Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Groomed to Lead

The inspiration for this the fourteenth completed song of the history era came while I was stuck in boring in-service meetings before the school year started. The meetings were in the library, and I serendipitously sat at a table near the history section. So while some overpaid educational consultant stood up there droning on and on, lying about how they wish they were still in the classroom, I was thumbing through various history books, mainly coming across the second edition of Don't Know Much About History, a compendium of sorts of history written for the post college American who still doesn't know squat about our country. I found it to be a good read, some of it along the same lines of what we're doing only without our humor and certainly not focusing on quite so much of the random.

In it, I found that it said that Profiles in Courage was ghost-written by John F. Kennedy's speech writers, primarily by one man who was also a book reviewer in The New York Times who turned around and gave himself a glowing review. I'm pretty well versed on the Kennedies, and what struck me about that was just the lengths that Joe Kennedy Sr. was willing to go through to have his son elected President. The Kennedy image was carefully, carefully crafted over time to produce a President.

I had been looking for a 50s boogie for the history record to round out the inadvertant organic development that it is also a "history of rock 'n' roll" record with the numerous styles we used to tell our stories. I had been looking for material, but on Monday while I had my urchins doing independent work, the words just came to me. I sat and tapped my pencil on the desk as they read and worked, and I just kept on coming up with more and more lines to put in it. When Kelly wrote "Know It All" I quickly found that I could take the rhythm and melody of the pre-chorus and come up with anything that I wanted to say and make it fit. To this day I still come up with new phrases for that song, but I certainly don't want to change it. This rhythm for the newest song was much the same, and I shot out the song in a little over an hour with nothing but pencil tapping.

All I had to do when I got home was pick up the guitar and decide what key to put it in. I decided on E-flat in honor of Fluid Ounces' "Poet Tree" and because we don't have a song in E-flat (I certainly like to mix things up).

The song itself talks of how Joe Kennedy, Jr. was originally slated to be the Kennedies' golden boy, but he died in World War II. It was Jack's turn next, and I discuss how he had to sharpen his image to become President material despite numerous setbacks. It then goes into the election itself. It's also funny to me how history creates legends: we can't imagine now that JFK ran against Nixon, the most infamous President of the last fifty years, and only won by one percentage point. The last verse shows how he squeaked into office at the beginning of the biggest period of social upheaval of the century as well as one of the most shaky in terms of foreign affairs. He quickly was in over his head, did what he could to muddle through, and was shot for being President at the wrong time. (As an aside, it's also interesting to me that Lyndon Johnson took the brunt of this, receiving less credit than Kennedy for civil rights action and taking more blame for the Viet Nam War, which started while JFK was commander-in-chief. Johnson was more of a slap-your-back politician brought in by the strategists for the Kennedy campaign to win Southern votes and was equally unprepared for the America that awoke once Eisenhower left office. I can only speculate that Kennedy could have handled it better had he completed his term, but I digress...)

I played the song for my wife, and she objected that I refer to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis as a "trophy wife." I didn't have an immediate answer to this, but after a little reading this morning (the kids are working on essays), I would stand by what I said because the fact that she was so beautiful and elegant and so cultured even would make her a trophy wife, the only trophy wife capable of helping to create the JFK mythos. And it's just a stupid pop song anyway.

It does occur to me that a song about JFK puts him among the rest of the subjects of our record--Eli Whitney, Marie Curie, Aaron Burr, Davey Crockett, John Adams, Bob Dole--and that there's something a little less random and with less indie rock panache to have a song about him, but I think the treatment of the subject matter--my wife said it's like bluegrass because it's so happy sounding but about such a depressing topic--ranks this one with some of the more funny takes of history of what we've written for the record and one that I'm very proud of.

I wish I could have a more clever title than "Groomed to Lead" because that's just the dominant phrase of the chorus, and I don't want to overkill the "sing the title over and over as the chorus" syndrome that we overdid on the last record.

We've certainly hit a fourth flowering of songwriting in the last month. This is good, but it may mean that Kelly and I will have to choose to leave something we've written off the record. I'll push for this one pretty hard because it's so much fun. Content-wise, putting number of tracks and running time aside, if we used only the fourteen completed (writing-wise) tracks we have as the record, I would be completely satisfied with what we are saying and what we have. So with this one, I'm finished looking for new history material and am ready to move on to other topics to develop my songwriting skillz. Greek mythology, here I come!

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