Drag king stories #3 / Janitors in pop culture #2Posted: October 15, 2014 Filed under: Drag King Stories, Janitorial work | Tags: drag kings, gender, gender identity, genderqueer, janitors, Kurt Cobain, lgbtq, music, Nirvana, pop culture, queer, work, writing 6 Comments
This is a 2 fer 1 blog post! Join me for these two ongoing series. The point at which these topics collide is: Kurt Cobain. No, Kurt Cobain was not a drag king, but he was a janitor. And when I started doing drag, one of my earliest ideas was to portray him as a janitor, singing / screaming into a dust-mop handle like it’s a microphone. (And also using the handle as a pole vault to propel myself off of the stage, super dramatic-like.)
I went back to his journals in order to glean some details from his janitorial career. He dropped out of high school 2 weeks before graduation, turned right back around, and worked as a janitor at his old school. He also later worked at Polynesian Condominium Hotel Resort, and for Lemons Janitorial.
On page 43 of his journals, he drew up a mock flyer for a janitorial business he apparently was dreaming up with Chris Novoselic (bass player) called Pine Tree Janitorial Service: Basic Commercial Maintenance. He claims, “We purposely limit our number of commercial offices in order to personally clean while taking our time. We guarantee $50.00 lower rates than your present janitorial service. You see, other services usually have too many buildings assigned to the individual’s route. So in turn they end up running thru buildings trying for time. But at Pine Tree ——” The page ends there and so does the thought process. His band was really starting to take off anyway by then, haha. Most of the journals are devoted to band-related thoughts (and thoughts about drugs, guilt, politics, fame, etc.), not janitorial dreams.
On page 160, he’s starting to plan out the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He wrote out a list:
1. mercedes benz and a few old cars
2. access to an abandoned mall, main floor and one jewelry shop.
3. lots of fake jewelry
4. School Auditorium (Gym)
5. A cast of hundreds. 1 custodian, students.
6. 6 black cheerleader outfits with Anarchy A’s on chest”
Not sure what became of the old cars (gold mercedes benz?), mall scene, and fake jewelry, but the gymnasium scene, cheerleaders, and custodian ideas did come to fruition.
The cheerleaders are wearing black uniforms with anarchy symbols on them. The custodian plays a much more prominent role in the video than he would at an actual school. He is rocking out with his mop handle – in multiple cut-away shots. Great music video moments!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of my performances doing Nirvana songs, as a janitor. But I remember some details! The two songs I did (at two separate times) were “Aneurysm” and “Sliver.” My hair, at the time was bleached blonde, and I pulled it in front of my face in stringy clumps. I wore work boots, navy blue Dickies pants with a lot of keys hanging off the belt loop, a light blue work shirt – not tucked in- with epaulets, and a thermal shirt underneath that. I brought a dust mop to dust mop the stage / use as microphone stand and pole vault. Once off the stage, I continued dust mopping all throughout the audience. I don’t know whether anyone got into these performances or knew what I was doing, but it felt pretty cathartic.
Just like Kurt Cobain, I worked at my old high school – er, technically it was my middle school, but it is now a high school (although unlike Kurt, I managed to graduate first, and to also graduate from college before returning). It was weird. Maybe I’ll write about it more in depth at a later date. I also have rocked out with mops many many times, just like the janitor in the video (often, I’d be narrowing down drag songs, listening to my mp3 player and lip synching into the mirror in the bathrooms). I’m actually currently doing this while at work! I have a Halloween drag show coming up and I’m trying to decide between Bauhaus, Skinny Puppy, Swans, and a few others.
I’d like to think that Kurt Cobain wrote some of what’s in his journals while he was working as a janitor. Although I don’t write in a journal, I do have a little notebook on my cart where I write out lists and jot down thoughts about music, mostly. I also often utilize the time to think about stuff I might write about here, on this blog.
If you’re interested in what else I’ve written for these series so far, here they are:
Janitors in pop culture #1 – Good Will Hunting
Drag King Stories #1 – Starting Out / Overview
Drag King Stories #2 – Portraying Bob Dylan
Vision of drag janitor…priceless! Thanks!
LikeLiked by 1 person
It sounds like you’ve gone really deep with Kurt, so you probably already know this, but did you know that the phrase “smells like teen spirit” was first coined by the inimitable Kathleen Hanna (a college friend of Kurt’s)? It’s a small world…at least for the awesome.
Yeah! She spray painted “Kurt smells like teen spirit.” Have you seen The Punk Singer, documentary about her?!!
Seriously, I wouldn’t have much interest in Kurt Cobain at all if it hadn’t been for his connections to musicians like Kathleen Hanna and Calvin Johnson, and his unrelenting attempts to bring obscure bands into the spotlight with him!
Yes, The Punk Singer is so great! It played in an indie theater here so Alma and I got to see it on the big screen. A lifetime cinematic highlight.
I don’t know if this is a documented part of the story (or if it’s so known that it does not bear mentioning), but ‘Teen Spirit’ was the name of a fragrance in a popular line of deodorants found in any pharmacy or grocery store at the time. Anyone who was not seduced by brands and labels would naturally ask, “What does Teen Spirit even smell like, anyway?”. It sort of represented the very essence of vapid marketing to (and buy-in from) the young-person demographic that so fed the sense of irony and hopelessness identified with the 90’s slacker stereotype. Of course, that only resulted in further opportunistic (and successful) marketing of grunge attire and so on once Nirvana hit it big.
The product went into obscurity, perhaps as a result of its own ridiculousness that the song magnified, but the phrase and song remain, outliving a very specific point of reference and morphing into something more seemingly timeless. Funny!
Thanks for pointing that out! I looked up Teen Spirit, just for fun, and there are actually 2 scents still on the market! Pink Crush and Sweet Strawberry. I think my mom used to buy California Breeze for me. Haha.