Celebrating Presidents: Of Great and Mortal Men

Sufjan Stevens famously promised to make an album for each of the 50 U.S. states. Well, more than three years later, we’ve heard two. Hail to the lucky ones in Illinois and Michigan. However, while the indie rock’s most darling darling hasn’t lived up to his Big Idea, a few other indie artists have. J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer, and Jefferson Pitcher vowed to write a song for each of the U.S. Presidents and they did just that, including a song for our new President.

Apparently, those songs, some of which feature a who’s who of indie musicians (including Denison Witmer) are sometimes satirical, sometimes patriotic, sometime scathing examinations of the mythologies, legends and controversies surrounding the many men who have served on Pennsylvania Avenue. At times the songs appear as history lessons, while at others they are political anthems that challenge commonly held notions long accepted by the American public. In my opinion the title of the project, Of Great and Mortal Men, says it all.

Kiefer says of the Presidents about whom he sings: “These are men who get up in the morning and shave, or don’t shave; who have wives and families and fathers themselves,” says California-based teacher Kiefer. “And whose lives are as similar to our lives as they are different.”

For more on the record, the project and the artists check out this article from NPR. You can also listen to samples there, featured in an episode of All Things Considered.

You can read my full review at Into the Hill.

Here is the track listing for the three disc set for which Gerken, Kiefer and Pitcher have been touring:


1.George Washington: Washington Dreams of the Hippopotamus (Feat. Vince DiFiore of Cake)
2.John Adams: Armed with Only Wit and Vigor and the U.S. Navy (Feat. These United States)
3.Thomas Jefferson: The Mouldboard of Least Resistance
4.James Madison: Zinger
5.James Monroe: The Last Cocked Hat (Feat. Marla Hansen)
6.John Quincy Adams: Death In The Speaker’s Room
7.Andrew Jackson: Benevolence (Feat. Califone)
8.Martin Van Buren: The Little Magician (Feat. Tom Brosseau)
9.William Henry Harrison: So You Don’t Have To
10.John Tyler: Hindsight Falls On Deaf Ears (Feat. Bill Callahan)
11.James Polk: The Other is Better / The Landscape to Transform (Feat. Monahans)
12.Zachary Taylor: Rough and Ready
13.Millard Fillmore: The Proof Is In The Pudding
14.Franklin Pierce: My Only Enemy Is Myself


1.James Buchanan: God Will Strike You Down (Feat. Marla Hansen)
2.Abraham Lincoln: Malice, Charity, And The Oath of God (Feat. James Jackson Toth)
3.Andrew Johnson: Was Ever Alone?
4.Ulysses S. Grant: Helicopters Above Oakland
5.Rutherford B. Hayes: The Beard of God
6.James Garfield: Seven Months
7.Chester Arthur: The Epitome of Dignity
8.Grover Cleveland: Bees And Honey
9.Benjamin Harrison: Kid Gloves Hands Surplus to Big Sugar
10.Grover Cleveland: Rubbermouth
11.William McKinley: Czolgosz’s Dream (Feat. Magnolia Summer)
12.Theodore Roosevelt: The Sherman Act Does Not Care
13.William Howard Taft: There Was No Longer Use To Hide The Fact That It Was Gout (Feat. Marla Hansen)
14.Woodrow Wilson: A Life Among Men (Feat. Jamie Stuart of Xiu Xiu)


1.Warren Harding: An Army Of Pompous Phrases
2.Calvin Coolidge: On Silence (Feat. Radar Bros.)
3.Herbert Hoover: Woe Is A Spoon-Shaped Heart (Feat. Marla Hansen)
4.Franklin D. Roosevelt: Illuminating The Bright Lines
5.Harry S. Truman: Suits And Fine Trousers Vs. Hiroshima (Feat. Denison Witmer)
6.Dwight D. Eisenhower: When Ike Walked The Land (Feat. Alan Sparhawk & Mark Kozelek)
7.John F. Kennedy: There Is No Plan
8.Lyndon B. Johnson: Ladybird Take Me Home (Feat. Steve Dawson)
9.Richard Nixon: 2 Under Par Off The Coast of Africa (Feat. Tom Carter)
10.Gerald Ford: Now You See It, Now You Don’t See It (Feat. Vince DiFiore)
11.Jimmy Carter: A Great Beam of Light (Feat. Rosie Thomas)
12.Ronald Reagan: Such A Marvelous Dream (Feat. Califone)
13.George H.W. Bush: It Was Foreshadowed Here: The Beginning of The End
14.William J. Clinton: The Mighty Lion Will Not Roar Again
15.George W. Bush: Though The Night


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