presidential hit parade

It’s that time of year: two tracks have recently come my way, both coincidentally memorializing former US presidents. The first one, in fact, is from a project whose goal was to write a song about every US president (tentatively to be released under the title Of Great and Mortal Men). I’m sure some of the more obscure ones were quite a challenge, whereas some of your better-known presidents were difficult for opposed reasons: too much has already been said. You can read more about this project here…but they’ve received contributions from some interesting musicians: Califone, Jamie Stewart from Xiu Xiu, Bill Callahan (f/k/a Smog), and Alan Sparhawk (Low) and Mark Kozelek…those last two together. Here’s Marla Hansen, along with songwriters Christian Kiefer, Matthew Gerken, and Jefferson Pitcher, with probably the only song written in the 21st century about our fifth president, James Monroe: “The Last Cocked Hat.”

Unlike James Monroe, our 37th president quite possibly has been mentioned in more rock songs than any other president: I refer, of course, to Richard M. Nixon, here addressed in a new song by Negativland, “Richard Nixon Died Last Night.” I use the word “song” advisedly: while much of Negativland’s work is much better described with words like “collage,” “experimental,” or “composition,” on their forthcoming album Thigmotactic (the word is defined in the press release as “needing to keep in contact with the world around it”) is primarily song-based. While key Negativland member Mark Hosler has written actual songs on occasion for past releases, this time he’s focused primarily on songs, although Negativland’s usual cutup approach to sound here manifests itself subtly in the arrangements and production, and more overtly in the lyrics, cadged together from disparate sources including personal journals, ads, and back issues of National Geographic. (All this per the press release, of course. Then again, Negativland’s prior release came with press releases trumpeting their discovery of a five-person a cappella gospel group from Detroit…did you believe that one?) Regardless, “Richard Nixon Died Last Night” is assuredly a song.

Looks like I’ll have to get going to complete my prog-rock concept album on Franklin Pierce…

Christian Kiefer, Matthew Gerken, and Jefferson Pitcher ft. Marla Hansen “James Monroe: The Last Cocked Hat” (Of Great and Mortal Men, forthcoming 2008)
Negativland “Richard Nixon Died Last Night” (Thigmotactic, forthcoming 2008)

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