Saturday, January 10, 2009

POTUS: Andrew Johnson, by William Tonks

As the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States nears, I think of an abandoned production project of mine - The Skuntry Guide to Dead Presidents - and I get the itch to revive it in slightly different terms.

Some years ago, when The Skuntry Music imprint was active, I commissioned a large number of songwriters to compose a piece about a dead president. The idea caught on, and the songs began to flow in and appear on various releases by the bands - Waterloo, Bad Folk, Bob Reuter - that wrote them.

My band, Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote a power pop song about Grover Cleveland. Lij and Matt Fuller recorded the guts of it in a cabin out at Joshua Tree, in the high desert outside of Los Angeles. That's one of the many songs we intend to finish in Nashville this year.

The idea languished, for no better reason than overcommitment on the part of the guy responsible for finishing it (me). But these presidents are as dead now as they were then, so it's not too late!

However, I'd like to revive it under a different rubric. Skuntry Music no longer exists, and in a minute we'll have a president (won't this be odd?) whose life will be genuinely precious to me. (I don't mean that I ever wished George W. Bush dead, but you know what I mean.)

So, with this post, I jumpstart the revived project, which I'll simply call POTUS, after the acronym for President of the United States. The first post will be "One Bullet Away", a portrait of President Andrew Johnson by my buddy William Tonks from Athens, Georgia.

I have written at some length about Tonks in a previous post. He's a special guy, a sort of sideman to the stars (on dobro and guitar) who also is a prolific and accomplished songwriter and (to my ears) a singer with a wonderful grain to his voice. Any number of zigs rather than zags would have landed Tonks in a career gig as a musician. As it is, he works for the University of Georgia (like half of Athens) and only makes music for the right reasons.

One of the many things I like about this song is it has lines - "He probably wouldn't want the job if he'd known how he would blow it" - that speak to any of us outside of the context of the presidential portrait and American history that is the subject of the song. That's hard to do!

Free mp3

"One Bullet Away"
(William Tonks)
William Tonks

The song belongs to Tonks and music, though feel free to borrow it - and let me know if you want to write a song about a U.S. president, living or dead.


Campaign poster from the Hudson Library archives.


andrea van cleef said...

Oh yeah!
POTUS is a great name, I remember recording "zachary taylor" with my former band, the bogartz.
I also rememeber that nobody knew what the hell the lyrics were about, and what relation they could have to Taylor.
I figured out that a meeting between Taylor and a witch could explain his mysterious death.

Rock on, chris.

Confluence City said...

Andrea, I'll dig up my copy of "Zach" and upload it!

pmirkin said...

Oh Yeah!! Dig it! Lets make music together. ----P.Mirkin
(P.S. Keep in mind that Reagan Blues was made 28 years ago)