A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine noted on Facebook how sad it was that we all stopped talking about “Weird Al” Yankovic. I felt as if I contributed to his horrific omission by not finishing a blog about the famed parodist that I began in the wake of his massively successful new album, Mandatory Fun. By finishing it and posting it here, I hope to reignite the conversation that is always just bubbling under the pop-cultural surface. It’s the least I can do for humankind.
This will surprise no one, but I am a huge fan of Weird Al. I bought his newest CD, Mandatory Fun, on July 15, the day it came out. Yes, CD. I still buy CDs sometimes, but usually only for albums I want to experience as capital-A Albums, such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Mandatory Fun, like so many Weird Al works before it, definitely qualifies.
|A picture of CDs, a DVD and records taken by an iPhone. The first time this has ever happened.|
Owning Weird Al hardware is an enduring tradition for me, spanning vinyl, cassettes, CDs and DVDs. My collection is far sparser than it should be, but all of them have been played to near-extinction. I’ve only once given up an Al-bum, in 8th grade, and that was to trade a different one and an R.E.M. CD to be named later. I don’t regret that particular trade, but it’s not likely I’d do it again. Al for Al means loss of Al. That’s bad Algebra (get it?!!).
Weird Al is worth it. I’d go so far as to say he’s one of the most brilliant all-around artists ever.
Hear me out. If all Al had ever done was “Another One Rides the Bus” or “Eat It,” I would stop at “funny ’80s parodist.” But he’s so much more than the sum of his parts.
When I first began this blog, its title was, “All the reasons Weird Al rules.” But outlining all the ways Al is awesome is not physically possible on a medium as limited as the Internet. So here instead, are some of the reasons Weird Al is awesome.
• He is not of any time period. Few refer to Weird Al as someone who was popular in the ’80s. Instead, they refer to him as someone who has been around a long time and is perpetually making a comeback from the last comeback. He rivals (and possibly exceeds) artists like Madonna in his ability to reinvent himself and stay current. And he manages to do it without it feeling formulaic — this, I think, is helped by his ever-increasing sophistication. Had Lorde been around in the 1980s, Al would have written “Foil” just about foil, and it would have been a hit. But today, the song is partially about foil and mostly about conspiracy theorists, and it’s even better. Weird Al’s enduring talent, and ability to seamlessly mesh with today, is why he’s the only person who could appear on both Family Double Dare and @midnight and have it make perfect sense both times.
• He performs original music. Yes, it’s often a tribute to other bands and/or genres, but it’s there. And it’s good. “You Don’t Love Me Anymore” is a fine example. But don’t let that take away from the the fact that...
• Good parody is difficult to pull off, but Al makes it look easy. Ever try to write, draw, sing or act like someone else? It’s hard as hell, and even harder to do well. Now add original, lampooning lyrics. If anything, Al is so effortlessly good at it that a million no-talent hacks (and thousands of some-talent hacks like myself) think they can do it.
From age 13 on, I attempted to ape Al on numerous occasions. One was a parody of Men at Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?” titled, “Why Can’t I See Now?” Another from 8th grade was a Michael Jackson parody called “Spam Jam,” in which I attempted to mock pop artists: “I asked my neighbor for Proclaimers/He said later ... Duran Duran and Tears for Fears/Make each song seem like it’s the last/But I like it! I like it!/Spam ... Jam!”
One of my favorites was after the Enron collapse, set to the hook of the Beach Boys’ “I Get Around”: “Run into the ground/That’s Enron/Stocks droppin’ down down/That’s Enron!”
And those are the pearls of my parody catalog. They’d be Weird Al’s mental outtakes.
• Al can rap better than most rappers. “It’s All About the Pentiums” and “White and Nerdy” are stunning for their flow, never mind everything else that makes them stunning. And yes, “White and Nerdy” has evidence of audio clipping, but a lot of rappers employ that and AutoTune as well (which Al doesn’t), so it’s all good.
• He and his band are top-notch musicians. Al’s versatile band — consisting of John “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay and Jim West — has been together since 1982. I read some random comment recently that Al fronts the best cover band in the world. Hear hear. The “cover” part optional.
• He’s a shrewd businessman. For years, Al has exercised nearly complete control over his output, writing, producing and directing his own material. He keeps up with the times in an economical sense as well, with his recent declaration that he will focus on timely singles from here on out. Some have misunderstood this (along with everything else about him) to mean that he’s retiring. But if anything, it means he is attempting to gain relevance, not rest on his laurels. With his seven-videos-in-seven-days approach (which he did before Beyoncé, contrary to popular belief), Al has shown that he can give a boost to the flagging record industry. By bringing back the single, he might resurrect it further.
• He did "Albuquerque." A nearly 12-minute stream-of-consciousness rant that concludes (and prolongs) the excellent Running With Scissors, it tells the story of a guy whose hatred for sauerkraut leads him on a Pee Wee-esque journey through life. (The CD’s lyrics sheet runs out of room after the first verse, with the pledge that they’ll try a smaller font next time.) Only Al could have done it. Even he’s surprised by how repeatably listenable the song is.
• His humor is clean, but just edgy enough. I love R-rated humor as much as anyone, but I personally admire Al for managing to keep it clean. Clean humor usually suffers for being clean, but dirty humor sometimes gets bogged down in its own profane tar pit. Good, clean humor that's also edgy and fall-down funny is some of the hardest humor to compose. It's rebellious in its own right. When Al TV "asks" Kevin Federline if the "F" tattoo on his arm stands for "failure," I never fail to cry with laughter. It needs no help from other F words.
• Al’s simply an impressive person, even if you don’t care for what he does. He’s a funny, humble, likable guy who has carved out a career that has entertained millions and has stood the test of time. We should all be so lucky.