On the first tuesday of November in 1988 I was finally eligible to vote in a presidential election. At the time, I was studying music and psychology at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ and not yet aware that I would eventually become an ordained cantor and composer of liturgical music. My roommate Bill and I decided that morning; we should definitely take advantage of our civic duty to participate in the selection of the next leader of the free world. We were psyched, we were pumped, we were giddily enthusiastic….we were not registered.
As those words left the volunteer’s lips, that Bill and I were not registered to vote in New Brunswick, feelings of shame and embarrassment passed through my body. Who knew you had to register? We thought that we could show up at any election site and pull the levers at will. Deeply disappointed, Bill and I walked back to our apartment lamenting our loss. Our only consolation was that he was voting GOP and I was a Democrat; we would have cancelled each other out.
In those days, Bill and I were performing at local coffeehouses as “the Doom Brothers.” Armed with our acoustic axes, we sang covers of bluesy-country folk songs and a few of our originals that were mostly comical-country or faux-country, a genre I thought we invented. Our loyal following consisted of our other suite mates and friends who were the first to hear our whacky songs. And one of our tunes gained the attention of Spook Handy (not his real name), a local folksinger hero, who praised our lyrics but, admonished us for our inability to remember the words without reading them from Bill’s scribbled chord sheet.
That song was “the Election Song,” an anthem that we wrote following our thwarted attempt at voting for the next POTUS. I remember the song nearly writing itself with the refrain, “I don’t think that anyone has a better right than me, whoa! to be the next president.” It was a snarky-soft song that eased our frustrations at not being able to participate in our right as Americans and I remember it as being clever and mischievous. I say ‘remember’ because that song has been lost with time and with the tragic death of my friend and roommate, Bill. He died in August of 1989, the result of a horrible car accident, and as he was the one who was the band scribe, all his notes and lyric sheets were seemingly gone.
At Bill’s funeral I sang one of our serious songs whose lyrics, penned by Bill, were strangely prophetic of his demise. I had been in contact with his parents and a mutual friend for some years after Bill’s death but over the changing seasons those relationships faded away. I still think of Bill as his friendship and musical partnership were incredibly influential to me in my youth and helped me grow as a musician and human. I especially remember Bill at every presidential election as I look back with fondness at our naiveté in our sincere effort to vote and the resulting songwriting session that produced the Election Song.
Now, 28 years later,I have found myself wanting to revive the song. With only the premise of the lyrics and the words and melody of the refrain, I channelled Bill and the Doom Brothers’ spirit and recreated our electoral chantey. I may never know what the original song sounded like but I do believe that the new and revised Election Song is certainly in the spirit of what Bill and I wrote all those years ago.
This is the seventh time since Bill died that I have needed the comfort of our song. And especially in this current election cycle I am looking for the comedic wisdom of my younger self to give me guidance on how to retain sanity in an increasingly insane world. Writing it has been somewhat cathartic and at the very least, it still gives me a chuckle.
Who knows what would have happened had Bill and I actually voted in 1988? President Dukakis? The country may have been incredibly different than we know it today. We could have potentially been on a path of world peace and decency instead of what our current climate is, of hate and fear. We may never know. But, we still have a choice and I pray that we use that choice not out of fear and hatred and bigotry but rather through understanding, acceptance, optimism, and sincere hope for human evolution and enlightenment. May we all make that choice with true wisdom and some humor.