Day Forty-Seven: "Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White" from Even Worse
Al casts such a long shadow over the past forty years of American entertainment that just about anything in pop culture can be connected to him, Kevin Bacon-style. For example, I was recently on Engage, the official Star Trek podcast to promote this website and this column and to discuss the musical careers of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Al is obviously a huge Star Wars fan, or someone doing an astonishingly convincing impression of one, but he’s not as powerfully connected in the public mind with Gene Roddenberry’s television gift to nerds everywhere.
Of course I remembered that on “Ebay” Al took full advantage of the fact that “William Shatner’s old toupee” rhymes with the song’s title and subject. But I’d forgotten that “bowling on the Starship Enterprise” is one of a series of strange, surreal and pop-culture-satiated misadventures the singer of “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White” experiences in dream land.
Sonically, “Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White” is driven by some of the most audacious fretwork and fancy shredding in all of Al’s discography. The guitar work is flashy, hard-driving and aggressive, as is Al’s delivery as he addresses his psychiatrist/the listener in a desperate attempt to make sense of the free-floating insanity of an intense and troubling dream life that always seems to end with the singer in the titular predicament.
Like Ed McMahon,Vanna White became very rich and very famous for doing not much of anything at all. Unlike Ed McMahon, she was absurdly overcompensated largely because she looked so ravishing doing nothing . She elevated the art of smiling, walking, and turning letters into pop-art but she also loomed as a preeminent sex symbol of the 1980s. It seems safe to assume that many people would love to be stuck in a closet with the Wheel of Fortune staple in 1988. Despite Freudian sexual imagery involving “hot dogs and donuts flying everywhere”, however, Al is interested in White as a walking punchline and random pop-culture reference rather than as an object of widespread lust.
White was the subject of countless sexual dreams in her prime, and to be fair, she does not seem to have aged in the past three decades (she’s like Al in that respect) but the role she plays in this song more closely resembles a nightmare. That closet that Al and Vanna find themselves in is a coffin or prison rather than a place to make out.
“Stuck In A Closet With Vanna White” runs an epic five minutes because it has a lot of crazy business to get through, a lot of loopy scenarios and vivid imagery tied together with dream logic, silliness and of course television, that great common denominator in Al’s music.
The song plays like an MC Escher painting by way of Mad Magazine. Alternately, it’s Yankovic-goes-Lewis-Carroll, Al in Wonderland, as it were. Like a Mad cartoonist doodling in the margins, Al fills the song with a crazy cast of characters that includes a dinosaur, Russian spies and the chest-buster monster from Alien.
Al’s dream world is predictably television-saturated. Wheel Of Fortune and Star Trek have clearly taken up valuable real estate in the singer’s subconscious, which brings us back to the Star Trek podcast I recently recorded.
After taping the podcast, I looked at some of the listener reviews and came across this angry blurt of nerd rage:
“(Engage) is a rose colored stained glass window into the world of ST. Sounded like a poor PR department attempt to brainwash listeners to watch all things Star Trek. The mid-sentence break for an ad was an insulting reminder of what the purpose of this podcast truly is---Money. (Host) Jordan (Hoffman) is easy on the ears and has some good insights, but comes across as a bit of a pitch man. Darren's laughter sounded misplaced and 'purchased', and his voice turned me off immediately.
They claimed DS9 to be the inventor of long sci-fi story arcs, but Babylon 5 was the trendsetter for DS9 to copy...which it did well in later seasons.
An official podcast should, like the new series, GIVE fans what they want, NOT TELL them what they want. And those ST fandom podcasts are already out there.
Even with guest stars, I will not give this another chance. Give me TrekFM and This Week In Trek.”
Christ, I’m surprised it did not close with “Worst. Podcast. Ever” but that would require a level of self-awareness this fellow clearly does not possess.
Then I looked at the podcast’s guests. The very first guest? That would be Alfred Yankovic.
Everything, but everything comes back to Al. As if to really drive that point home, shortly after taping the podcast, I learned, to my shock and delight, that my name had appeared on a popular game show. The cultural institution in question? Why, that would be Jeopardy of course. If I remember correctly, Al maybe did a song about that show as well.
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