Day Seventy-Five: "I Was Only Kidding" from Off the Deep End
Off the Deep End is full of parodies of songs that I would have a hard time imagine Al particularly enjoying, let alone inspiring him to new heights of creativity. I cannot imagine, for example, Al sitting down with a quill pen and moleskin notebook with the new Milli Vanilli cassette and listening rapturously to each synthetic note, swooning occasionally and announcing to no one in particular, “This speaks to me as both an artist and a man.”
Yep, Off the Deep End found Al lampooning some of the weakest songs of his career up to this point in the form of in fiendishly popular, obscenely catchy non-classics from the likes of the aforementioned Milli Vanilli, Gerardo, New Kids on the Block and MC Hammer. It seems safe to assume that Al was a lot more creatively fulfilled by “I Was Only Kidding”, Al’s second tribute to demented New Wave cult artist after “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Happy Birthday.”
This pastiche/homage is unique in a few different ways. It’s unique in part because it finds Al returning to a favorite artist a second time in about a decade. Al tends not to record multiple tributes to one artist at all, let alone twice in a ten year period or so. And when Al lovingly inhabits the musical costume of a musical legend the act he’s honoring tends to be a whole lot better known than Tonio K.
Tonio K. definitely falls on the obscure side not just of artists Al has favored with pastiches but on the obscure side of just about everything. But Al obviously saw a lot in the quintessential cult artist, because “Happy Birthday” and “I Was Only Kidding” aren’t just pastiches of Al’s work, they’re fundamentally Al’s version of bleakly funny masterpieces Tonio K. masterpieces “The Funky Western Civilization” and “H-A-T-R-E-D.”
“H-A-T-R-E-D” begins with Tonio K. adopting, with a certain air of chilly ironic detachment, the familiar role of the thoughtful and philosophical troubadour examining the whole crazy dance of courtship and relationship from the wounded perspective of someone nursing a pretty new broken heart and pretty intense sense of betrayal.
Initially accompanied only by the gentle strumming of a lonesome acoustic guitar, the crooner shifts from folkie to sneering degenerate when the trembling acoustic faux-sincerity concludes with him asking/announcing, with just the right hint of impending anarchy, “Let me kind of put this another way, okay?”
The song makes a breakneck turn from fake folk to Sex Pistols aggression as Tonio K. morphs into an angrier, funnier Johnny Rotten as his true feelings come out and he yells his vicious hatred of the song’s subjects in lines that are as funny as they are mean, like, “You've got me P-I-S-S-E-D off/I'm angry most of the time/Why don't you /G-O T-O H-E-double-L/You tramp, you philandering b*****/I'm going to/K-I-L-L one of us baby/When I'm sober I'll decide on which!”
Over a runaway train of a punk rock groove, Tonio K. repeats some of the lyrics from the acoustic portion of the song, only this time the sneering, belligerent, spit-in-your-eye sarcasm and contempt he brings to them completely reverse the meaning and message. Tonio K. begins the song from a place of profound loneliness but by the end a whole crowd is shouting along to his pain.
It’s a crazy running explosion of ideas and jokes and spelling and aggression, full of amazing gags like spelling out aggressive but non-profane words like the title but making sure to keep lots of actual profanity in and clearly articulated. Then there’s the final sick gag of shifting course completely one last time to sarcastically implore the object of the song’s enthusiastic abuse and contempt, “then again with the proper counseling, we could work this out?”
Like “H-A-T-R-E-D”, “I Was Only Kidding” begins on an incongruous note of faux-sincerity. Backed by a heavenly choir, the singer sweetly sings, “When I said that I’d be faithful/When I promised I’d be true/When I swore that I could never/Be with anyone but you/When I told you that I loved you/With those tender words I spoke—” before getting to the cruel punchline: “I was only kidding! Can’t you take a joke!”
As with “H-A-T-R-E-D”, this kicks off a whiplash turn from trembling romantic faux-sincerity to proudly mean-spirited punk-rock aggression. The man cruelly taunting a woman for having the questionable judgement to fall in love with him is another one of Al’s lousy Lothsarios. He may not be as pathological or demented or violent as the rest of the bunch but oh boy is he a jerk, and unlike the wounded, bitter man both singing and experiencing “H-A-T-R-E-D”, the singer here doesn’t even have the excuse or rationale of having been cheated on.
Nope, this guy is just a real 200 proof creep. Over the song, the extent of his creepiness keeps escalating until he’s admonishing the subject of the song to put down her gun and let a little thing like him only “jokingly” asking her to marry him slide as a harmless goof, a victimless bit of genial tomfoolery.
“I Was Only Kidding” has the same crazy, heedless forward momentum as “H-A-T-R-E-D”, albeit without the profane rage or deft wordplay and with considerably more wacky animal noises. Along with “Smells Like Nirvana”, it’s one of the punkest (and most animal noise-intensive) things Al has ever recorded, and its caustic acidity helps balance out the sugar overload of the non-Nirvana parodies.
And this song, along with “Happy Birthday”, helped turn me onto the genius of Tonio K’s early work. I downloaded “H-A-T-R-E-D” while researching this entry and after it imported it, it immediately skipped to “I Was Only Kidding”, which is either a weird coincidence or the singularity is upon us and iTunes is developing some manner of artificial intelligence. Going to go with “weird coincidence” because it has a much less sinister connotation.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and get great bonuses like a patron-only Control Nathan Rabin a month over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace