re-examining songs from my youth, part 3: "mr. wendal", arrested development


(Read Part 1: The Unforgiven; Part 2: Funky Cold Medina)

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.

Mr. Wendal


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:

Be strong
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?


Either way, rappers glorifying eating out of the trash is a nice change of pace from the usual pimping and drug dealing.

Of course US law doesn't recognize the humanity of the homeless, especially those that eat out of the trash. What's the point of treating people like human beings if they don't vote, attend $500 per plate political fundraisers, promote your fascist agenda or contribute to doomed social programs from which they'll never see a penny in their old age.

You know, Mr. Wendal has tried to warn us about our fascist ways, but we don't hear him talk.

Is it his fault?

I think by law, Mr. Wendal (who was portrayed in the video as being roughly 150) is three-fifths of a person as dictated by the Missouri Compromise. You may argue Emancipation Proclamation, but he didn't spend all his money on big colleges, and may be unaware of his own freedom. He is, after all, very old and probably hard of hearing for the trip. He may not even hear himself talk.

I'd also like to mention here that the Missouri Compromise is the second greatest piece of legsislature that is also a nickname for a haircut, after of course the flattop fade or "Treaty of Ghent".

Whatever happened to Mr. Wendal? According to Casey Kasem, he passed away before "3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life of..." was released.

Damn you, Sean Keane! I'm just trying to do some sneaky blog-reading here, while everyone else works hard, and you had to go and ruin it with your ha-ha funny talk. Now everybody knows.

And you know my laugh is all obnoxious, like someone let go of a very big balloon they'd been holding shut (pthbbbbbooooooooooo!)

(I learned those simile skills in my $150,000 private school. On the street, they would shoot you for that.)

It is a shame that, instead of appreciating the important message in this song, you look only to find faults in it. I would appeal to your compassionate side to empathise with the plight of a man who does not know where his next meal is coming from, but I imagine you could not possibly relate with someone whom you clearly consider yourself vastly superior to.


Mr. Wendal rocks to the beat of a different drummer, and you'all just can't stand that!!

Okay. Wow. I didn't even know people thought so literal about songs. I kinda saw a deeper meaning behind this song when I first heard it and read the lyrics. Sure, it's about a homeless guy. It describes oppression of African Americans. I think though that Mr. Wendal represents someone extremely important to many people, like the entire Catholic church. He seems to be like Jesus in a way. He warns us of our ways. Then we walk all over him. A man, human in flesh but not by law. Am I the only one who sees the connection here? Or am I the only one who's Catholic here?

Sometimes, you need to read between the lines and not just what's on paper. Don't you think you could've gotten at least that much out of college? Or do you feel you're so great at analyzing lyrics that you didn't need to learn that skill?

Before you open your mouth and make fun of someone or something, you should at least know what you're talking about.

I had one more point to make about your Speech section: you didn't even get the song, did you? "Eating food out of the trash." Wouldn't have to eat food out of the trash if our "civilized" society didn't waste food to begin with. And how do you propose we answer the question "Is our civilization civilized?" Should I respond with "cold turkey" or "car salesmen?" Really, I'm curious to know what you'd use in place of "yes or no." Because I cannot honestly find a better suited choice of answers for that question.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on February 20, 2006 11:52 PM.

santa barbara trip, part 1: adventures with tires was the previous entry in this blog.

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