Day Eighty-Five: "Frank's 2000 Inch TV" from Alapalooza
When people in the past have asked me what my favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic song is, I have generally answered “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV.” It’s one of those songs I never get sick of, a beautifully written and performed tribute both to R.E.M at its God-like best and the majesty and horror of television, technology, and television and technology working in tandem.
“Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” certainly opens poetically, with an opening couplet you might find on a college rock song of the era not of the comic or satirical variety, with Al singing, “Rising above the city, blocking out the noonday sun/It dwarfs/The mighty redwoods and it towers over everyone.”
What is this beast, this monolith, this apex of man’s ingenuity and insatiable hunger for bigger, better, higher, more? Why it’s the titular wonder of the modern world, an obscenely oversized television set, which inspires in our narrator an intense feeling of envy and reverence.
It’s a source of endless fascination for our singer. He seems to regard the comically oversized boob tube the same way that islanders regard King Kong in the 1933 film, as something so amazing and beyond their imagination that it borders on magic. Heck, he damn near gets down on his knees and worships this false idol. This television is nothing short of a source of civic pride. The overwhelmed singer boasts, “And I'm mighty proud to say/Now I can watch The Simpsons from thirty blocks away.”
Al would of course go on to appear on The Simpsons more than once, and it’s worth noting that when someone in 1993 talked about The Simpsons they were talking about maybe the greatest television show of all time at its apex. It’s different than talking about The Simpsons now, as I have been led to leave that some of the last 22 years or so of The Simpsons didn’t quite measure up to the seasons before them.
Similarly, when Robert De Niro and his mole is referenced he was still a heavyweight thespian with fairly recent credits like Goodfellas and Cape Fear, not the prolific schlockmeister he is today. Al generally sings about the worst in pop culture, as he will do on our next track, “Achy Breaky Song”, but here he sings about some of the best that 1993 had to offer. Yet despite the timely references, “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” is timeless, a jangly Byrdsian folk-rock gem that is strong enough that I’d like to think that in a perfect world it would escape the comedy song ghetto and get played on alternative stations alongside R.E.M and U2.
If “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” is not the loveliest song Al and his collaborators have ever released, it’s certainly in the top five. I never thought the phrase “Robert De Niro’s mole” could sound so heavenly. It’s not as laugh out loud funny as some of Al’s other best work, but that doesn’t matter because there’s so much more going on. “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” is unusually subtle musically and lyrically, but it’s also unusually sophisticated.
It’s a wry and bittersweet critique and celebration of a distinctly American form of conspicuous consumption and consumerism, perhaps Al’s ultimate statement on the allure and ridiculousness of television’s American dream.
Al has written endlessly about pop culture, but he’s seldom made it seem more simultaneously absurd and irresistible than he does here. One of the reasons I respond on such a deeply emotional level to the song is because when I was a child I didn’t just see television and cable package size as an important indicator of wealth and class status: I saw it as the primary indicator of wealth and class status.
I imagined that if I ever made my fortune, I’d follow in Frank’s footsteps and get something similarly epic and historic, if a little smaller, as I live in a modest two bedroom apartment. So for the young me the idea of a “drive in movie in your own living room” wasn’t just appealing: it was pretty much the definition of ultimate, Justin Bieber-level success.
“Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” captures the sound and feel of early to mid-period R.E.M as well as “Young, Dumb & Ugly” did AC/DC. It’s a pretty incredible feat that the same men could, in the space of a few songs sandwiched in between much more commercial songs about dinosaurs and cavemen, perfectly recreate the sound of iconic acts as dissimilar as R.E.M and AC/DC.
This is on of those cases where Al and the gang get everything right, where they created a song that I would rank alongside the best of its inspiration. The soaring, tight harmonies, the chiming guitar, the clean, expansive tunefulness and underlying scope: “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” is just about perfect. Of course my favorite “Weird Al” Yankovic would be about television, and consumerism, and the All-American mania for excess and impossibly oversized symbols of success.
Between the buzz over the twentieth-fifth anniversary of R.E.M.’s 18-million selling Automatic for the People and Al’s upcoming, originals-intensive 2018 tour, this is the perfect time for “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV”, one of Al’s true masterpieces and a song I hope get played regularly when Al and his collaborators head out on the road for a tour like none other.
Usually giant video screens play a pretty huge, central role in Al’s live performances. This time around he’s leaving them behind but hopefully Frank and his 2000 inch TV will make their presence felt in the set lists for the upcoming big/small tour at least.
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