Day Thirteen: "Such A Groovy Guy" from "Weird Al" Yankovic
In the music of “Weird Al” Yankovic, genuine love is generally reserved for consumer products and/or random pop cultural ephemera like the way Ed McMahon announces his better half’s first name. Romantic relationships can’t possibly hope to match the authenticity and intensity of his character’s more sincere passion for televisions so large they block out the sun, the fantastical contraptions of Ron Popeil or aluminum foil.
When Al sings about romantic relationships, it’s invariably from the perspective of someone who is hopelessly deluded and misguided at best and a danger to themselves and society at worst. “Such A Groovy Guy” is perhaps the first of Al’s anti-love songs, although considering the nature of the song and the nature of the character singing it, it’s safe to assume that the love in question is entirely self-directed. It’s a song of deep, true self-love at its most unearned and perverse.
The singer is one of Al’s lousy Lothorios, one of his caddish Casanovas, one of his rancid Romeos. He’s a man who loves himself enough to more than compensate for what appears to be the world’s richly merited contempt for him, particularly from the opposite sex. But before we learn exactly what makes this particular gent such an alarming fellow, he’s considerate enough to tell us a little something about himself.
Like Corey Hart, this man wears his sunglasses at night, a choice as bold as it is impractical. He wears alligator boots with his jeans skin-tight, although from the self-satisfied tone of his voice, it seems obvious that he’s dressing for himself and not to impress any lesser soul. The song’s sleaziness is musical as well as lyrical. Al delivers this narcissist’s myopic self-love in a hiccuping rockabilly sneer that’s part Sid Vicious, part feral Elvis Presley.
Everything about this creep’s self-absorption is larger than life. When he sees himself in the mirror he’s not just impressed; he’s moved to kneel down and pray. The singer claims his conception of himself as God’s gift to humanity is shared by others. “They tell me I’m the greatest and it’s hard to disagree” he insists, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
We have ample reason to be suspicious of this disreputable character even before he follows, “Baby are you in the mood for a little romance?” with an offer to pour chocolate pudding down her pants before attaching electrodes to her cerebral cortex so he can watch her dance. The character mistakes sadism and a predilection for bondage and sadomasochism for romance when he proposes, “Oh and then I might decide to tie you up with dental floss/I'll make you wear a harness and I'll show you who's the boss.”
The sex play gets fairly involved for a song on a “Weird Al” Yankovic album but then, as I've written about, Al was a little rawer in this incarnation than he was after he’d become the clown prince of MTV. Al is above all a traditionalist. He has a vaudevillian’s unshakeable beliefs that there are certain words, things and conceits that are inherently funny. Bologna. Seltzer. Spatulas. And dental floss. Dental floss is just plain funny, whether employed in the service of bondage or not. Al is a curator of funny, the more random the better. On “Weird Al” Yankovic he understood that the key to creating ephemeral tomfoolery that will stand the test of time lies in the details, musical, lyrical and otherwise.
By the end of “Such A Groovy Guy”, the groovy guy in question has received his comeuppance. His offer of dental-floss-themed sex play, pudding-pouring and electrode-based torture is rejected when he is unceremoniously dumped. Yet even this unmistakable rejection cannot permeate his impregnable wall of self-delusion, nor can it affect the singer’s bottomless self-love and non-existent self-awareness.
Romance obviously doesn’t figure anywhere near as prominently as food and television does in Al’s oeuvre and sex is even less of a factor. But they aren’t entirely absent, as Al’s subsequent albums would occasionally be littered with songs from men whose conception of love looks from the outside like a cross between mental illness, obsession and sadism.
There are no groovy guys amongst the would-be womanizers in Al’s music, just a bunch of creeps with some very strange ideas about the world in general and romance in particular. In its own modest, ramshackle way, “Such A Groovy Guy” provided a rough template for songs that depict romance as something close to a pathology.
As outrageous as “Such A Groovy Guy” is, there are elements of it inspired by real life. When I asked Al about the song when I interviewed him for The A.V. Club, he clarified that it was “written for a woman that I was dating at the time, and it was about her old boyfriend, who… [Laughs.] I’m a little leery to give away too many details here, because I’m not sure he knows the song’s about him. But basically he had done all sorts of kind of horrible things to her, and then when she broke up with him, he couldn’t understand it and, this is a quote, “I’m such a groovy guy! Why would you break up with me?” So that song, I wrote it for her basically, just to amuse her.”
So while Al exaggerated for comic effect the awfulness, obliviousness and surreal lack of self-awareness among Los Angeles phonies, he was also drawing from personal experience and reflecting on the free-floating insanity that is as much a part of Southern Californian life as the weather. Al was a wry outsider perpetually willing to put himself inside the cologne-soaked skin of these ridiculous human beings so he can see the world through their distorted perspective.
“Such A Groovy Guy” does not end “Weird Al” Yankovic. It actually ends on a much more perverse, old-fashioned, non-commercial way, with “Mr. Frump In The Iron Lung”, a neo-vaudevillian novelty number that makes more extensive use of an accordion's air release valve than any other song in recent memory.
“Weird Al” Yankovic accordingly has a bit of an odds and sods quality to it. It’s a solid debut cobbled together from a single recorded for another label in a different decade (“My Bologna”) four songs from an EP funded with money borrowed from Dr. Demento (the Another One Rides The Bus EP) and some artfully employed fart noises.
“Weird Al” Yankovic is rough and ramshackle compared to Al’s later releases yet it represented a massive leap forward in every conceivable way. Al hadn’t entirely escaped the novelty and one-hit wonder tag (although by the end of the album, he’d scored several modest hits) but he’d illustrated that he could make an entire album that he could be proud of, with the core of a band that performs with him today and an rock star producer who helped transform a crazy kid with an accordion into a bona fide recording artist.
In that respect, “Weird Al” Yankovic marked an ending and a beginning. In the tradition of debuts, it marked the end of 23 years of struggling and working and dreaming about making the big leap from aspiring musician to the real thing. Yet in a sense Al’s journey had only really just begun. It’s hard to overstate the importance of timing in Al’s career. His follow-up to “Weird Al” Yankovic would hit stores just a year after “Weird Al” Yankovic and open with a song that would change everything.