Eric Wolfson was eight years old when he drew his first president. It was Ronald Reagan, from the cover of his family’s issue of Newsweek. His Mondale-supporting parents were probably less than thrilled, but for Wolfson it had more to do with pragmatics than with politics. He had already drawn presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and president-elect George H.W. Bush, so drawing the current president was the next logical step. Besides, Reagan had a great face.
Over the years, Wolfson kept drawing presidents – first as cartoons, then as caricatures, and then as more realistic drawings, until he found himself at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he painted them in oil. As a combined major in 2-D Visual Art and American History, Wolfson created numerous diptychs and triptychs of presidents in monochromatic browns and tans, with an ethereal golden glow radiating from underneath. In the summer of 2001, Wolfson worked with the President Collection at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. That summer, Wolfson met William F. Buckley, who was in town doing a reading of a novel he had written about Elvis Presley. When Wolfson went up to get his book signed, he also presented Buckley with a drawing he had sketched of him. “This is good,” said the father of modern conservatism, before cocking his head slightly and pulling it back, “Though you make me look a bit like Teddy…”
When he returned to college, Wolfson worked as the assistant to the Deputy Communications Director for Ed Rendell’s gubernatorial primary campaign while embarking upon his most ambitious artistic project to date: a 42-panel complete set of presidents for his senior project. In his final review, the professors told him that they saw this project as an excellent summation of his work in school, but that it was time to move on and out of this whole “presidential painter” thing. Wolfson listened, nodded his head, and tried to explain, but ultimately decided that they were full of shit.
Upon graduation in the spring of 2002, Wolfson received a $2,000 grant from Carnegie Mellon to complete a manuscript he had begun as an undergraduate about the image of rambling in rock and roll music. He stayed in Pittsburgh for a year, writing his book, working in a used record store and playing bass with his college band, the Clayton Merrell (the other members of which have since formed Pittsburgh indie rock band Triggers). In 2003, Wolfson moved to Boston, where he got an apartment and painting studio in Jamaica Plain. He had his first solo art show the following year - cARTer, a retrospective of Jimmy Carter paintings that coincided with the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which was being held in Boston that year. “It’s not the politics but the portraits of presidents that excite Eric Wolfson,” reported The Boston Globe about the opening. “Who else would do a 42-panel piece depicting all of the commanders in chief…?” The article closed by noting that Wolfson had tried to invite Carter to opening, but had failed to reach the former president in time.
Wolfson moved to Brooklyn in late 2005 in a haze of restlessness and romanticism fueled by Bruce Springsteen’s early records. His focus on painting shifted to music when he fell into the East Village’s Antifolk scene, spending his nights playing the open mics and his days working in a book store. If he had any doubt as to whether he was in the right place, three days after Wolfson scored his first official gig in New York, none other than the Boss himself walked into his bookstore and asked for Wolfson’s help with the architecture books. Wolfson truly arrived later that year with the Fortified 2006 Summer Antifolk Fest, where he appeared in a New York Times article covering the scene and opened for Suzanne Vega. Wolfson also began collaborating with his peers, playing bass on Dan Costello’s debut album, Halloween Baby, supplying backing vocals on Ben Godwin’s second album, Skin and Bone. In the fall of 2006, Wolfson met folksinger Annie Crane at an open mic in Brooklyn, who he began dating shortly after making his first studio recordings.
Early 2007 saw Wolfson’s first release, his signature song “Sleeping Is a Sucker’s Game,” which kicked off the second disc of the Anticomp Folkilation and was hailed for its “scene-skewering” lyrics by American Songwriter Magazine. But it was just the warm-up to Wolfson’s first full-length release, State Street Rambler, which Urban Folk Magazine raved “is a glorious mash-up of swaggering rock’n’roll that sounds just like you immersed your head in a bucket of 1969, simple, evocative balladry, and loony truth-to-power talking blues…It’s an unbridled wild horse of a record, with a fat streak of goofy humor and not a little social outrage.” The album was recorded live in the studio with members of Creaky Boards, Soft Black, and the Family Township and was released on Cinco de Mayo, 2007. That same week, Wolfson appeared in his first lead feature story, when Urban Folk put him on the cover alongside Soft Black’s Vincent Cacchione.
In mid-2007, Wolfson and Crane recorded an EP called Nowhere to Go, a benefit CD for the victims of Hurricane Katrina who were still displaced from their homes. They were able to raise several hundred dollars, all of which went to the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans’ special Rebuilding Together 1000! program, which helped Katrina victims return to the area. During this same time, Wolfson was playing bass in several projects, including Soft Black as well as bands fronted by antifolk stars Dan Costello and Daniel Bernstein. But most of Wolfson’s time as a bassist was spent with Creaky Boards, playing countless shows with them around New York City and joining them on a Midwest tour in the fall of 2007. The following spring, Creaky Boards instigated an international media storm when lead singer Andrew Hoepfner accused Coldplay’s Chris Martin of plagiarizing the aptly-named Creaky Boards’ song “The Songs I Didn’t Write” to write the title track off of Coldplay’s new album, Viva La Vida. Hoepfner later dropped the allegations, but literally dozens of other musicians have followed in his wake.
Wolfson became active in the election of 2008, working for the Obama campaign and going down to Washington, D.C. to shoot a video for his Obama song with New Jersey filmmaker Josh Litwhiler. In the months following the election, Wolfson applied to law schools and got accepted at New York Law School in downtown Manhattan. He is currently focused on his studies there and was recently elected to a senate position in the Student Bar Association.
He lives in Brooklyn with his fiancee Annie Crane.