Monday, February 16, 2009

Putting the P in Presidents' Day!

For a weeks & weeks now, I've been obsessed with a record(s), (go figure), and it took this actual day to deadline me & force action, and quite frankly, come to grips with this monster. I have been working my way through a magnificent mess of a box set entitled: 'Of Great & Mortal Men: 43 Songs About 43 Presidents'.

The brainchild of Christian Keefer, Matthew Gerkin, and Jefferson Pitcher, (featuring many special guests), it comes off like a hellish combination of Sufjan Stevens', (no relation to Eric), Indie Baroque tunesmithery and Sarah Vowell's offbeat historical eye, perhaps the record she always dreamed of making. What it reminded me of on first listen was an overlooked Neil Young song from the mid 70's, "Campaigner".

I was won over from the snarky sensibility of the first song, (Mr. Washington, of course), and the perspective of him looking back over his achievements and sighing ruefully the line "And those dumb.asses believed me". A more fitting comment on the haphazard founding of this nation I cannot conceive. As a taste, check out Erik Werner's incredible video for this track...

The tone varies throughout, and it's fascinating to match up the nuggets we've retained from school with more in.depth research. I came to grips with the more recent presidents first, then worked into the ones I knew tidbits about, and finally have just immersed myself in the whole bleeding thing.

Highlights so far: believe it or not, the Ronald Reagan & LBJ songs really humanize their subjects, the guitar solo at the end of Nixon shreds, James Madison is hilarious, Hoover & Andrew Jackson (w/an assist from Califone) are heartbreaking, Zachary Taylor could be a great lost Wilco song, and i keep going back to Eisenhower, my dark horse favorite so far. For those of us who can't travel to every Presidential library, and for those presidents who don't yet have libraries...let this be a beginning.

Burning question one: Does Grover Cleveland really merit two tunes? Too bad, deal with it.
Burning question two: What about the newest member of the club?

Bottom line time: any record that can get you to walk around singing about the Sherman Antitrust Act is indeed a record to be reckoned with...

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