Day One Hundred: "Gump" from Bad Hair Day
Well, folks, we have reached another milestone here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place: the one hundredth entry in the Weird Accordion to Al, my exhaustive, song-by-song ramble through the music of American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic. A lot of people never thought this day would come.
The haters told me that I’d never make it. They said the intellectual strain of having to write at length about songs like “Gotta Boogie” would turn my fragile brain into mush. They warned me that the rigors of having to write about Off the Deep End would quite fittingly drive me off the deep end.
Just last month someone spray-painted “Turn away before the secrets of Alapalooza drive you insane! Some mysteries must be honored, some boundaries respected” on my front door. Nah, I’m just kidding. No one has tried to dissuade me in the least, although I have wondered at times if this was a quixotic endeavor of limited appeal even to “Weird Al” “Yankovic die-hards.
The Weird Accordion to Al took a very long time to find a very modest following but I take enormous comfort in knowing that while this project is kind of the epitome of “Not for everyone”, the people who do respond to it do so in a very big way. Al’s been kind enough to Tweet about this column on occasion and it was mentioned in a Rolling Stone piece on Al’s exciting forthcoming tour, during which he’ll be playing the originals I’ve praised to the heavens in this column, calling them everything from “funny” to “good” and not his parodies, or “goofs”, which I’ve tried to destroy with my words even though I would also use phrases such as “funny” and “good” to describe them.
Song number one hundred in our big adventure is indicative of Al’s big singles from this period. It’s a movie song directly tied to a big, zeitgeist-capturing cinematic sensation, in this case Robert Zemeckis’ controversial smash Forrest Gump, which won the hearts of the American people with its smugly satirical, kind of racist, kind of sexist exploration of the Saintliness of conformity and stupidity.
Forrest Gump divided critics and audiences. I am not a fan of the film, nor am I fan of President of the United States’ “Lump.” The song is the ultimate ear-wig: a sadistically infectious ditty that takes up space in your psyche the way a sonic leech might. It’s evocative and silly and mean in a nonsensical kind of way.
With “Lump”, Al took a song with silly lyrics that straight-up sounds goofy and used it as a sturdy vessel to comedically explore the intellectual shortcomings and life experiences of Forrest Gump, a popular film character played by Tom Hanks. Forrest Gump was bursting with incident: Gump’s life was just one thing after another, which affords Al a lot of choices in what to include and what to leave out.
Heck, the movie gives Al a lot to work with just when it comes to the character’s incongruously lowbrow interactions with one-term or less Democratic Presidents from the 1960s. It contains the lyrics, “Gump was a big celebrity/He told JFK that he really had to pee” and “He went to the white house, showed LBJ his butt”
For someone who has been making the masses laugh for nearly forty years, very little in Al’s oeuvre qualifies as remotely problematic. Al is so careful and so sensitive that it is absolutely jarring to hear him refer to toss out a line like, “His girlfriend Jenny was kind of a slut/He went to the White House, showed LBJ his butt.”
It’s out of character for Al to use a word like “slut.” He’s usually so much more careful but I am perhaps being unfair in applying a twenty-first conception of cultural sensitivity to a comedy song from 1996 from a movie that was gleefully irreverent in its own take on gender and race and class.
“Lump” is not a great song, or even a particularly good song, but dear sweet blessed Lord is it ever catchy. “Gump” is even more insanely catchy. I have had the phrases “His buddy Bubba was a shrimp-lovin' man/His friends with no legs he called Lieutenant Dan” and “Gump sat alone on a bench in the park/My name is Forrest, he’d casually remark” in my head for the last two weeks or so. That’s not necessary a good thing.
At the risk of setting the bar awfully low, “Gump” is better than the clamorous ditty that inspired it. It doesn’t just parody “Lump”: it improves upon it as well, something the Presidents themselves seem to have acknowledged when they decided to close “Lump” in concert with “And that's all I have to say about that” from “Gump” instead of its original ending.
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