Music, combined with strong faith, has been a consistent source of stability for Keith Griesser during his career as an elementary school teacher and administrator.
For the past week, in wildly uncertain times for us all, Griesser has spread comfort and shared the joy with colleagues, friends and neighbors by the thousands.
Griesser, a Georgetown resident in his second year as principal across the county line at Paris Elementary School, recorded and shared a musical parody March 24 to help relieve some of his own stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Andy at Five,” a re-write of Bon Jovi’s 1986 smash “Wanted Dead or Alive,” dedicated to the leadership of Gov. Andy Beshear and the Kentucky teachers who have emerged as rock stars during this turmoil, had attracted more than 77,000 views as of Wednesday afternoon.
The one-shot video, with Griesser clad in a University of Kentucky sports hoodie, seated in front of a panoramic photo of Rupp Arena and sports-themed wallpaper, was a simple project to inspire smiles at a time when that reaction is not everyone’s default setting.
“That’s really why I took on the challenge,” Griesser said. “I feel a sense of responsibility to teachers, fellow administrators, students, parents. It’s important to help each other through this. If I can do something small to help take everyone’s mind off things for three minutes, that’s the goal.”
Also a longtime coach, Griesser had some competitive juices blending with his creative ones.
Over the previous weekend, another principal in his district, Travis Earlywine of Bourbon County Middle School, served up a new spin on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” dedicated to the rhyming concept of the quarantine.
“People were saying I should do one, and I found that it helped my mind off the situation that was going on at the office,” Griesser said. “I started working on the lyrics that night.”
With exquisite timing, a young neighbor of Griesser’s could be heard strumming the infectious, opening acoustic guitar riff of the Bon Jovi rock ballad.
Griesser tried to match up a few lines, initially framing his song as a lament about the non-traditional instruction (NTI) that teachers must supervise for the foreseeable future.
As he played the original, complete with its tough-guy-on-a-motorcycle trappings, Griesser thought of a different protagonist: The recently elected leader who takes to the airwaves at the dinner hour each day and keeps everyone focused on the social distancing task at hand with his disarming style.
“I appreciate what he’s doing,” Griesser said of Beshear. “It’s something we all look forward to every day in a time where we don’t have a lot of structure.”
Griesser’s song went statewide after Ryan Lemond of Kentucky Sports Radio retweeted it to his followers. Local news outlets quickly picked up on it the next day.
“All day I was pretty deep in NTI issues and couldn’t really check my phone, but it never stopped ringing,” Griesser said.
Griesser, 48, grew up in a golden area for song parodies.
“Weird” Al Yankovic, fueled by the work of syndicated disc jockey Doctor Demento, became an unlikely pop star in the 1980s. Griesser said he is also inspired by Tim Hawkins, a Christian comedian of recent vintage.
“He does a song about Chick-Fil-A that’s really funny,” Griesser said.
This wasn’t Griesser’s first well-publicized attempt to stifle everyone’s stress about a school crisis.
“About five years ago we had a bunch of snow days stacked up right in a row,” he recalled. “I did a takeoff on the Beatles’ song, ‘Hey Jude,’ called “‘Hey June.’ It got quite a lot of views.”
Griesser’s latest song contains lyrics about lessons taught on Zoom and his own endless list of students’ passwords and logins.
In addition to the governor, Griesser included tributes to Kenneth (Beshear’s visual arts assistant), Virginia (translator for the hearing impaired), and Dr. Stack (medical expert).
“I can’t sleep. The kids are always on my mind,” Griesser sings. “But I get mesmerized when Virginia starts to sign.”
His second verse ends with a sly dig at Beshear’s predecessor, Matt Bevin. The support of teachers was widely credited for the Democratic challenger’s close win this past December.
There’s even a shout-out to the cafeteria workers: “They made a million lunches. We delivered ‘em all.” It’s followed by the repeating chorus line, “I’m a teacher, screaming no more NTI. We’ll get through this with Andy at five.”
No official response has been issued by the song’s namesake, except by association. Lieutenant governor Jacqueline Coleman’s husband, Chris O’Bryan, weighed in with his support.
“He’s a good friend of mine from coaching basketball, and on Twitter he wrote that they all thoroughly enjoyed it or something like that,” Griesser said.
A music major at Georgetown College who started his career as a music teacher at Stamping Ground Elementary, Griesser has never strayed far from his roots.
“My dad is a musician. We always grew up singing in churches, and I do that with my kids,” Griesser said. “Music has always been a big part of my life.”
And now, bringing a high note to others’ lives in a time when it’s sorely needed.
Kal Oakes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.