Day Seventy-Seven: "When I Was Your Age" from Off the Deep End
Originals in Al’s catalog are at a steep disadvantage when it comes to winning listeners and competing for single, fan favorite and concert-staple status. Unlike his parodies, Al’s originals aren’t able to piggy-back on listener’s affection for, and familiarity with, the hit songs they’re spoofing.
True, Al’s pastiches are connected to other iconic artists but in a much more abstract and indirect way than songs that share the same melodies and music of their inspiration. To be honest, it takes a certain musical intelligence and frame of reference (or Wikipedia, which is a wonderful resource I have certainly used, although it is pretty weird to look up something on there and see it footnoted to the team of Rabin & Yankovic, and though I don’t entirely trust the surname before the ampersand I do the one after it, so I figure it’s Kosher) to even know that “Frank’s 2000 Inch TV” is a lovely early-to-mid-period R.E.M pastiche, whereas “Spam”, which I would not place in the front tier of Al’s oeuvre, benefitted from the pleasing, instant-nostalgia buzz of recognition that comes with hearing something you know.
Al’s originals consequently almost have to be better than his originals because of all of the additional pressure on them. Off The Deep End, like Polka Party! and UHF before it, is carried by its originals. On Off the Deep End, they’re all good to great and “When I Was Your Age” is no different, a rock-solid exploration of the “Get off my lawn after I'm done lecturing you!” mindset of those ornery codgers intent on letting the young folk know how rough they had it back in the old days.
Over a serious, hard-driving working-man groove, Al adopts the persona of a grim old codger addressing a callow ingrate of a young person about how cushy the juvenile delinquents of today have it compared to the Dickensian horrors of their youth. As someone who has used the phrase “Dickensian” to describe his childhood more than any other (to the point where I wrote a whole book about my Dickensian childhood, adolescence and adulthood) I can relate all too vividly with the self-mythologizing old-timer berating young people in the song.
You young uns’ with your Pokemon Go! and your Bernie Sanders and your Riverdale and Making a Murderer probably can’t even envision this, but I grew up in a time before Facebook and Twitter, actually before the invention of language and the creation of the wheel, before even the popularity of Snapchat and Vine.
“When I Was Your Age” is a master class in comic hyperbole, as Al’s self-righteous old grump paints a portrait of childhood deprivation where he faced such cartoonishly over-the-top indignities as having “to walk buck naked through forty miles of snow” when it’s forty below, as well as toiling “in the coal mines twenty two hours a day for just half a cent” on top of having to “sell my internal organs just to pay the rent”
Al later offers a point-by-point comparison between the trials of Job he endured as a young man and the sweet life EVERYONE enjoys now even though they’ve done nothing to deserve it, just play Pokemon Go! on their smart-phones. Instead of a telephone or FAX machine (which even then wasn’t exactly the height of cutting-edge contemporary technology), they had “a coupla cans” connected by “a string.” Instead of swimming pools, the neighbor’s septic tank had to make do. In lieu of dental floss, they substitute “old rusty nails.” In place of the popular gaming system Nintendo they “just poured salt on snails.”
When the young punk he’s indignantly addressing question the veracity of his claims, his outrageous fictions grow even more impossibly outsized. In a line I vaguely recall from a Rodney Dangerfield routine, the singer masochistically boasts, “Dad would whoop us every night till a quarter after twelve/Then he'd get too tired and he'd make us whoop ourselves.”
In earlier entries I’ve depicted Al as the unsung, unheralded father of the horrorcore genre. “When I Was Your Age” is another Al song with a splash of horrorcore imagery, in this case the closing image of the singer’s abusive father chopping him “into pieces” so he can “play frisbee with my brain”, something he insists, not convincingly, he's actually surprisingly cool with.
I’ve written a lot about Al’s sometimes surprisingly ghoulish and graphic lyrics and imagery here and I gotta say, writing that last sentence, it is morose even for Al to end a song contemplating someone being chopped into pieces so that their abusive father can play Frisby with their brain.
The belligerent coot singing the song is apparently cool with everything, from enduring abusive treatment to being murdered and dismembered, except for the ingratitude and entitled attitude of young people. In its own semi-unassuming way, “When I Was Your Age” is a crazy and extreme and quietly transgressive little song, but you young folks wouldn’t know nothing bout that, would you, with your Fuller House and “Jake Tapper” and “Avocado Toast.”
I’m a very old 41, so “When I Was Your Age” isn’t just funny: it also hits closer to home than I’m comfortable admitting.
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