Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Release of My Rock Opera, Just Under a Decade Late

I meant to post this a few weeks ago, but I got distracted by getting ready to go out west and look at mountains. Like these ones.

I know, I should have posted this blog entry instead. Look at those mountains, all majestic and shit, like they're trying a little too hard to impress me. Self indulgent asshole mountains.

But I digress. Back in 2002 I recorded a rock opera about a loser working in a fast food restaurant, entitled J. Wendell Bastardson vs. the Sandwich Rodeo. Besides giving copies of it to a few friends, I never did anything with it, because I got pretty embarrassed of some of the vocals and some of the mixing and tracking. And the title as well. The whole thing was recorded on 4-track and a lot of the songs had more than 4 tracks, so it was a pain in the ass to mix the first time around, and I really didn't want to do it again. Then in April I saw Mike Watt and the Missingmen play a show at Schubas and I was reminded that my original idea to do the rock opera was due to his 1997 album Contemplating the Engine Room. I really loved this album when it came out and at the time was in a creative writing class, coming to the conclusion that I can't write a story worth shit. So instead of writing a short story, I would write a rock opera instead.

I had written a song based on a little diddly I would sing to myself while working the fryer at Arby's back when I was in high school, and I had a bunch of other songs in my head based on little diddlies I came up with at other jobs. You see, I tend to come up with little melodies in my head while doing soul-crushing repetitive work, and if they're any good, I like to work them out when I get home. So I decided I would get really indulgent in the concept albumry area and make the entire album out of songs written while at work. Then I got lazy.

Flash forward a few years to my first post-college job. I worked for a company that did onsite brownfield soil and water testing for environmental remediation projects. It was altogether very mind numbing work and I didn't like my boss, who took advantage of my naive self like cutting my pay a few times and not repaying expense reports. I think I left that job with him still owing me a few hundred dollars for oil changes and tire repairs I payed for on company vehicles. So I started working on the rock opera again as a constructive way to take out my anger about working for such an asswipe. Also I was living in a shithole little town where I hated everybody and thus had nothing to do on the weekend, so I spent that time recording stuff. This is when I came up with most of the lyrics for the album as well. I quit my job soon after starting the recordings to a much better career and finished the recordings later that fall.

So, this past spring, I remixed the album, and my good friend Matt mastered it for me as best he could (all of the tracks were pinning pretty badly) to render it listenable and I threw the whole thing up on bandcamp.

J. Wendell Bastardson vs. the Sandwich Rodeo
There are a few parts that aren't that great, but all in all I'm satisfied with the final product. Let me break down for you the job I was working at for each song in the album:

Meat Slicer
 I wrote this song while working at a book warehouse during the summer of 1998. A particularly mind numbing job consisting of 8 hours a day of pulling books off of shelves and dropping them off at shipping. Lots of terrible music being played - the fortysomething men in receiving listed to the classic rock station (half good songs, half bad songs) and the fortysomething women in shipping listened to the lite fm station (half bad songs, half terrible songs) and I needed something to drown that crap out.

Theme from J. Wendell Bastardson vs. the Sandwich Rodeo
I wrote this song while bagging groceries in the spring of 1996. I was really into surf rock at the time and came up with ideas for a few of surf rock songs while working this job. A few years later I started a surf rock band and refined a few of these diddlies into full songs, but never got around to doing this one. What the hell, I wrote it at work, why not make it the theme song?

Frying for the Sandwich Rodeo
I wrote this song while working at Arby's in 1994. I would sing the first line of it to myself while working the fryer. The rest of the lyrics came about later.

Assistant Manager
I wrote this song while washing dishes in the dorm cafeteria in 1998. The manager there was this tool who had a tattoo of a football with a University of Michigan block M on his arm, and would talk about how he was on the football team and how U of M invented football or something. It was his entire life. It turns out he tried out for the team his freshman year of school as a walk on and, not surprisingly, didn't make the cut. I guess he never got over it. I don't think he even finished school, but he was still working in the dorm cafeteria. He somehow managed to be skinny and fat at the same time. This song is about him, as well as my boss from the aforementioned shitty job I discussed in detail above.

I wrote this song while working at a pharmacology lab in 1999 while in college. Actually this was a pretty cool job. I spent most of the time mixing chemicals for their stock solutions and sterilizing lab equipment, and eventually got to do DNA separations and worked with a bunch of really cool smart people. It did get monotonous at times, and that lends itself to songwriting. I also worked with e coli bacteria colonies, which smell really terrible. As was the subject of this song. I worked with a girl at Arby's who smelled really really terrible. Restaurant-clearing stench I mean, and not just any restaurant, but Arby's. The type of people who like to eat at Arby's could not stand her stench. She lived right down the street from the restaurant and her entire goal in life was to manage that particular store. It's kind of sad.

I wrote this song while working at a battery lab in 2000 while in college. This was another pretty cool job where I got to assemble button cell batteries and run tests on them. A lot of monotony was involved in this job, but it was interesting. This one is about trying to make ends meet - yeah, I don't really know much about being poor, as a middle class white dude whose parents put away money in a college fund at a young age, but I was really terrible with money at the time, so that counts for something.

 Canadian Coins
I wrote this song while working at a juice bar in 1997. I think I worked here for a month. I was getting paid out of the tip jar while they claimed they were waiting for all the tax form stuff to get worked out with the government, then they fired me because I had to move back home for the summer. I made a stink during the lunch rush about not getting paid until they took a few hundred dollars out of the cash register and told me to leave. This one is about a subtle, lame revenge I liked to take out on rude customers by giving them all their change in Canadian currency. For the unaware, in Michigan as well as all other border states I would assume, Canadian coins get mixed in with US currency since they look the same and are worth just about as much. But some customers would get really offended about receiving foreign money and complain about it. The managers don't care at all and tell them to get lost most of the time. I still hear people complain about receiving Canadian coins now, which is strange because it's probably worth more than US currency right now.

25 Cent Raise
I wrote this one at the shitty lab job. I think at this point I had never actually gotten a raise yet, other than when minimum wage was increased. But that's a discussion to save for later.

(Sometimes I Wish I Were A Caveman Instead of a Fry Cook But It Is Nice to Have This) Used Monte Carlo

I also wrote this one at the shitty lab job. My old car had just broken down and I was in dire straits since I was living in a town that was not pedestrian-friendly and I didn't want to be there anyway, so I needed a car.  A friend sold me a 1974 Monte Carlo for $500 that was in good working order but looked like crap since the roof was falling apart. But the price was right. Also there was a small leak in the gas tank, and later the car overheated (no temperature gauge) at 2 am on a Thursday when I was driving home from a show my old band played in Lansing at the same off-ramp where my previous car broke down. I am not usually superstitious but that off ramp still scares me when I drive by it.

Sweeping Gravel in the Parking Lot on the Fourth of July
I wrote this one at the battery lab. I got laid off from this job two weeks before graduation because our funding was eliminated - they got a lot of the funding from the Department of Energy, and the Bush administration had just had their special secret energy policy meeting where funding was funneled to Dick Cheney's pals.  At that time I only hated them for stealing an election, and I hadn't even had a chance to hate them for destroying the Bill of Rights yet since it was pre-9/11, but I have a very personal distaste for those guys for losing that job. This song is inspired by the day I was planning on going to Lollapalooza '94 but had to go to work even though I had requested the day off well in advance and they needed me - and then they had five of us sweep gravel in the parking lot. I left out the part about Lollapalooza in the song, because, you know, Lollapalooza, but that type of thing was important to me at the time.

I'll Kill You and I'll Kill Your Stupid Fucking Car
I wrote this one working for the state as an air quality permit engineer. That a really interesting job where I found my niche but the first few months were pretty boring while training was going on and people were figuring out what to do with the new guy. This song is based on a really obnoxious commercial that was played incessantly on tv around that time, I believe it was for Subway, where a bunch of douchebags in an SUV are picking on a guy working the drive thru at a nameless burger joint and later laugh thinking they made the kid cry at the end of the commercial.  And I would shout at the tv, hell no the kid wouldn't cry, he'd just spit in your drink or spill your food into the car as he hands it off, or throw an opened mayo packet through the car window to fuck up the interior. Yeah, it's just a commercial, but I hate commercials. I can't find it anywhere on the web so no one knows what I'm talking about anyway and that dates the song pretty heavily and makes the whole thing trite. Whatever. So I wrote a revenge fantasy, because seeing the same commercial over and over day after day makes me think bad thoughts about bad things.

(In Which the Speaker Decides to Quit When He Feels That the Straw Breaks the Camel's Back) So To Speak
I wrote this one while working at the shitty lab after working somewhere about 90 hours one week. I calculated what my hourly wages would be, if I were getting paid hourly wages, and it turned out to be less than minimum wage. Because I was paid a flat salary, there was no overtime. So I decided to quit. Here's the song. The narrator does not, however, decide to quit at this point.

Minimum Wage Hike
This was also written while working the shitty lab, around the same time as the last one. So, earlier when I said I had never gotten a raise before when writing 25 Cent Raise, actually now I'm realizing that isn't true, because I got a raise once through a hike to the minimum wage. I think it went up from $4.25 per hour up to $4.50 per hour; maybe it was a different sum, I can't remember. At the time I was making $4.40 per hour or thereabouts and it pissed me off. My wages didn't decrease but I found it insulting.  Earning minimum wage is the lowest that someone can legally pay you for work. When you're working for minimum wage, you're working for someone who is only paying you that wage because they don't want to get arrested, and if they could they would give you company money to buy company goods from a company store that cost more than your paycheck. If the 13th Amendment didn't exist they'd probably enslave you instead. It's like those creeps who read "Barely Legal" who are really just pedophiles with just enough social sense to read that instead of "Tiger Beat".

My Last Night As A Teenager
I wrote this one at the book warehouse job. I wrote the lyrics around the same time. I was pretty tired of the whole angst thing, and figured it was time to move on to a more adult-sounding esoteric foreign derived emotion, like maybe ennui.

Two Weeks Notice
This was another book warehouse composition. So this is the point at which the narrator decides to quit. Quitting a shitty job is awesome. I'm glad I no longer have a shitty job.

The Great Curly Fry Heist
I wrote this one working the dorm cafeteria. This is loosely based on a true story. My last day at Arby's I was ordered to drive three cases of fries to one on the other side of town because they were out of fries.  They did this all the time and never gave me gas money. They didn't give me any gas money for this either, so I didn't deliver them. I think I just threw them in a dumpster and left.  Apparently they didn't care because I got my last paycheck in the mail a few weeks later.

That's it. I hope you enjoy it. Comment section is below, if you're so inclined.

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