April 15th, 2011
Thing a Week 30: The Presidents
This is a song that I wrote last year for a Presidents Day edition of Little Gray Books – one small fact about every US president (thanks Wikipedia). Some of you more dedicated Coulton scholars may have already heard the live version in episode 7 of the Little Gray Books Podcast. Back then I performed it with the Hungry March Band, the most energetic stoner marching band I’ve ever seen. They played the Hail to the Chief part in between verses – since I have no marching band here, I had to make do with toy instruments. This new recording may be a little rough because there are men hammering and sawing and drilling in my kitchen all week, not exactly the best thing to have on the other side of the studio wall. You may hear some of it here and there, but hey: this is Thing a Week, people.
PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Right, jeez, this is when there were four contractors in my two bedroom apartment for a couple of months. My studio stuff was all in my daughter’s room. She was still just a dumb baby for the first part of Thing a Week, but it got harder to keep my stuff in her room the more she turned into an actual child. We had this enormous kitchen, and since at this point it seemed like this was going to be my job at least for a while, it made sense to steal some square footage from it and make a little studio room. It was tiny, about 4x8, but it was a room with a door and there were no babies in there. Before that was done, a lot of the tracks were mixed with my daughter sleeping in a crib a few feet away, and I remember at least a couple of times when I was trying to finish up some background vocals on a Friday afternoon, holding her in my arms, hoping she would stay quiet while I sang into the microphone.
This was was particularly rough weekend in the renovation - dust, noise, people. It’s even harder to write when you’re afraid someone is listening to all your bad ideas. So I grabbed something from the catalog and gave myself an easy week. The song is OK, it’s a little bit of an easy target I think. Musically it’s not that interesting (OK, one good modulation), and it steals pretty heavily from the soup of country novelty songs that’s always simmering in my head. I still can’t remember all the lyrics, they just run together in my head for some reason, and I’ve done it wrong live enough times that I fear I know the mistakes better than I know the correct version. That’s always part of the fun though, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Mistakes that are built into the lyrics include the Garfield assassination date (1881, not 1882), and referring to George H. W. Bush as “George Bush Senior” which makes no sense because he has different initials from W. I have corrected one but not the other in my live lyrics, at least when I sing them correctly.
When Obama was elected I changed the last lines a little bit to reflect that. At first I did it in a way that was kind of snarky toward George W., and when I played it that way in Texas I got a few angry emails from people in the audience who said they were so offended that they weren’t going to be fans anymore. I find that a little silly. I mean, OK, but…really? Mostly I was amazed to encounter people in my audience who looked back on W’s presidency and thought he had done a great job. It just goes to show you what a liberal bubble we have here in NYC. It’s also yet another example of how polarizing red/blue issues have become. These people were really upset, more upset than anyone who’s ever emailed me to complain about anything. They did have one good point though, which is that if the last line is “I don’t like to make political statements” then maybe I should not make any political statements dum-dum. Evolution of the lyrics has been like this (according to my own wiki):
W’s legacy’s a work in progress.
That is all the Presidents so far
After Obama was elected:
W’s reign of terror is finally over
Obama’s been pretty excellent so far
After the Texans got angry:
W decided he was the decider
(not sure what the next line was, maybe the same as above?)
For Hodgman’s audio book, and this one stuck because I liked it:
W decided he was the decider
Obama has a peg-leg and a scar
I think that walks the line quite nicely thank you very much. Obviously it doesn’t reveal a lot about Obama’s presidency in a historical context (EXCEPT THE TRUTH!), but we’ll have to wait and see what happens, won’t we? Unless you read this as a satirical backhand slap to the Birthers and the other crazies who think he is not a citizen, that he is a secret Muslim, that he was born in Kenya, that he is a terrorist, that having him in power threatens our nation to the extent that we might have to get a bunch of guns and start killing people, etc.
You are, of course, free to read it however you like, because this is America.