Meaty melodies 

In my last column, I mentioned Joe Wenderoth’s amazing book, Letters to Wendy’s, a compilation of various observations about life addressed to the burger folks. I’ve just been made aware of a songwriting contest sponsored by Wendy’s called “Wendy’s Sizzlin’ Sounds of Late Night.” All the rules and prizes are listed in detail at, but basically what it all boils down to is you have to create a song (music and lyrics) not exceeding two minutes in length about hamburgers. Ideally, this song will “capture your late-night hamburger cravings and general love of hamburgers.” The reasoning for this contest, other than providing cheap publicity for Wendy’s, involves hamburgers and music being “American icons.” The winning composer, determined by equal parts creativity, originality, lyrics and melody, receives a recording session with a famous producer and a shitload of music and computer gear (total grand prize value: $25,000). Entries accepted through Aug. 31, 2001.

Cookin’ out

The Fourth of July holiday falls in the middle of the week this year. At first this seems like a pain in the ass (barbecuing on Wednesday isn’t right); but I’ve decided to look at the glass half-full. Try viewing this ill-timed day as a useful test of any typical American’s socioeconomic status. You see, if you’re truly middle class (everybody thinks they are, but really aren’t) this midweek holiday presents no problem, because you have the salary, vacation time and overall flexibility to take the day — or even the whole week — off. Working-class stiffs either have to work on the Fourth or decide whether to take the day before or the day after off. Regardless of status, everybody likes to grill on Independence Day because it reminds us how our forefathers burned and smoked the redcoats in the Revolutionary War or something like that. If you need help grilling, rustle up cooking advice in How to Grill: The Complete Illustrated Book of Barbeque Techniques ($19.95) by Steven Raichlen or the premiere issue of Scott Fine’s Great Grilling Recipes magazine ($5.95). Maybe cooking beef will enhance your creative juices.

Hot cracker

To write a good song about hamburgers, you’ll need to be listening to a good songwriter while milling around the grill. Most indie-rock types already know about singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, or maybe you might recognize his contribution to the Good Will Hunting sound track. Those unfamiliar with this contemporary artist should use this holiday as a good reason to check out some fine new tunes. Because, upon close inspection of Smith’s catalog, a strong theme of the Fourth of July and all its rituals appears. Just witness these festive connections: his album and song “Roman Candle,” the song “Southern Belle” on the eponymous Elliot Smith; the songs “Baby Britain” and “Independence Day” on X/O; and “Rose Parade” on Either/Or; and, finally, numerous references to drinking and/or getting fucked up.

Projectile pleasures

It may trigger fine holiday memories, but the game of Jarts really is illegal. Remember that 1970s backyard pastime of lobbing what amounted to crude spears into rings placed at a distance? Well, those damn drunks brought on the game’s demise because apparently Jarts turned into (un)intentional weapons in the hands of the inebriated and their unsupervised children; according to, some states have actually passed anti-Jart legislation and they’re forbidden on ebay. So check your garages and attics for contraband Jarts, because there’s an illegal Jarts competition mysteriously taking place July 7 — somewhere in northern Ohio.

Perennial Pekar

All those annoying firecrackers that go off all night — for the entire month before and after the Fourth of July — drive people crazy with either glee or hate. Harvey Pekar, underground comic book author, would fall into the latter category. For 25 years, Pekar has been randomly publishing his comic book, American Splendor, which is really one long story of Harvey’s life in Cleveland working as a mail clerk, collecting jazz records, getting cancer, etc. Think Charles Bukowski meets R. Crumb (who illustrated much of Pekar’s early work). In the latest issue, Harvey explains why he, and you, shouldn’t visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. See for yourself; go to, or local comic book stores, for this special 25-Year Anniversary Issue of American Splendor ($3.99).

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