WASHINGTON — To hear GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch tear into Democrats when a judicial nomination is on the line, you might not guess that in spare moments he pens lyrics like:
Close your eyes, go to sleep,
Little angel of mine ...
If not the best-known songwriter in American music, Utah's senior senator surely ranks among its most ardent. Since taking up songwriting in 1996, Senator Hatch has written lyrics for more than 300 inspirational and patriotic songs. "Little Angel of Mine" made the soundtrack of the movie Stuart Little 2, just out.
Ask him why so many of President Bush's judicial nominees are going nowhere in the 107th Congress, and you'll get one of those quick, clean sound bites that most longtime senators do well: "It's a disgrace!" But mention his songs especially within range of a piano or a CD player and you'd better prepare to listen.
His passion for music is a reminder that people on Capitol Hill aren't always the one-note politicking machines that their constant rounds of fundraising and lawmaking might suggest. For Hatch, music is not just a diversion.
"It's more than a hobby. I've got a lot of music people like," he explains during an unscheduled interview with two journalists that was heading deep into its second hour (before this one had to go rush home to feed guests).
It all started with one of those odd-ball questions journalists ask senators they meet in the hall: "Senator, as a songwriter, what do you think of the music that is coming out of 9/11?"
"Are you interested in hearing any of my music?" he replied. Uh, well sure. Turns out, that imposing antique cabinet in his office only looks as if it holds really important papers. In fact, it's piled high with compact discs and tapes of the senator's own songs albums like: "My God Is Love," "Freedom's Light," and "Heal Our Land."
Hatch is a card-carrying member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. When he flashed his first royalty check during his keynote address to ASCAP in 1998, the audience roared approval. "Most songwriters never get to see a royalty check," he explains.
While he's not yet breaking even, he's had more than a little success in the business. In addition to "Little Angel of Mine," his first patriotic rock song for children, "America Rocks" made the movie "Rat Race" in 2001. His song "Everyday Heroes" written before 9/11 was picked up for both the inspirational film, "Joshua," and the commemorative CD of this year's Olympic Games.
His newest album is "I Love America" with tunes by longtime collaborator Janice Kapp Perry, a Mormon who is just settling into a missionary assignment in Chile. He wrote lyrics for one song on the album "America United" just days after 9/11:
As we bury fallen heroes,
Many broken hearts must heal.
But in the ruin and the rubble,
Our spirit is revealed.
He insists that being a US senator doesn't help in breaking into the song business. And it certainly doesn't help to be conservative and a Mormon, either.
"We tried to advertise nationally, and the first question half of our callers asked was, 'Where are you based?' When I say, 'Utah,' they just hang up," says John Perry, Ms. Perry's son who manages Prime Recordings Inc., in Provo, Utah. "There is a fairly large bias in the Christian market against Mormons."
Hatch's "good friend," U2 rock star Bono, suggested the senator write under another name: "Johnny Trap Door." Hatch respectfully declined.
Still, Hatch notes that it was his decision to sponsor a bill to allow therapeutic cloning an issue many conservatives oppose that introduced him to the "Stuart Little 2" producers who have a child they believe could be helped by cloning cures. They requested "Little Angel of Mine" for their soundtrack album.
In the end, it's not about the money or the celebrity yet to come. He just hopes to make enough to continue to produce albums. "I have these really lovely thoughts all the time," he says. "I write things to help people." He especially likes writing songs for friends. He loves to hear that Sen. Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, still play the song he wrote for them, "Souls Along the Way." He wrote "The Difference Makes the Difference" for Muhammad Ali.
Has he ever written a song for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy? (Mr. Leahy took Hatch's chairmanship of the judiciary committee when the Senate majority shifted back to the Democrats last year and he's held judicial confirmations to a trickle since.)
"I have not yet been inspired to do so," he says, with not quite a twinkle. "But if I did, it would be heavy metal."