At long last I’ve been able to link Erik Werner’s brilliant video for “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus.” Enjoy. More on Erik and the process of making this film can be found at www.dreamofthehippo.com.
As readers of this blog will already know, Erik Werner and Co. have been filming a music video for “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus.” Typical of Erik’s approach to art, this thing is comprised entirely of cardboard puppets. WTF, you say? Indeed. Here’s a still of my band, done-up cardboard puppet-style.
That’s Jason Roberts on the left, Chip at the drums, me up front, and J. Matthew Gerken rockin’ the bass on the far right. Hell yes!
This thing will likely be done some time next week so keep watching this space for more. You can also jump over to www.dreamofthehippo.com to watch Erik and Jon’s video blog about the making of the video.
Because of, among other things, this 5 star review of Of Great and Mortal Men. Thanks, VenusZine! Tasty quotes from our songs about Van Buren, Jackson, Washington, GHW Bush, and GW Bush too.
Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies, the new album by J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitcher, celebrates its official release today.
As this project has been filled to the brim with the rich taste of production problems, the official roll out today has been no different as it’s not yet on iTunes or eMusic and is showing up as “backordered” on Amazon. Not to mention that it’s listed not under Gerken, Kiefer, and Pitcher but rather under the band name (what?) Of Great and Mortal Men. It’s all very confusing.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of new nuggets ‘o press to whet the appetite:
Dig it! Oh and the Bee has a stream of George Washington, featuring a cast o’ thousands of musicians including Damian Sol (violin), Fran Mironchik (flute), Keenan Bird (rudimentary snare drum), Jason Roberts (guitar), Vince DiFiore (trumpet), Andrew Dost (flugelhorn), Mike Curry (drums), and John Gutenberger (bass) (see links for most all of those musicians under “links”). & speaking of Washington, the Men’s Vogue/GQ piece uses C.W. Roelle’s Washington art as the header. Oh hell yes.
The Sacramento News & Review was kind enough to interview us three. It was to be a Music Feature. Then it was to be an Arts Feature. Then it became a cover story. To which we all say: Oh! Hell Yes!
By the time the author interviewed Jefferson Pitcher the piece was nearly done and so he even ran Jeff’s interview separately in the paper.
Good times for all. We’re planning a single show for local (to Sacramento) folks on Sept. 13 at our regular stomping ground the Fox & Goose Pub. If you’re around (and are 21+, sorry) please come by. The label promises we’ll have copies to sell at the show by then. If I get my biz together I’ll have 3″ mini CDs of some of the demos as a bonus for those who buy it. I really wanted to be able to give everyone a copy of the Constitution but I just couldn’t work out the $. Damn you $$. Damn you to helll$$!!
Meanwhile, we did a rather lengthy series of interviews–both by e-mail and phone–with Matt Erler at NUVO and he did us up a really great essay/review/overview, which is quite good and worth the read. Check it!
AND Matt also kindly enough published the original complete interviews too so you can read those as well if you’ve got an inkling for the digital ink. We didn’t know Matt before this, but like Nick Miller (who wrote the SN&R piece above) he really took the time and effort to understand what it was we were trying to do. Thanks, gents.
Meanwhile, our friend Sandy did a post with some of the original fawm.org demos (with our permission, of course). Original demos of Washington, Coolidge, and Adams. Check those out on Sandy’s site here.
One of the aspects of this project that we continue to be very excited about is the possibilities that it can be used in education. To that end, we’ve been writing curriculum (in between teaching classes and doing our other non-education day jobs). Here are some new “reading questions” for James Madison and Andrew Jackson:
I’ve also done a few edits to George Washington’s reading questions as well. More to come! If any teachers want to get involved in the curriculum-writing process, please don’t hesitate to contact Christian Kiefer at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mark Latta at email@example.com. We could sure use your help!
Meanwhile, click over to the “for teachers” link on the right for more curricula as it is developed.
I’ve been working on some reading/listening/research questions for classroom use (see the “for teachers” link on the right). Here’s some for Washington. Any interested teachers who are reading this blog and might be interested in helping me develop some of these questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Washington Dream of the Hippopotamus”
Music and lyrics by Christian Kiefer
1. Consider the role George Washington plays in American popular culture. From his image gracing the one dollar bill to the name of our nation’s capital city, Washington has gone from being a man to being a mythological image. Discuss how Washington’s is used today and what it means as a facet of American culture. Then discuss how that image is used in “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus.”
2. With its use of flutes, violins, marching drums, and brass, the music of “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus” attempts to be evocative of the revolutionary war. Discuss how this is or is not successful and what it might mean in the context of the song itself. Is the song upholding one part of the mythology (the marching patriots) while tearing down another (Washington’s truthfulness)? Explain and analyze.
3. In many ways, the theme of “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus” refers to one of the most famous cultural stories we have of America’s first President: the “I cut down the cherry tree” story of young George’s truthfulness. Discuss how the song itself uses irony to recast and/or question an important piece of American mythology.
4. Discuss how “Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus” defines the role of spoken rhetoric in the context of the historical presidency. Actions are championed—as in the description of Washington’s military leadership in the second verse—but ultimately is it how he told the story that is of ultimate importance?
5. By way of extension of question #4 above, how important were political speeches and oral rhetoric during Washington’s presidency? Further extending this topic, how important was young America’s press in selecting Washington as the first president? In the song, Washington feels that his own words were of utmost importance to his political survival. Was this really true?
6. C.W. Roelle’s wire drawing of Washington views the hippopotamus of the song’s lyrics as a kind of hunting trophy. Discuss and analyze this image as visual rhetoric. What does this image say? How might it be viewed separate from and/or in the context of the song’s lyrics? How does the use of wire (bold black lines without color) effect the viewer’s overall perception of Washington? Is it ultimately a commentary on just how recognizable his image actually is in American culture?
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.
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.