Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We All Remember Our First Yankovic...

WARNING: My musical geekitude is strongly expressed in this post.

M. Z is loving the Weird Al CD we got him for his birthday. He's been asking us to bring it along on the drive to and from camp, he's listening to it in his room while he's reading, and he's trying desperately to memorize all the lyrics to "White & Nerdy." All this might sound, well, white and/or nerdy, but I'm fucking loving it. It's the first time he's ever really gotten into music (with the exception of his yearslong obsession with "Barbie Girl," that I prefer not to talk about) and, to me, it's very exciting. I was worrying that he was never going to get that into music -- at least non-novelty song, popular music. And, believe it or not, I'm not lumping Weird Al into the "novelty song" category because, basically, the dude is a fucking genius.

That's right, I said Weird Al Yankovic is a fucking genius.

Yes, he wrote "My Bologna," and "Another One Rides the Bus," and "Eat It," and "I Think I'm a Clone Now," (which are all hilarious, mind you) but the dude is pretty fucking subversive. He presents himself as this unhip, wacky dorkus, but he's basically skewering popular music with every song he puts out. This is best illustrated in the polka medleys that he includes on every CD. He takes all the hits of the year, speeds them all up, switches them all into major keys and adds Spike Jonesian whistles, bells and sound effects, basically turning the tune into a major fuck-you to Top 40 radio. All the angsty rockers end up looking like complete douches and the rappers, with all their self-important macho posturing, fare even worse. Case in point:

(He also does an amazing polka version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that almost surpasses the original in brilliance.)

So, he's got this kinda stealthy cutting satire going on in his radio-friendly covers of pop tunes. Fine. But he really shines when he displays his true musical geekitude. Now, if you know me (and I think you don't), you know that I'm a HUGE Brian Wilson devotee. Ever since I was a wee crabbykid, I would geek out to Beach Boys albums, studying the harmonies and flipping my lid over all the bizarre non-sequiturian changes and instrumentation. I have all the box sets and my nipples still freeze and snap off when I listen to the vocals-only tracks on the Pet Sounds rarities disk I have.

So, you can imagine my delight when I heard the second track on Mr. Z's CD, called "Pancreas." It is pure Brian Wilson Smile-era schizophrenatude, and it reveals an intimate knowledge, on the part of Mr. Yankovic, of all things Wilsonian. It's steeped in themes and variations from "God Only Knows," "Heroes & Villains," "Good Vibrations," "Vegetables," and "That Same Song," and, to my further delight, it's Mr. Z's favorite tune on the disk. He listens to it over and over and over. Last night, as he was listening to it before bed, he enthused, "I just want to hear it one more time -- I almost have all the lyrics memorized!"

A single tear welled up in my eye. He'd grown up just like me... My boy was just like me...

And, the song's hilarious, to boot. I can't think of anything I'd rather have the boy listening to right now. Of course, the transition to him listening to all my Beach Boys CDs is now that much easier. My master musical plan is falling into place.

Anywhich, it's now your turn to experience Weird Al's "Pancreas," his tribute to Brian Wilson. And please listen all the way to the end... you won't regret it.

A big shout out to all the members of weirdalforum.com who are visiting (saw your visits via statcounter)! It's comforting (and a tad disconcerting) knowing that you're out there monitoring all things Al. Or is it Al things all?


Shannon said...

I love "Another One Rides the Bus"! Best song to mutter under your breath while availing yourself of public transportation. Better than the original.

Jason said...

Brilliant post. I can't remember why, but I did a LOT of reading about Weird Al recently and came away very impressed.

Anybody who writes off Weird Al as a mere parody act is not paying attention. He knows (or learns) every artist he plays and can play their music as well as (and often better than) they do.

Probably the biggest reason for a lack of proper acclaim is the cheesy sense of humor. But talk about consistent -- the guy has a sensibility and just keeps doing it that way.

Who else can say they've remained relevant to (a certain breed of) kids for twenty-five years AND continued to put out new music all that time?

I've basically taken a Weird Al Yankivacation since I was in high school, but you hit upon why I should be catching up.

Russ said...

Thanks for taking me back to my childhood (and some early adulthood too)! I've backed off on Weird Al since I no longer listen to top 40, I don't know who he is parodying (either by song outright or style) and thus would miss the joke.

Perhaps I should break out the old cassettes (I was late to the cd party) of his that I have and relive the old days.

crabbydad said...

And Shannon, Al recorded that one live on Dr. Demento in 1980, at the age of 21. What did I ever do at 21? Answer: nothin'

I knew you'd be a fan, Jason. Seriously, a Grammy in '84 and another in '03? And a top 10 Billboard single with "White & Nerdy" in '07? And, of course, he's been on the Simpsons twice. (Oh, and thanks for the readymade Jack category: "Weird Al Yankivacation." Gotta be a shortie in there somewhere.)

Russ, get with the times, dude. I say it's time you bought the entire back catalog on CD:


I wouldn't listen to it all in one sitting, though. Moderation is pretty key with Al-intake.

Russ said...

I will check it out!

Carolyn (sea mystery) said...

Don't think I'm weird, but I always thought WA was a hotty! Just something about the hair and glasses. *Whew* Is it getting hot in here? xxoo

Lizzy said...

Next stop for Mr. Z: They Might Be Giants, another musically complex, quirky, Wierd Al influenced, great lyric-ed band.

"The sun is a mass of incandescent gas..."

John Schwartz said...


crabbydad said...

Lizzy, the spawnage love TMBG already. I took them to see the "No" tour back when we lived in Chicago and they've been on the "Toddler Hiway" ever since.

Thanks, John, that video's incredible! I think the only thing that's changed since then is that Al's gotten a hot oil treatment. And Tom Snyder's dead.

Jeremy said...

I am delighted that the WAY is still releasing Polkas on 45 songs. Stuck in my brain is Hooked On Polkas, with the big Frankie Goes to Hollywood finish. I mean it's stuck there. It just jumps out when I'm sitting eating dinner and stuff.


crabbydad said...

Ha, I love how everyone's outing themselves as an Al-nerd. Jeremy, the one that's perma-stuck in my brain is from the first Al-bum I got:


I can't hear "Hey Joe" on the radio without hearing that bullet ricochet in the chorus. Classic.

matt said...

The polkas have always been my favorite Al tunes. (I've got an all polka playlist in iTunes.) The only downside is I now have trouble recognizing all the songs. Not sure if that makes me old or indicates I have good taste for ignoring top 40 radio.

Ludovica said...

Couldn't agree more. Al's music is about fun and joy and not taking things too seriously... and I think most of us need that at some time or another.
The most serious thing about Weird Al is that he is a serious genius...

... and the sexiest man on Earth.

seizuresalad said...

My bandmates and I often talk about how much we (un-ironically) love Weird AL too. My fave is "I Love Rocky Road". :)

My niece, who is now 28, had a loooong Weird Al phase that earned her a lot of taunting, and one clobbering at school. She stuck by him though!