Adolescence is an uncomfortable time for everyone, but for those of us obliged to enter the work force at that tender, awkward age, it can involve a multitude of cringe-inducing tasks, from donning embarrassing uniforms to cleaning up animal excrement. Still, for many aspiring artists, it's this sort of thankless and poorly paid gig that first supports your music. Here, eight artists tell us about their first jobs.
When I was 16, in Belmont, Texas, I worked at Dairy Queen as a fry cook. The only things I made were french fries, chicken strips, steak fingers, toast. They wouldn't even let me even make a burger—that was for a more experienced cook. And they wouldn't let me do the soft serve, cause that was for girls, and guys worked in the kitchen. Most of the people who worked there were very miserable and much older than me. In hindsight, they were probably in their mid-20s, but to me they seemed very old, and just very racist, very fat. They yelled at me constantly, and they got mad at me all the time for being slow and unenthusiastic. I was just paying for my expenses and my car, but I guess it was their livelihood, so they took it pretty seriously. I think eventually, as with many of the jobs I've had in my life, I just stopped showing up one day.
My grandfather and my father ran a business as housepainters, so when I was 11 or 12, during the summer I'd help them out, doing tasks like sanding wood. It was a lot of sweltering heat and climbing up on ladders that I probably shouldn't have been climbing. I got a nice tan, though I remember one time helping them at a cold storage facility and, even though it was the middle of summer, having to be bundled up in all these clothes just to stay warm, wearing winter gloves to paint the same cautionary yellow safety bumpers over and over again. Now, whenever there's repair work to do in the apartment, my roommates have me do it. It's nice to know handyman things.
My first job ever was as a camp counselor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I probably got paid $80 for the whole summer. I was with kids that were five, and I was 12. It was at a big house in the city. We went to the playground, and we went swimming. We did arts and crafts. I learned a lot of naughty words that I'd rather not say. Jerry Garcia died that summer, and it was a really big deal for people that worked there. I think I knew that I wasn't a Dead Head, though.
My first job was at Subway, outside of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, in Los Angeles. I fucking learned how to cut the bread and shit and make sandwiches for people. For like, two days. It was a terrible place. I was like, I'm not working at Subway, and I quit. I was 16. I only did it because my mom wanted me to get a little job, so that was to make her happy. After two days, she was unhappy again. She was like, I thought you were doing this because you were trying to... I'm like, Mom, I promise you. Watch what I do. Now she's happy because the music shit's working out.
When I was in the 11th grade, I worked at Six Flags Over Georgia in the food department. They had me on the grill, cooking, washing off tables. You have to start somewhere. We had these neon green shirts—like a highlighter. They said they got them so bright so they could always identify where we were. And we had Six Flags khakis—they had to give them to you, and they sewed them shut so you can't have any pockets. All your pants are sewed, so you can't walk in with no phone, no jewelry. You can't even have no mustache! You can't even work there with facial hair, like you're really in jail. The people over where we had to catch the train going home were robbing the people who worked at Six Flags for their checks, cause they knew we were getting paid every Friday, and knew who you were from those loud green shirts. So I stopped going.
"I think eventually, as with many of the jobs I've had in my life, I just stopped showing up one day." — Austin Brown, Parquet Courts
I started working when I was 15. I made sandwiches for people and boiled and baked bagels all day. It started at 6AM, and my dad had to drop me off and pick me up. After one year, I became a shift supervisor, and that was a big deal. You closed out the till, you kept track of the count and if there was a customer problem, you dealt with that. That's when I learned what lox was, because someone ordered it and I didn't know what they were talking about. But I worked there for two years, so I guess it was okay. I think I only had a counting-the-drawer problem once, and I ended up staying there till midnight on a school night. I guess it's funny, now that I'm allergic to wheat.
My first job in high school was at PetSmart, that chain pet store. I grew up on the outskirts of Sacramento, so it was kind of a strip mall area. I was basically responsible for all the small animals. I would come in every day and feed all the hamsters and mice and rats, and there was a ton of baby birds. They were all in this small room, and it was so loud in there I would have to wear earplugs to feed them. At the end of the night I would have to clean all of the dead fish out of the fish tanks. Sometimes the hamsters were pretty gnarly. There was a ton of them in this little glass cage thing, and I'd be cleaning out their cage and find one hamster that all the other hamsters had killed and eaten the brains out of or something. There was one hamster that got really old, and no one ever adopted it, so I sort of adopted it as my pet at the store. We had to wear these collared shirts with the pocket and I would put the hamster in my pocket and walk around working like that. It was kind of fun, like working on a little miniature farm or something.
The first place that I worked was a summer camp in Chicago. I was like, not a teacher, but a group leader. I was watching over kids who were maybe 7 to 12. I was 14 or 15. Most of the time, we were just outside, running around. We'd go to the park, water parks, summer stuff. It wasn't fun at all. The kids were a headache. In summer, they wanna run around and talk all day. I was so irritated. Is it bad that I probably didn't learn much? I learned that kids just like having their free time. They have way, way too much energy. You have to entertain them. That's not my field—entertaining the babies with conversation. I can't do it. Sometimes I might wanna slip a profanity or stuff like that. It's difficult talking to a kid. Their imaginations are big.