Singer and songwriter Jordan Kirk joins Donald Trump at the Pearly Gates

The Columbus musician explores the intersection of Trumpism and religion in new song ‘Donnie (American Heaven),’ out digitally via Bandcamp on Thursday, March 4

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Jordan Kirk at Oranjudio

Jordan Kirk has generally avoided political songwriting, saying he’s always had a tendency to lay off the gas on the rare occasion that inspiration pulls him in that way because “no one wants to hear that from me.”

“I always feel like a phony when I even think of doing something like that,” said Jordan, who penned his last political song, “Jim,” based on the experiences of family members who fought in the Vietnam War, nearly 18 years ago. “And that’s not to say I don’t think of politics a lot, which I do. I just don’t think most people want to hear a straight white dude tell them how to think about things. That voice has been heard so much.”

But something about folksy new song “Donnie (American Heaven)” felt different to Kirk, from its arrival (the first verse poured out in an unexpected burst more than a year ago, hitting the musician “like divine inspiration”) to its language, which felt less reactionary or prescriptive and more like a work of fiction. Throughout, Kirk’s lyrics blend the corrosive politics embraced by Trump with the biblical language and imagery that the musician grew up with in the Baptist church, and with which some conservative Christians still frame the former president.

“I still respect a lot of the New Testament and the words of Christ, so to see mainstream Christian conservatives embrace this [Trump] ideology, which is so offensively in the face of anything Christ taught, it was overwhelming,” Kirk said. “It’s something I was talking about with a friend recently, who is very religious. They’ve been critical of Trump, but the way they see it, the church and its leaders, the ones who do support Trump and his way of thinking, are kind of sacrificing the morality of religion and of the church for a power grab.”

Adding to the potency of this idea, photos of a golden Trump statue being wheeled around the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) started to circulate on social media the morning of our conversation, calling to mind the blasphemous idol cast in the shape of a golden calf in the Old Testament. “That’s something else,” Kirk said, and laughed, when told of the viral image.

The resultant song, which will be released digitally via Bandcamp on Thursday, March 4, begins with Trump landing in heaven, where he sets to repeating his earthly actions, pardoning the guilty (Judas here, rather than the likes of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone) and siding with overwhelmingly destructive forces, including the white horse of the apocalypse, seemingly unaware or unconcerned with the potential devastation. 

Kirk said he initially had qualms with incorporating biblical imagery, a distaste he traced in part to the lessons driven into him from a young age by preachers and parents. “That fear is embedded in those who grew up in it, like, ‘Oh, God. Is this heresy? I’ve made a terrible mistake,’” Kirk said. “But, no, this is the job of any artist, to say something when you see something wrong. … Even if it’s from the very book that my family’s religion springs from.”

In addition to the biblical references, “Donnie” is shot through with more personal allusions. When Kirk sings that Trump “gave Jesus sun down for leavin’,” for instance, he’s making veiled reference to Vermilion, Ohio, where the musician grew up on the south shore of Lake Erie and which for years existed as a sundown town (an all-white community that practiced segregation through laws, intimidation and violence). “So I was just alluding to a bit of that history,” Kirk said, “and to Jesus being a non-white person in heaven.”

As with everything Kirk has written, he allowed “Donnie” to gestate over time, finishing the song nearly a year after the initial burst of inspiration, and only after scheduling studio time as a means of establishing a hard deadline. “I really don’t care to make anything I don’t fully believe in,” Kirk said of his approach.

This has proved especially true in the last year, where pandemic life has left the singer and songwriter flitting between inspiration and disinterest, making it a challenge to sustain any creative momentum.

“I’ve been waffling back and forth between the two, just kind of drowning in the nothingness and also tackling the days [with purpose],” said Kirk, who has written a handful of songs exploring these stay-at-home-inspired emotions, which he hopes to record with his band sometime later this year, once he feels it is safe again to do so. “The year was a little stifling, and I won’t pretend it’s all been uplifting or I’ve gotten better through all the months of this thing. I’ve taken just as many back steps as I have forward steps, in every way imaginable.”

It hasn’t been all bad, though. In between the hours he’s logged doing carpentry work, Kirk said he’s been woodshedding, practicing his guitar, developing new songwriting techniques and trying to embrace those moments that the muse does strike to better steady himself for a post-COVID musical return. 

“I’m trying to make myself more interesting for when that time comes,” he said. “It’s like I’m in preparation, charging up potential energy for the future.”