer culture.

I confess that this is not a radical shift for Keri and I, as we have done our best to remain free from the entanglements of the proverbial mall for some time. That said, it is so easy, on a grey and miserable winter day, when you’ve not seen the sun for three weeks, to make your way to Target and buy a shirt.  Or….. But does this really make me feel better? No. as a matter of fact, I think it makes me feel worse. Hmmmmm.

So, I will buy what I need. Speaking of which, does anyone have a pair of bootlaces in fairly good shape? Mine are about to snap. I imagine these two rolls of duct tape I have here on my floor may prove invaluable.  I know this may not seem directly related to a bunch of songs about the American Presidents, but in some way it is.  If nothing else, it certainly has to do with the trajectory of history over the course of time.  A history, that these 43 men of which we sing have most definitely shaped the path of the world.

Published in: on June 18, 2008 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

From CMJ

We made the CMJ news today.  Woo hah!

* * *

Musicians Hail The Chiefs
Jun 17, 2008
Story by: Lyndsey Matthews

Songwriters Matthew Gerken (Nice Monster), Christian Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher (formerly of Above The Orange Trees) have taken on the monumental task of composing and recording a song for each of the Presidents of the United States, all 43 of ’em! The project, Of Great And Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 Presidencies, will be released as a three-disc set from the Standard Recording Co. on September 9. The songs attempt to venture into the craniums of the heads of state, delivered through humorous and often critical monologues.

Even George Washington can’t dodge the songwriters’ biting satire, as he recalls the lies he told through his infamous dentures made of hippopotamus teeth. And oft-forgotten president Chester Arthur, the successor to the assassinated James Garfield, later compares himself to Washington, saying, “Old hippo-teeth, you got nothing on me.”

Not all the songs are hypercritical though. In “The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again,” Bill Clinton is portrayed as a second Noah who wishes to save the world. Yet few will be surprised by the songwriters’ treatment of George H.W. Bush and his links to Texas oil: “From the stalwart positions of Houston and friends is built a singular tradition: To desire more.” George W. is treated similarly in the simpleminded and self-righteous inner monologue of “Through The Night.”

The songs feature many guest artists including Bill Callahan, Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart, Low’s Alan Sparhawk, Mark Kozelek, Califone, Rosie Thomas and Cake’s Vince DiFiori. The 44th song will be released as a download when the 44th President is elected in November.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 7:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Press Release

Force Field PR logo

Of Great and Mortal Men Cover

 

43 Presidencies Celebrated in Song on Of Great and Mortal Men

Featuring contributions by Bill Callahan, Xiu Xiu, Califone, Mark Kozelek, Alan Sparhawk, Wooden Wand, Radar Bros., Marla Hansen, Rosie Thomas, Tom Brousseau & more!

MP3: “James Monroe: The Last Cocked Hat” feat. Marla Hansen

Of Great & Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 U.S. Presidencies

A Musical and Sadly Hilarious History of the American Presidency

-David MacMichael

Rock balladeers Christian Kiefer, Matthew Gerken and Jefferson Pitcher have performed a remarkable feat. They have composed and recorded 43 songs, one for each of the past and current presidents of these United States, and will release them as a 3-disc set titled Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs For 43 Presidencies, via the Standard Recording Co. on Sept. 9, 2008. They also plan on writing a song about our 44th President, and releasing it as a download come November.

In a presidential election year we Americans tend to mythologize the office of the US presidency and those who have held that office throughout American history. The candidates and their backers endeavor to persuade us voters that they possess the heroic, or nearly divine, characters of their predecessors (with a few not-to-be-referred-to exceptions) and are worthy to lead the nation. These songs-poems set to music, really-wittily, and sometimes not entirely politely, take issue with the mythology that those who have previously inhabited the White House (POTUS, as they are referred to today) were something more than human.

Even George Washington does not escape their satire. On his deathbed, in Kiefer’s song, he recalls the political lies he told through his famous dentures made of hippopotamus teeth. Chester Arthur, the almost forgotten Republican Party “stalwart” who succeeded the assassinated James Garfield, declares himself to be “the epitome of dignity” and, comparing himself to Washington, says, “Old hippo-teeth, you got nothing on me.”

For others there is no saving satire, only savage condemnation or, even worse, pity bordering on contempt. Andrew Jackson, in his deathbed song, “Benevolence,” tells the Cherokee Nation that he had to kill them to save them. And Harry Truman’s last thoughts, as imagined by Jefferson Pitcher in “Suits and Fine Trousers vs. Hiroshima,” are confused regrets that he didn’t remain a haberdasher and could escape the responsibility for having dropped the atomic bomb. A broken Lyndon Johnson, looking at Detroit in flames, the killing in Vietnam, and a fractured “great society” moans, “Lady Bird take me home to the ranch.” Ronald Reagan (“Such a Marvelous Dream”), in his final stage of Alzheimer’s, tells Nancy that he dreamed he was president in a dream like the one he had “where I was an actor out in Hollywood.” The disgraced Nixon in San Clemente imagines himself as Napoleon on St. Helena.

In contrast, Eisenhower (“When Ike Walked the Land”), with its image of ’50s America, drug-free, and watching wholesome television in small town houses with white picket fences, is wryly sentimental. John Kennedy is remembered by Matthew Gerken as a martyr whose death ushered in the evils that have befallen America since.  More listeners, in the context of present politics, will resonate with the treatments of George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and the current George W. Bush. Of George 41, Gerken ties the Bush legacy firmly to the voracious traditions of the Texas oil ‘bidnez’: “From the stalwart positions of Houston and friends is built a singular tradition: To desire more.”  He concludes: “History will be very cruel.”  Jefferson Pitcher, writing of Bill Clinton in “The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again,” is gentler to the 42nd president picturing him as wishing to be a second Noah who could somehow save the world.

And finally, the song about our current POTUS, “Though the Night.” Listeners will want to play it over and over again. This George W. monologue, as the writers imagine it, is, in its simpleminded self-righteousness, a sad but profound statement about what America and Americans are today.

Kiefer, Gerken and Pitcher have done a remarkable thing here. They have sung our history like no one since Walt Whitman.

 

 

OF GREAT AND MORTAL MEN: 43 SONGS FOR 43 PRESIDENCIES (STANDARD RECORDING CO.)
STREET DATE: SEPT. 9, 2008

TRACK LIST:

DISC ONE:

1. George Washington: Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus (Feat. Vince DiFiore of Cake)

2. John Adams: Armed with Only Wit and Vigor and the U.S. Navy (Feat. These United States)

3. Thomas Jefferson: The Mouldboard of Least Resistance

4. James Madison: Zinger

5. James Monroe: The Last Cocked Hat (Feat. Marla Hansen)

6. John Quincy Adams: Death In The Speaker’s Room

7. Andrew Jackson: Benevolence (Feat. Califone)

8. Martin Van Buren: The Little Magician (Feat. Tom Brosseau)

9. William Henry Harrison: So You Don’t Have To

10. John Tyler: Hindsight Falls On Deaf Ears (Feat. Bill Callahan)

11. James Polk: The Other is Better / The Landscape to Transform (Feat. Monahans)

12. Zachary Taylor: Rough and Ready

13. Millard Fillmore: The Proof Is In The Pudding

14. Franklin Pierce: My Only Enemy Is Myself (Feat. Stephen Yerkey)

 

DISC TWO:

1. James Buchanan: God Will Strike You Down (Feat. Marla Hansen)

2. Abraham Lincoln: Malice, Charity, And The Oath of God (Feat. James Jackson Toth)

3. Andrew Johnson: Was Ever Alone?

4. Ulysses S. Grant: Helicopters Above Oakland

5. Rutherford B. Hayes: The Beard of God

6. James Garfield: Seven Months

7. Chester Arthur: The Epitome of Dignity

8. Grover Cleveland: Bees And Honey

9. Benjamin Harrison: Kid Gloves Hands Surplus to Big Sugar

10. Grover Cleveland: Rubbermouth

11. William McKinley: Czolgosz’s Dream (Feat. Magnolia Summer)

12. Theodore Roosevelt: The Sherman Act Does Not Care

13. William Howard Taft: There Was No Longer Use To Hide The Fact That It Was Gout (Feat. Marla Hansen)

14. Woodrow Wilson: A Life Among Men (Feat. Jamie Stuart of Xiu Xiu)

 

DISC THREE:

1. Warren Harding: An Army Of Pompous Phrases

2. Calvin Coolidge: On Silence (Feat. Radar Bros.)

3. Herbert Hoover: Woe Is A Spoon-Shaped Heart (Feat. Marla Hansen)

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Illuminating The Bright Lines

5. Harry S. Truman: Suits And Fine Trousers Vs. Hiroshima (Feat. Denison Witmer)

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower: When Ike Walked The Land (Feat. Alan Sparhawk & Mark Kozelek)

7. John F. Kennedy: There Is No Plan

8. Lyndon B. Johnson:  Ladybird Take Me Home (Feat. Steve Dawson)

9. Richard Nixon: 2 Under Par Off The Coast of Africa  (Feat. Tom Carter)

10. Gerald Ford: Now You See It, Now You Don’t See It  (Feat. Vince DiFiore)

11. Jimmy Carter: A Great Beam of Light (Feat. Rosie Thomas)

12. Ronald Reagan: Such A Marvelous Dream (Feat. Califone)

13. George H.W. Bush: It Was Foreshadowed Here: The Beginning of The End

14. William J. Clinton: The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again

15. George W. Bush: Though The Night

 

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 6:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

XL8R

XL8R was kind enough to post something on the Presidents project on their blog.  Check it out here.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 1:02 am  Leave a Comment  

September

Early September and this beast will finally see the light of day.  Yee haw.  I’ve spent the last few days and many, many hours going through the text with a fine-toothed comb.  The book that Matthew, Jefferson, & I–and the good folks at Standard–have put together is mind-blowing.  100+ pages long, full color, and truly beautiful.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 12:56 am  Leave a Comment