"You guys think I'm just some untouchable peasant? A peon, huh? Maybe so, but following a broom around after shitheads like you the past eight years, I've learned a couple of things. I look through your letters; I look through your lockers; I listen to your conversations. You don't know that, but I do. I am the eyes and ears of this institution, my friends."Carl the janitor, The Breakfast Club
Jon Tschurwald is by no means pursuing a career in the custodial arts at a beloved, John Hughes-conceived '80s high school, but for the time being, the former frontman of disbanded Westerberg-informed locals the Loveless & Goodnight Trail is sweepin' up seven days a week at Seattle's preeminent rock dungeon, Graceland. Pro: He is as quietly hardwired to the pulse of rock and roll as anyone in this city. Con: Jon can't ascertain the slightest measure of vengeance the morning after an "it band" like N.Y.C.'s Walkmen transform Graceland's green room into, um, a really, really green room.
"It was like they fucking blew the room up," he mutters. "It was like a hand grenade in a fruit salad, just shit everywhere. It was a unique moment in history. They were going the extra mile to fuck that place up. They didn't have enough left over to put on the walls, I guess."
Jon is possibly the most acerbic, obtuse, NPR-obsessed smart-ass that I know outside of the cadre of imaginary friends that occupies my bedroom. Not long after he revealed his Rock Star Day Job, I thought: Oooh, perfect hardee-har-har Mixtape. Empty bottles and broken hearts! Bloody tampon and barf melange! Man funk marimba!
So I peppered him for minutiae of touring bands' often notoriously quirky riders and salacious morning-after tales of indie boys and girls. While Jon didn't have much to report in the way of decadencewackiest band request: socks ("You can wear the same pair of pants for weeks, but socks go bad pretty fast.")I figured my own hungover stint as co-janitor would not only beget an amusing "unsung hero of rock" profile, but help me cut through the clogged toilets en route to the "real" Graceland.
Maybe I made a mistake. Before Sunday, Graceland was still Wonka's chocolate factory to me, a hopelessly fucked-up, magical candy land that didn't beg demystification. Navigating the dour backstage labyrinth in the early morning, absorbing the stink of a party I had nothing to do with, seeing month-old specters of myself in dire straits, knowing which acquaintances "regaled" others whereit was entirely haunting.
All of that is vague melancholia, though. It lacks the brute, literal impact of feces.
"Bums shit by the dumpsters all the time," Jon sighs. "That's always depressing. I mean, it kind of makes you realize you should've gone to college so you don't have to clean up bums' shit."
Our five-hour shift wasn't an almanac of debauchery. It was what it was: making a filthy club a few degrees less filthy a few precious hours before a cabal of 15-year-old jerk-offs annihilated it all over again. I thought Jon would have oodles of hilarious, wretched anecdotes, but he's really just around for the aftermath, putting the pieces together, trudging home in the late afternoon just as an equally exhausted band's bus or van pulls in to set up the carnival anew.
The work was simple, rote, and not nearly as physically demanding as I anticipated: sweep and mop showroom while looking for money (I left 31 cents richer). Sweep and mop bar and lounge area. Sweep and mop green room and bathroom upstairs. Take out garbage. Hose down garbage cans. Sweep sidewalk. Take 5,000 smoke breaks on the stage. Swipe a bottled water. Wash hands intermittently. Stare at bathrooms in amazement.
"You know, I've done a lot of puking in my day, and I can usually just kind of hit my spot," Jon says. "I don't know what people are aiming for exactly, but sometimes I guess it's the tank behind the toilet."
Jon's story is as simple as his work: Loveless broke up a few months ago. During their existence, he was the janitor at I-Spy and, briefly, the Cha-Cha. He's trying to write new songs. He hasn't named the brooms or mops. His nicest custodial arts surprise: Andrew W.K.
"That's the only time I've ever seen a crew clean up their own dressing room," Jon marvels. "They kinda cleaned up all the deli trays, stacked 'em in the bus tub, and threw away their beer bottles. It was like there was nothing for me to do."
He pauses, takes his millionth drag of the morning, and in a way he doesn't quite intend, perfectly summarizes the life of the rock and roll janitor.
"It was mind blowing."
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