Every now and then I fantasize about what it would be like to be President of the United States. It’s not out of the realm of possibility – there were several presidents who were musically inclined. Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809), John Tyler (1841-1845), and Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) were violinists; John Quincy Adams (1821-1829) played the flute; Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) strummed the banjo; Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) played the sousaphone at the 1920 Republican National Convention where he was nominated; and Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) learned a little harmonica after his presidency was over.
Some relatively recent presidents were, by some accounts, quite accomplished. Harry Truman (1945-1953) was a passionate tickler of the ivories; there is a famous photo of him as Vice President performing with actress Lauren Bacall. Richard Nixon (1969-1974) played the piano, accordion, clarinet, violin, and saxophone. President and saxophonist Bill Clinton (1993-2001), shades and all, performed his jazzy version of Heartbreak Hotel on the Arsenio Hall Show, moving some pundits to claim that this 1992 performance helped him gain traction among young and minority voters.
You might ask what qualifies me to become president. Maybe nothing, but I know the first hurdle I must overcome to make this dream a reality. If current trends are any indication, the prime litmus test for political fitness is how the candidate appears in their school yearbook; apparently news agencies and political opponents are now scouring old yearbooks for any youthful indiscretions they can find. To see if my fantasy would die before even getting off the ground, I decided to look through all of my old yearbooks to see if there was anything controversial.
Warren G. Harding once said, “I played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet.”
The earliest yearbook in which I appear is my 5th grade Floyd Elementary School 1972-73 Aerie. (Our school mascot was the falcon, thus the name Aerie for a nest of a falcon.) Unless a good haircut is a presidential requirement, I am fairly safe; recent events suggest bad hair is not an impediment. Comments from my peers like “To a boy with a funny mind” and “To a very nice boy who likes to talk a lot” should cause little political fall-out.
In the 1973-74 Aerie, it is readily obvious that I joined band when one reads comments from already competitive trumpet players: “From one trumpet player to another I hope you get moved down to last chair the last day of school” and “To a guy who plays the Carnival of Venice solo lousy. I’m just kiddin’.” The beginning band did not merit a picture so the only photo of me is a benign school picture.
From Montgomery, Alabama, I moved down the road to Auburn where I was included in Auburn Junior High’s 1975 yearbook, The Eagle. As usual, trumpet rivalry is evident with comments like, “I’m sure you’ll beat Kathleen next year.” In the 1976 Eagle there is a picture of me as a chorus officer and one of me sitting with the band, my trusty cornet in hand, at a football game. Moving back to Montgomery in 1977, my Wildcat Memories from Georgia Washington Junior High has two written references by friends to a C I got in conduct in band. It is a long story, but my presidential quest can continue unabated.
My high school yearbooks also do nothing to harm my political aspirations. Despite my exclusion from the high school’s parade of Who’s Who winners, I can say with a bit of vindictive bitterness that I had an impressive ten photos in the 1980 Jefferson Davis Cavalier, none of which could stir any controversy from the bitterest of political rivals.
My college yearbook, the Petit Jean, has me in some club photos, band pictures, and Senior Who’s Who, and about all I can be accused of is being boring; that can hurt my ratings in a presidential debate but should not cause any problems I could not overcome with some help from a personality consultant or a few appropriate self-help YouTube videos.
A glance through yearbooks early in my teaching career have photos of me riding a tricycle across the stage to the strains of Leader of the Pack and performing a terrible Buddy Holly impersonation with one lens missing from my sunglasses. Fortunately, there is no record of the Life of Elvis tribute that concluded with me climbing out of a coffin and proceeding to sing All Shook Up. (What can I say? I had a trombone player whose father was a mortician, and I have always prided myself on using parental resources.)
Later in my career there are several yearbook entries depicting me in ways that opponents could use to show a man who cannot be taken seriously – poking myself in the eye, a list of my jokes of the day, and a picture of me with a purple wig on – but that’s a political battle I think I could win if I don’t smile for the first few months of the campaign.
I am still uncertain about what I will do, but it is nice to know that I should be safe as far as a yearbook background check is concerned. I do know that I will have to make a decision pretty soon so I can get my fundraising going. It will take a few immensely profitable car washes and cheesecake sales to get a campaign up and running. I’ll keep you posted.