Day One hundred and sixteen: "Grapefruit Diet"
Is it possible for music to be a guilty pleasure if it comes from one of your favorite artists and you’ve spent a not insubstantial portion of your career dissecting their life’s work? I ask, because it seems ridiculous for me to experience any guilt, pleasurable or otherwise, out of an artist I have chronicled as doggedly as Al. Yet I still think of maddeningly infectious parodies like “Grapefruit Diet” and “Taco Grande” as guilty pleasures, perhaps because they’re building upon consummate guilty pleasures in, respectively, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” and Gerardo’s “Rico Suave.”
“Zoot Suit Riot” and “Rico Suave” are already borderline novelty songs from outsized human cartoons of retro masculinity, which makes Al’s parodies goofs of a goof. Like Third Wave Ska, which Al lovingly paid tribute to on “Your Horoscope for Today”, Swing enjoyed a campy revival in the late 1990s as horn-fueled party music for drunk white college kids.
With its energetic horns, frisky rhythms and huge choruses, Ska and Swing just plain sounded fun, and as the end of one millennium approached and the beginning of another dawned they roared onto the pop charts as a fad guaranteed to burn itself out quickly.
“Grapefruit Diet” consequently feels like a companion piece to “Your Horoscope For Today” and a sequel to “Fat.” “Grapefruit Diet” finds Al returning to the fertile field of fat jokes for the first time since his breakthrough Michael Jackson parody. The irresistible cheesiness is half of what makes “Grapefruit Diet” a guilty pleasure from an artist who usually offers pleasure sans guilt.
The other half is the song’s subject matter. “Grapefruit Diet” (a title screams both “1999” and “guilty pleasure”) finds Al dipping deep into a bottomless well of cornball American humor I like to call “The Old Jokes.”
The Old Jokes can be found in joke books. But they can also be found in the routines of people like Rodney Dangerfield. It’s easy to imagine the following lines from “Grapefruit Diet” being delivered in the shtick-slinger’s trademark slam-bang cadences:
“Every picture of me’s got to be an aerial view”
“Walked down an alley and I got stuck”
“I got more rolls than a pastry truck”
“When I leave a room first they’ve got to grease the door.”
Of course, with Rodney the structure and the delivery would be different. For the first wisecrack, for example, he’d probably start off by grousing, “My wife is fat, I tell you” to which audiences would respond, “How fat is she?” to which he’ll quip, respectively, “Are you kidding? Every picture of her has to be an AERIAL view”, “She’s so fat, she walked down an alley and got STUCK”, “She’s got more rolls than a PASTRY truck” and finally, “She’s so fat, when she leaves a room first they have to GREASE the door!”
In the great hierarchy of American humor, fat jokes, and street jokes, reside somewhere near the very bottom, not far from prop comedy and puns. “The Weird Al Show Theme” operates on a much deeper, more conceptual level of humor than “Grapefruit Diet.” It occupies a higher evolutionary state but that doesn’t keep “Grapefruit Diet” from being almost excessively, sadistically catchy.
As with “Taco Grande”, snatches of “Grapefruit Diet” keep ricocheting through my weird, cobweb-riddled brain at inopportune times, oddly sticky couplets like, “Who’s that waddling down the street/It’s just me cause I love to eat/Fudge and twinkles and deviled ham/Who’s real flabby? Yes I am!” and “Well I use to live on chocolate sauce/Made sumo wrestlers look like Kate Moss!”
But where “Fat” is defiant, “Grapefruit Diet” is the anthem of someone trying to become less fat through the titular fad diet. What could be more 1990s than a grapefruit diet-themed Cherry Poppin’ Daddies parody? Al spoofed the one-hit wonders, and piggy-backed joyously on the infectious idiocy of their tacky little anthems. He was playing a bigger game all along, one that allowed him to outlast not just the Gerardos and Cherry Poppin’ Daddies of the day but also beloved icons as well. Flash in the pans like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies come and go but Al remains. Al is eternal.
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