Day one hundred and fifty-three: "Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me" from Alpocalypse
Well, folks, we have made it to the final song on yet another album from American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic. We’re nearing the end. We only have one more studio album left in 2014’s Mandatory Fun and then the rarities album available only with his career-spanning box set and then the long, laborious, surprisingly rigorous process of writing The Weird Accordion to Al will shift into the long, laborious, undoubtedly rigorous process of transforming the raw material of The Weird Accordion to Al into a beautifully illustrated, aggressively copy-edited and fact-checked book available for purchase and everything.
I came into this project feeling that Al’s work is as worthy of rigorous study and critical analysis as those of people like Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan, neither of whom has recorded a booger-themed disco song to my knowledge. That conviction is even stronger now near the end of the project.
The long con is that if academics want a fun, accessible book about parody and satire they’ll only have one place to go: me. As an independent publisher I can jack up the price, Martin Shkreli style until those fools back in civilization regret they ever laughed at my experiments and banished me to this island. But they won’t be laughing when I unleash my hybrid giraffe-men on their cities!
But that’s neither here nor there. The closing song on Al’s albums tend to be epics. They’re fan favorites, suites and mini-epics that aren’t just written but composed, with guest musicians and lots of fancy flourishes. They’re not just songs, they’re extravaganzas.
If the first single is tightly tied into the cultural and musical zeitgeist, the final track is beholden to nothing other than Al’s peculiar passions as an artist and a man. So while Lady Gaga was one of the biggest things in pop culture back in 2011, there was nothing timely or commercial about releasing a Jim Steinman pastiche then.
As a songwriter and sometimes singer (perhaps most notably on a song called “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” whose title will have special significance for The Best Show fans), Steinman wrote about the things that really matter in American life: love, sex, being young and free and horny and alive, the wrestler Hulk Hogan. Stein man is a master of musical melodrama, of bombast, of theatrical and cinematic excess. His songs are tacky little drive-in movies in song form, cornball slices of pop Americana most famously and lucratively interpreted by Meat Loaf though Bonnie Tyler and Celine Dion had smashes with Steinman. .
Steinman, who met and started working with Meat Loaf when they were both working in musical theater, Steinman as a songwriter, Meat Loaf as an actor, writes big songs about melodramatic subjects. On the transcendently prickly “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me” Al replicates Steinman’s musical theater bombast as the roaring, incongruously symphonic background for an all-too relatable gripe session about one of the preeminent irritations of an internet age that has provided juicy fodder for many of Al’s best late-period songs, this included.
Al almost invariably sings from the perspective of characters of varying degrees of outrageousness and/or insanity. He’s putting on musical costumes in his parodies and pastiches alike but on “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me” it feels like we’re getting a good, long glimpse at Al’s inner misanthrope. For a little under six minutes Al unleashes the crank within. It is a thing of beauty.
“Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me” may be “Weird Al” Yankovic’s sanest song. There’s not an irrational sentiment expressed on it.
The song starts off on a tremblingly sincere, emotional note with Al singing dramatically about life’s heartbreaking shortness and the importance of making the most of each moment, knowing that life is fleeting and death both certain and permanent. Al takes longer than usual to shift into comic gear partially because this is an album-ending opus so he has more time to play with in general, in this case nearly six very big, very lush minutes. But he’s also straight-faced for an usual amount of time because this a song rooted in real-life, everyday aggravations and annoyances rather than the violent craziness and obsession that characterizes so much of Al’s work.
Technology has empowered us all and made our lives better and easier in so many ways but it’s also empowered friends and acquaintances and wannabe friends and people who think they’re friends when they’re actually barely tolerated acquaintances to irritate and annoy us in new and aggravatingly easy and indirect ways like the unwanted and unsolicited forward.
Email forwards are like gifts. Ideally, they strengthen our bonds with our friends and loved ones by illustrating just how well we know them by giving them something we know that they’ll like and need. In a sense, a forward is a gift, albeit in the same sense that being handed a coupon for a dollar off a pizza on the street is a gift. If you’re planning on getting a pizza that night, it’s a boon. Otherwise it’s an aggravation and an inconvenience.
In that respects the “gifts” the righteously enraged singer here receives in email forward form are more like curses. Instead of reaffirming and strengthening relationships and/or friendships they make the singer wonder what, in the wide, wide world of sports, makes them think he could possibly be interested in anything they have to offer in the cute cat video, conspiracy theory, viral Youtube clips and fake George Carlin “wisdom” department. Instead of illustrating how well the human irritant forwarding crap to our indignant everyday hero knows him, the garbage being forward illustrates that they don’t know him at all.
That’s because forwarding garbage is ultimately an extremely narcissistic, masturbatory act. It’s more important for the person forwarding nonsense to fee like they’re performing a public service than it is for them to respect essential and important boundaries that exist in no small part to keep us from being annoyed constantly by people who greedily want our time and attention and have done nothing to merit either.
“Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me” works itself into a righteous fervor railing against a broad cross section of obnoxious online faux pas, some of them uncannily prescient. Over a half decade before Facebook began using Snopes as a fact-checking tool in an admirable if perhaps inherently doomed attempt to be less of a toxic force for evil and disinformation, Al was singing to the folks bothering him with unwanted emails, “I have high hopes that someone will point you toward Snopes/And debunk that crazy junk you're spewing constantly.”
Usually when a pop star uses internet lingo and terminology, they come off like Steve Buscemi with the skateboard in the famous gif, asking, “How do you do, fellow kids?” But when Professor Yankovic is holding court (He’s the “fun” type of professor, the kind who makes you realize that, when if you really think about it, Shakespeare really was the first rapper. Think about it: his work rhymed, and he was always dissing Ja Rule), you listen and learn and marvel at Al being able to work the phrases “virus-laden bandwidth-hogging attachments” and “at the risk of being slightly repetitious” into a song that flows and moves with grace and pop-operatic momentum.
Al makes particularly deft use of a choir that includes Lisa Popeil of the Popeil family fame (a veteran collaborator) to give the song the spirit and moral authority of the church to deliver a decidedly secular message about the necessity of boundaries and discretion in a world full of triggers and temptations for people who feel the need to share with everyone mindless nonsense that benefits no one.
“Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me” covers an awful lot of ground musically and lyrically. A whole lot of obnoxious, distressingly common online and interpersonal jackassery falls under the rubric of crap that is forwarded unnecessarily to a fed-up singer whose brain will seemingly explode, Scanners-style, if one more insufferable do-gooder tries to brighten his day or conjure up a smile with worthless detritus more likely to induce blinding rage or a headache.
There’s something unmistakably cathartic about “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.” Al is speaking for many of us when he rages against a broad cross-section of obnoxiousness as aggravations born of unnecessary forwarding. He’s forcefully saying the things we’d like to if we weren’t concerned with being liked or not hurting people’s feelings, even creeps we barely know yet feel the awful, inherently doomed need to try to help us all the same.
This might sound silly, but listening to “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me” so deep into the project made me reflect on just how much I love Al’s music. Writing literally hundreds of thousands of words about every single song he’s released has only made me respect him and life’s work even more. There’s a sort of cumulative joy to Al’s oeuvre, to his oddball catalog that reaches a glorious crescendo with “Stop Forwarding That Crap to Me.”
It’s a brilliant illustration of Al’s genius as a singer, songwriter, producer and musician from an utter original at the peak of his powers, a soaring song-sized symphony of passionate crankiness.
At the risk of being slightly repetitious gonna have to ask you to Support The Weird Accordion to Al and Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace