Day Sixty-Nine: "Spam" from UHF: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff
There are many sides to American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic. There’s the punk provocateur who makes a special point of spitting giant loogies at blue-haired old ladies in the front rows of all of his shows. That was the Al that formed gutter-rock super-duo “Weird GG Allin” Yankovic in the late 1980s with G.G. Allin, only to break up after a show at the Knot’s Berry Farm took a turn.
There’s the “Weird Al” Yankovic who briefly assumed the mantle of Batman in the mid 1980s, but Al doesn’t like to talk about that. He doesn’t even like to show people the Bat-Cave. Then there’s “Country Al” Yankovic who shows up at his shows blackout drunk on moonshine and performs an hour-long solo version of “Dueling Banjos” clad only a filthy, never-watched paired of overalls. On UHF and in some of Al’s weakier, hackier songs we’re introduced to a side of the American icon that I like to call “Open Mic Al” Yankovic.
“Open Mic Al” Yankovic is all over “Isle Thing”, for example. That song is so “Open Mic Al” Yankovic it might as well be credited to “Open Mic Al” Yankovic, Chris Gaines-style. It was “Open Mic Al” who wrote lyrics essentially asking what the deal was with Gilligan’s Island.
I mean, if the Professor is so damn smart, why can’t he just build a gosh-forsaken raft? Am I right, ladies? This guy knows what I’m talking about. And this guy definitely knows what I’m talking about. And what is the deal with all the clothes they brought along? What kind of a three hour tour requires seventeen different outfits? Who were the ad wizards who came up with that?
“Open Mic Al” Yankovic returns with a misguided vengeance on “Spam.” Now, everyone had their own definition of “hack” in the 1980s, although almost all include doing jokes about Gilligan’s Island and Spam.
Now, I am Jewish, so I have never consumed Spam. I would say that I’m also not a person who willfully ingests mass volumes of garbage, but that’s not true. I live to willfully ingest mass volumes of garbage but even I know Spam solely as a stomach-churning staple of kitsch Americana and not as something anyone actually consumes.
Spam was never for eating. It continues to not be for eating. No, Spam was, and is, for making jokes about, and as we have discovered here, Al isn’t averse to making jokes about the things everybody else is making jokes about, on this album in particular.
It seems silly to call out a twenty-eight year old comedy song about Spam for not sticking to a cohesive point of view, but I was struck by some of the parody’s lyrical inconsistencies. On one level, the singer of “Spam” is one of Al’s kooky obsessives, a weirdo whose sad, small life is changed and transformed by something ridiculous, in this case Spam. The singer posits that Spam is “the best” and, among its myriad other virtues, makes a “darn good sandwich"
Yet that doesn’t keep him from cracking wise at Spam’s expense. The singer wonders aloud if the beef-like substance in Spam is “mystery meat” and proposes using it for home-improvement as well as cuisine, since its consistency makes it perfect for using as spackle and bathroom grout.
“Spam” captures the toxic nature of its subject matter so vividly and viscerally that I’m honestly starting to get a little queasy just listening to it. When Al sings about “ham and pork” he makes me never want to consume either, ever again. Maybe that’s not accidental. Al is, after all, very famously a vegetarian so maybe the secret purpose of “Spam” all along has been to make consuming meat seem so nauseating that it makes vegetarianism start to look appealing.
If that is the case, then Al is doing God’s work. If you’re looking for a fusion of Al and R.E.M that lives up to both artists, then I cannot recommend the upcoming pastiche, “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” highly enough. It’s one of my all-time favorite Al songs. It’s lovely, but it’s also satirical, scathing and clever in a way “Spam” simply is not.
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