The Less Than 6 Degrees of "Weird Al" Yankovic
I decided to delve back into the world of my childhood hero and co-author “Weird Al” Yankovic for my The Weird Accordion to Al column partially because I was despairing about our country and our future and the goon in the White House and I wanted to retreat back into a warm cocoon of childhood and adolescent nostalgia.
I figured that this project would force me to listen to “Weird Al” Yankovic all the time and think about “Weird Al” Yankovic all the time and be writing about “Weird Al” Yankovic all the time and that that kind of a time and energy and labor commitment, on top of everything else, both for this site and outside of it, would keep me from despairing about our nation’s future. I’d be just too goddamn busy writing about what I love to have the time and energy necessary to freak out about our culture’s steady descent into Fascism.
The Weird Accordion to Al allows me to revisit a part of my past I’m very proud of, and have enormous fondness towards, but it also allows me to revisit the past, period. Al casts such a long shadow culturally that there’s very little that cannot very directly be traced back to him. He’s not just an unusually savvy and consistent chronicler of pop culture and preeminent pop music satirist: he pretty much is pop culture.
I consequently am continually being reminded of Al’s outsized, sprawling legacy in my everyday life and daily rambles. I can’t say how many times I’ve been writing a Weird Accordion to Al entry and the song that it’s spoofing will come on in the restaurant where I’m working, which is usually Mellow Mushroom in Decatur. It’s uncanny and bizarre. I mean, I’ll be sitting there working and a Michael Jackson or Madonna song Al has parodied will come on. What are the odds?
Alternately, I’ll have a “Weird Al” Yankovic song that I’m either writing about or about to write about, and then life will suddenly begin to look an awful lot like it. I’ve gotten to 1992’s Off the Deep End at this point, a whole seven albums in, and one of the album’s more annoyingly catchy and just plain annoying songs is the Gerardo parody “Taco Grande” which belongs to the tiny, not terribly auspicious subset of Al songs (“Lasagna” is another one) that consists of him rattling off a long list of ethnic food items.
The wife and I seemed to be going out for Mexican an awful lot during this time and that earwig kept coursing through my brain. On a slightly more substantive note, I recently wrote up “Smells Like Nirvana.” Between that and writing up Pulp Fiction for my Simpsons Decade column at Rotten Tomatoes, I was feeling all kinds of late-teen nostalgia last week.
In one of my periodic moments of ostentatious self-regard, I couldn’t help but think how weird and surreal and awesome it was that my childhood hero “Weird Al” Yankovic parodied my angsty teen hero Kurt Cobain on this zeitgeist capturing masterpiece of silliness, that they shared a co-writing credit, and that two decades I too would share a co-writing credit with Al on the coffee table book we did together.
Forget Kevin Bacon: Al is infinitely more connected to the sum of pop culture, in terms of both music and television and film. He’s done just about everything and he’s still at the height of his creative powers and cultural relevance.
I’m lucky and grateful that my shambling, half-assed career and his remarkable artistic legacy are interlinked, that he chose me to tell his story for the coffee table book, and then I chose myself to tell the stories of his songs because I wasn’t quite done exploring his world and his fantastical creations.
I hear a lot of the songs Al has parodied at Mellow Mushroom, and as you might imagine from its name, I actually hear a fair amount of Phish there as well. That always brings me back as well, and inspires a similar flood of warm memories and good feelings. I knew a fair amount of Phish fans before I wrote You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me and I know even more after writing it.
I do not, however, hear Insane Clown Posse at Mellow Mushroom or any other restaurant, ever. Nope, I only hear Insane Clown Posse music when I travel to strange, often obscure towns in the United States and Canada to kick it with my Juggalo brethren for various Gatherings and Hallowickeds and Canadian Juggalo Days and haunted house shows and Marches on Washington.
In a way, that’s kind of perfect. While I would lose my shit if I was at a Subway and “What is a Juggalo?” or “Down with the Clown” came on but I also appreciate that while Al is for everyone (geeks most of all, but ultimately everyone) and Phish is for a surprisingly diverse, large assortment of people, many of whom hold positions of power and authority in our culture, and are respected for their opinions unrelated to music, Insane Clown Posse’s music is really just for Juggalos, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
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