Music Walmart made me Hate Part 1: T.G.I.F.

Different people like different music. That’s an understatement.

There are various reasons for this phenomenon. One of the main ones: Music has associations. People hear music during parties, concerts, movies, traffic jams, house cleaning, and even sex. You don’t just hear the song. You hear your own subtext.

I could go on and on about associations that I have with certain songs and how those associations have changed. Instead, I’ll talk about two songs that I heard during my year working nights at Walmart (Yes, it’s one word these days). I probably wouldn’t have loved either song very much regardless. They’re not really my style. Still, it was my year at Walmart that made me hate them. I actually have enough to say about this first one to take up a long post. The next one will be shorter, I promise. And it will be a Christmas song.

1. Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”

Sorry for subjecting you to it. Like I said, I hate it.

I drove a long distance to get to work. Sometimes I switched between radio stations. My favorite station was 90.3 The Rock, mostly because I could never tell what they would play next. I got curious though about what more mainstream top 40-type stations were playing.

Now unlike many people I know, I don’t hate current pop songs just because they’re pop songs. It’s not the kind of music I buy or download much, but it’s not the worst thing on Earth either. Some of it has fond memories attached to it.

But hearing this song time after time made me ready to hate humanity for liking it. Sometimes I’d go back to the mainstream pop station to see if they’d quit playing it. They hadn’t.

There I was, listening to this song while driving to work on Friday night. I was willing to work any hours they wanted because I was desperate to get a job and have people there like me.

Often on Friday nights they’d have me working as a greeter. Sometimes I stocked shelves or alternated between the two jobs. It’s a weird place to be on Friday. Walmart is one of the few stores that’s open all night. You’d see laughing friends coming in from a night of partying or couples passing through on date nights.  The couples were at various levels of hand-holding, sometimes up in each other in more awkward ways. Sometimes people ran, ready to get through and start the night.

And there I was. I was single, alone, and had a whole night of work ahead of me. I got used to it and even learned to enjoy the variety of customers. I learned to relate to them. Some of them were as broke as I was, and Walmart was their idea of a crazy night out. In the first few nights though, it sucked. I was jealous. And my jealousy had to have a mock-panicked  cheery pop song as its soundtrack. Rub it in why don’t you? Gloat about your expensive debauchery.

Even once I got over that, there was still the more subtly annoying fact that it was expensive debauchery. There she is, singing about how she maxed out her credit card but will do it all again. She owns a pool. Also, she has servants to give her ginger ale. Why don’t you pour it for yourself?

It made me like country music more. Many of my fellow associates listened to country and nothing else. In modern country music people go partying all the time. The difference? They often emphasize that they’re drinking cheaper domestic beers, or that they’re just taking a break from life’s trouble.That’s better because it’s relatable. Country stars don’t talk about expensive things except when planning funerals.

Honestly, I preferred Rebecca Black when she was  singing about carpooling rather than appearing here. It’s worth noting that the Great Depression gave us “Oh Brother Can You Spare A Dime” while the Great Recession gave us “T.G.I.F.”

Now a bit more about Miss Perry (or Miss Hudson) herself.  Her parents were traveling ministers. Then, as she put it, she sold her soul to the devil.

For Katy, selling her soul meant gloating about everything she could do that her parents might not like. If she had been Orthodox Jewish, her first song would have been “I Ate a Shrimp and I Liked It.”

Granted, I didn’t mind that song. So you’ve only made it to first base with a girl? Nothing to feel jealous about there.

But on T.G.I.F. the smug clouds get thicker for me. It was not because I objected morally to anything she said. It was because she talking about doing expensive things as if they were nothing. And it’s based on a true story. In the words of a Mexican-American girl I knew from California, “Katy Perry is a white California girl.” She’s also a rich one.

So why did I subject myself to this song? I could have avoided it after hearing it once, right? Well, after hating it so much, I wanted to make a parody of it about working at Walmart:

“Last friday night/stocked the creamers and the butters/ worked one box and then another/stabbed my hand with a box cutter…”

You get the idea. I’d go on, but I’m not sure if you want the radio edit version or the one with swearing.

Signing out (with NOFX no less),

Ben Pounds

P.S. The skinny-dipping part didn’t bother me. I went to Warren Wilson College where skinny-dipping was practically an official pastime. It’s cheap too.

Backdate: Picking Grapes

I wrote this in October 2010. That summer I’d been in South Carolina, helping migrant workers on farms get to a health clinic. After that, I “settled” in Asheville. I tried to find a job, but the only one I found was a job picking grapes for the Biltmore Estate. This was originally a Facebook note to other interns.

Usually it’s supposed to work the other way around.

I went from doing the SAF internship to picking grapes.

It’s $8 per hour, irregular days (based on which grapes are in season). I can’t say I’m in exactly the position of the people I saw this summer. I’m in my own country, if not my own city. But I do know things now that I’d just heard about.

Cold mornings, hot days, dusty roads in the back of the truck, wet gloves, avoiding hitting anyone with the shears, tired time after work (until I got used to it). Having to wash clothes with pesticides separately. Occasional grape juice or dust  in the eyes when you’re not careful. And yes, there is labor lore, even if most of us, being in North Carolina have no experience with grapes, we’ve developed a few things (and, yes, I did hear the joke about “grape-vine stretchers”).

Yet still there’s something strangely satisfying about physical work. Something that’s hard to phrase at times. I’ll answer any questions you have now.

HG vs. BR

I had wanted to see John Carter.   I was planning on seeing it with Goyo (an exchange student staying with us) who said he wanted to. Later though, Goyo said that he would prefer to watch The Hunger Games because he said that John Carter “is the same as Avatar.” Maybe, but by that logic Avatar is the same as Dances with Wolves. Also, isn’t the story for John Carter a century old?


Fiction generally has always stolen or borrowed things. Science Fiction especially. In part that’s because audiences to relate to things on other worlds if they resemble something familiar. Also, stealing is good if it works and is convenient for what you’re trying to do. What better way to show off all the odd alien costumes you can come up with than by putting all of them in an old western saloon? To make it less obvious, replace the piano player with an alien Benny Goodman knockoff band, and then you have one of the most famous scenes in movies period.


But I didn’t really care that much, so I figured I could see the Hunger Games. I hadn’t read the book, but I could say the same for John Carter.


We got there early, but because of the crowds we had to sit near the front, which may have been a mistake. Yes, people complain about the shaky cam thing, but I felt like making the audience dizzy was exactly what the movie was going for, so it worked.


Much of the movie was off-putting in one way or another, but again, that was the movie’s intention. I had heard that it took place in the future. Given that we’re in the 2010s, I figured that Earth people in the future would dress like earth people do now (as in the 90s-2000s films Avatar, AI, Minority Report, or to a lesser extent V for Vendetta). But not here. Here they  took their cues from my own home region, some time between the  1860s and the 1960s, right down to the home-stitched dresses.


Then we get to the Capitol. In the Capitol, most people seem to dress as if they though Jacobim Mutagu (the villain from Zoolander) had taken over (I would not put it past him). It’s not just fashion. Even the names are foreign sounding.  It’s through the lens of a foreign world that the movie throws us into issues of power and spectacle.


Why am I talking so much about these aspects of setting? It’s because I just now finished watching the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, which is also an adaptation of a novel. In it, a group of teens fall asleep while they think they are riding home from their boarding school on a bus only to wake up and find that the Japanese government randomly selected them to fight to the death on a deserted but guarded island and they are all wearing tracking collars. Oh, and only one of them can survive. They all start out from a central location, each with a bag that contains a weapon.


I’m not going to go any further into summarizing Battle Royale because I want people to see it. The odd plot turns and random chance encounters are part of what make it a good movie, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone.


For obvious reasons though, even without some of the plot points I didn’t go into (most of which go in totally different directions) some people accuse The Hunger Games of plagiarizing Battle Royale.  Suzanne Collins author of The Hunger Games, claims she’d never heard of it. I’m with her on this one. She may well have heard of it, but my impression, just from comparing film adaptations, is that it wasn’t her initial inspiration. Even if it was, she took it in a totally different direction. The two are far more different than Avatar is from Dances with Wolves.  


The Hunger Games is a single protagonist’s story set in a far-future world different from ours. Battle Royale switches between perspectives and plot lines and in Battle Royale it’s our world, slightly in the future after a wave of youth violence and a bizzare adult reaction to it. Not only that, but  BRi is just a small section of the world, one particular class of kids who already know each other, while in HG they’re from all over the country, and few of them know each other. In Hunger Games the Game is an accepted fact of life. In Battle Royale the Game is a bizarre thing thrown on the teenagers, and one of the kids laughs at the idea before getting stabbed.


Again, though, just based on the adaptations, if I had to choose one, I’d say that Battle Royale is the better movie. The different plots pay off when one set of people collides with the other and you don’t know when they will collide. Anything could happen. Although it’s set in Japan, the world of the story is so similar to the present-day world that the murders has a  more jarring, “These could be people you went to school with”-type feel. That the island has empty houses on it adds to that mood. The government’s motivation is more confusing, but the motivation of the man running the operation, a former teacher, could not be clearer. Again though, this is a matter of comparing movies with very different focuses and themes, and I’m glad that both movies exist. If it wasn’t for the Hunger Games, I would not have heard of Battle Royale.