Note: Many of these thoughts about songs of my youth have been prompted by my newfound passion for karaoke. Karaoke forces one to confront the lyrics to these songs, lyrics that have mostly resided in one's subconscious for years. Sometimes one realizes that one has been mis-hearing and mis-singing certain lines for years. Sometimes one realizes one has never realized the insipidness of certain lines. Of course, most of the time, one simply rocks the fuck out.
Back in my journalist days with the Valley View Middle School newspaper, The Prowler, we had an advice column named after the Arrested Development song "Mr. Wendal". (In case you doubt my hip-hop credentials here, one of our issues featured a Digable Planets shout-out in the form of our cover headline: "Youth Educators: Cool Like Dat".) The advice column used to be called "Mr. Sandman, Bring Me Advice", during my seventh grade year. It was reasonably clever and cute for middle school. For our winter issues, we changed it to "Mr. Snowman", mainly for the purposes of a cute graphic, presumably drawn by Long-Hai.
In eighth grade, our old advice columnist had graduated, so the new writer renamed the column, "Mr. Windal", dropping the "bring me advice" tagline. In doing so, the name of the column lost all meaning. Also, the name was spelled wrong. I think the column used actual letters, perhaps from students who thought they were asking advice of an old bum. However, if the counsel of a man with no money, no clothes, and no place was good enough for multiple-Grammy award-winning rapper Speech, surely it was good enough for Prowler readers.
Speech makes a bold claim in "Mr. Wendal" - that the plight of African-Americans can be traced to spending too much time and money on/in big colleges, and not enough time talking to the homeless. According to Wikipedia, "[Speech] attended Clark Atlanta University and the Art Institute of Atlanta". Perhaps he didn't consider it money well spent. After all, look at the quality of the poem he wrote after meeting Mr. Wendal for the first time:
Serve God only
Know that if you do beautiful heaven awaits
You just can't learn that kind of wordplay in school. It's not clear whether Arrested Development chose the (terrible) album title 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of... before or after meeting Mr. Wendal, but they did pick the (even more terrible) album title Zingalamaduni afterward.
Arrested Development the band has been overwhelmed on Wikipedia by the TV show of the same name. They tried to sue the creators over the title of the show, but did not succeed, and the show made fun of them for trying. Ironically, the show might have been better off if forced to choose a less-clever title, as long as the replacement title had fewer syllables. Lead vocalist Speech has also been overwhelmed on Wikipedia by the act of communicating via vocal cords. He doesn't even get a disambiguation page. I was unable to determine whether Speech is considering suing the larynx.
Speech asks whether our society is civilized, but does so in a manner akin to a lovesick middle schooler trying to suss out his crush's romantic feelings. "Are we really civilized? [Check] Yes or no", Speech queries. A few lines earlier, he gives an example of Mr. Wendal's behavior that Speech considers to be truly "civilized": Eating food out of the trash.
Speech envies Mr. Wendal's status as a man apart from 1992's "quick to diss society". I feel that the rise in information technology has made 2006 an "instantaneous diss society", as evidenced in many flame wars on this very site. It might comfort Speech to learn that my critique of "Mr. Wendal" is roughly thirteen-and-a-half years late, proving that there are still some "slow to diss" segments of society.
Speech tells us that Mr. Wendal is "A man. A human, in flesh. but not by law." "Not by law" is where Speech loses me. I think Mr. Wendal is a human by law as well. Perhaps a legal expert could weigh in. Then again, I spent all my money on a big college and came out confused, so what do I know?