Phoenix interim City Manager Joe Wrabek plays his guitar Wednesday in his office - Jamie Lusch

City exec writes 'Naked Space Hamsters in Love'

PHOENIX — By day, interim City Manager Joe Wrabek manages a cash-strapped city, serves as its lone planning official and is in the midst of helping navigate some tricky decisions regarding public safety.

By night and on long weekends — be it long road trips or guitar jam sessions with friends — Wrabek unleashes some unusual songs about lost luggage, road kill and hamsters from outer space making love to country music.

Known for his unorthodox sense of humor, Wrabek is all business during his day job. His songs, he claims with his trademark humor, are an outlet for him and anyone who will listen.

An unsigned artist — he'd probably sign with a label if asked — Wrabek touts some 42 songs from his personal site,, for fans of farm animals.

A banner on his site declares "WANTED: For Playing Bad Country Music in Six States."

There are songs like "Eatin' Cornflakes from a Hubcap Blues," "When I Jump off a Cliff," "I'll Think of You," "Duct Tape" and "Naked Space Hamsters in Love."

"Milepost 43" is dedicated to a colleague who, Wrabek bellows, left "a dozen pair of underwear at Milepost 43."

In "The Frog Next Door," Wrabek sings about a "girl frog waiting on the wrong side of the fence line blues" and "Santa's Fallen and He Can't Get Up" reveals that Santa has gotten too old to drive, much less "lug them heavy sacks of toys around."

More recent are "I'm Giving Mom a Dead Dog for Christmas" and "Armadillo on the Interstate," both featured on Wrabek's latest "Christmas at the Roadkill Café" album.

Councilman Bruce Sophie said Wrabek's side gig is entertaining, to say the least, and quite the contrast to his day job.

"I chuckled the first time I heard it," Sophie admitted,. However, he said he wasn't necessarily expecting such unusual songs from the city's lead employee.

"I wouldn't expect that music from most people," Sophie said with a laugh. "It's very unusual and different ... but very humorous and enjoyable."

More a passionate hobby than a career choice, Wrabek, 58, said he began playing guitar and singing about 25 years ago. "I learned how to play guitar to impress my girlfriend. Still have the guitar — no longer have the girlfriend."

While he played for a stint with the Dodson Drifters, a popular bluegrass band, Wrabek spent the bulk of his years raising a family, building houses and, his starting point in city government, serving as mayor in a small Oregon town.

His unorthodox tunes are meant to make people laugh and look at life a bit more closely.

"It's a good outlet. I tell people I write music to keep from going crazy in my day job," Wrabek said. "Unfortunately, they keep telling me it's not working."

His affection for road kill and troubled animals came from realizing "it was something no one else was doing."

"It's interesting to be able to express human relationships in terms of road kill. I think you've got to keep your eyes and ears open and look at life a little bit sideways," he says, noting that, thus far, he's gotten more chuckles than criticism. "At this point I'm just pushing the envelope and seeing how far it will stretch, and I haven't reached the limit just yet."

Though he recently traveled to Nashville to create some demo albums with a set of studio musicians, Wrabek says he has no plans for quitting his day job anytime soon.

For now, he'll continue playing with local groups when he can, and amusing his friends and family with his wayward prose.

Central Point City Administrator Phil Messina, who plays guitar with Wrabek on occasion, said Wrabek's approach may not be traditional but it's original nonetheless.

"The lyrics to Joe's songs are not for the faint of heart," Messina quips. "Only Joe can take on pithy subject matter like duct tape, dead dogs and armadillos in love."

As to writing about the dynamics of his day job, Wrabek says he's not been inspired by planning codes or city finances so far.

"There are not many good city manager songs that have been written," Wrabek admits. "But if I ever could figure out how to tie it to dead animals, I probably would write one."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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