Is ‘Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life’ Laugh Out Loud Funny?

Rachael Sanders

Walter Etc is “sort of a band, sort of just a dude” from Ventura, CA who runs alongside DIY pioneer Jeff Rosenstock and emo icon Ian Farmer (thanks for Slaughter Beach, Dog. Absolutely amazing.) His most recent achievement is earning a sweet new surfboard from his oh-so-casual gig on Zac Efron’s new series Down to Earth. He’s had a couple run-ins with labels, but prefers to work under his own label Making New Enemies. Known for his home-y down to Earth sound, and post-emo lyrics, Walter Etc is worth a h*ckin’ listen for indie/emo revivalists (looking at you, TikTok.)

In his most recent adventure, our fictional protagonist, Walter, goes through his first big heartbreak. A successful rocker (with regular tours and international success), and (seemingly) self-induced lonely man, Walter experiences the inevitable breakup with long time girlfriend (7 years) and office employee, Kait. Walter’s semi-long distance relationship has been going cold since their 2014 album Well Soon.

[blockquote text=”“But now our summer’s bending two different ways//
The conversations are sweet, real nice but nothing too deep, not like before/
Still say I love you, but now the words are forced from our mouths, kind of a bore/
Like we’re not fun anymore”

Holy Cannoli, Well Soon” show_quote_icon=”yes” quote_icon_color=”#ff2828″ text_color=”#8c8c8c”]

Walter’s rotting relationship puts him in a funk throughout the first half of 2020 album Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life. He seems to be doing everything right yet cannot face that he and his girlfriend are leading different lives. Walter and his girl exemplify all the tropes of a long and happy relationship: they bought a pet together, want to move to the suburbs, and find stable jobs to eventually settle down into marriage. Yet, in his song Fish Wont’ Eat  Walter acknowledges that, like his pet fish who is depressed despite living in splendor with warm water, snail friends, and live plants…he too feels an emptiness despite his happy relationship and comfortable lifestyle in “Ventucky” suburbs.

[blockquote text=”“Please pray for me, my fish won’t eat/
she lays on the bottom and just stares at me/
I’m less afraid that she will die/
than be a representation of my life.“

Fish Won’t Eat, Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life” show_quote_icon=”yes” quote_icon_color=”#ff2828″ text_color=”#8c8c8c”]

Ok. From a lyrical perspective, Walter is so dang vunerable that it’s difficult to catch why this album is a dark comedy. What Walter is saying is truly how he feels. He’s mega in love with the idea of living happily ever after in the burbs with his girlfriend. And then it hit me…Walter is a rockstar! Imagine it: what if Ozzy Osbourne dreamt of moving to the suburbs with a less spicy Sharon? Hilarious. Now that’s a dark comedy. These lyrics are the fantastic daydreams of a rockstar who, in the middle of a stressful tour, would give it all up for a simple life with his radically different and hella stable girlfriend.

I straight up feel bad for the guy. He hasn’t read the memo that he and his girlfriend have drifted into two different lifestyles. Walter chooses to tell himself and his partner white lies so the relationship can go on. Who cares if they’re not right for you when they keep you company? At a certain point, feeling lonely with a warm body at night can be more comforting than the thought of being “truly lonely” AKA  single. We’re simping, just like Walter, over companionship. But guess what? 

After the big breakup in Bought You a Blanket in Mexico, Walter was the farthest thing from lonely! That’s the first time we’ve seen him talk to something or someone that’s not a cat or a fish or a car…he’s talking to his neighbors, he’s surfing with his buddies, he has so much company that he even says “no more visitors.” Stop being lonely in a relationship when you can dive head first into feeling loved and welcomed by your community. This breakup album is about growing up, lifestyle, and the heartbreaking division of the American working class (ok maybe that last one was too much).

My first encounter with Walter etc was when I was a wee babe in college. It was the night of the annual bonfire, and quite honestly I wasn’t done drinking. The fires from Bonnie Rae st were hot and boring, so instead of stirring I went home to find something else to do. All my buds were still at the unbearably hot fire, so I turned to Facebook events. I was a young photographer for local house shows, and Facebook events was a treasure map for new adventures. Upon perusing Facebook events for house shows and garage concerts, I stumbled across Macaroni Island’s ad, and followed the map like a young Jim Hawkins.

I walk in  find a California boy wearing a backward 5-panel surfer hat, still sandy from the beach I’m sure, handing out (formerly known as) Walter Mitty and His Makeshift Orchestra merch. Before the show I had time to check out the venue. The hippie house turned stage was homely to say the least. Dim string lights created an ambiance of intimacy that was only heightened by the tininess of the room (for real, hardly 30 people were in there and it was packed.) With the smell of warm beer in the air, Walter and the boys were the first band I had ever seen perform with kazoos. Fun, right? They stayed long after the show chatting with locals, asking what their favorite restaurants were, and talking about their hometown in California. For real, nicest guys.

Fortunately the beer I drank had turned my cheeks rosy, and did not sour my perspective on the band. It can be confirmed after messaging music journalist Rob Mair that Walter Etc are indeed the nicest guys…he sat down with Dustin Hayes to discuss the influence and offer insight to Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life. Rob Mair, however, argues that the crux of Walter Etc’s new album is knowing the music is steeped in real experience.

[blockquote text=”“The crux of personal, confessional relationship albums. From Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours through to Cursive’s Domestica…`{`is that`}` there’s someone else’s story wrapped up in the narrative“

Rob Mair, Walter Etc- Broken Hearts Next Twelve Exits” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#999999″ quote_icon_color=”#f92727″]

Though Walter is almost slapstick and hilarious, Rob Mair provides insight on the album’s inspiration. Dustin Hayes really went through it to write this album. It was based off his true 7 year relationship, and their breakup in 2017. Dustin Hayes was especially vulnerable throughout this process, and admitted to Mair that for a long time he couldn’t listen to the album without feeling upset.

To say the least, this dark comedy isn’t the kind of comedy that makes you laugh out loud. I feel for Hayes and this heart break, yet I want to separate him from my analysis of Walter. Walter has taken on a life of his own, and with each album dives deeper into the seas of creation. He sets nautical adventure on the seas of Well Soon. He wades through the doldrums of Gloom Cruise, and on his most recent adventure, washes up on the shores of Dark Comedy Performance Piece of My Life. I’m truly unsure what it means that these works consistently turn to nautical metaphor, but I can only hope that Pirate Walter finds the treasure he seeks. To quote Lighthouse, “Should pale death, with treble dread, make the ocean caves our bed, God who hears the surges roll deign to save our suppliant soul.”