Day One hundred and seventeen: "Albuquerque" from Running with Scissors
Well, folks, we have officially reached the last song on Running with Scissors, Al’s tenth solo album. That means we are officially two/thirds of the way through. Just five more albums left to go! By this point y’all should know what that means. Tradition dictates that the first song on every Al album is almost invariably the first single and the first music video. It’s the song with the most obvious commercial appeal, the one most likely to hit the pop charts and MTV.
The final track is another story. That’s the designated slot on each album for Al and his band to really cut loose and be as silly, self-indulgent and non-commercial as possible. The final track has historically been the place where the Weird one, AKA American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic can really let his freak fly.
Where the first track is for the normies, the closing track is for the die-hard fans, or “Juggalos” as they’re popularly known. I know that might seem confusing, seeing as Insane Clown Posse fans are also known as Juggalos, but that’s just what we’ve decided to call ourselves.
“The Saga Begins” and “Albuquerque” are both story songs with some fairly major differences. On “The Saga Begins”, Al accomplished the seemingly impossible, miraculous feat of alchemizing the dreary tin that is the plot of The Phantom Menace into musical comedy gold.
“Albuquerque” is a story song, after a fashion, but it’s more of an elaborate satirical goof on the very idea of a story song, and stories in general. It’s a story song, alright, but it’s also a tongue-in-cheek musical suite that’s really three or four or five songs in one, united by a pounding, infectious, hard-driving beat and stream-of-consciousness silliness.
As is so often the case with Al’s originals, he didn’t start entirely from scratch here. No, the sonic and thematic backbone of “Albuquerque” is a song called “Dave’s Automotive” by a band called the Rugburns, who have now surpassed Tonio K. as the most obscure act Al has ever paid homage to in one of his pastiches.
You may not be familiar with the Rugburns (and if you are, congrats! You officially are more knowledgable than me)! but they have a few distinctions. Perhaps most notably lead singer and songwriter Steve Poltz co-wrote the Jewel smash “You Were Meant For Me” and dated the Alaskan songbird for a while, in addition to the Rugburns opening for Jewel on her “Tiny Lights” tour and serving as her backing band.
The Rugburns also had a drummer named Stinky, which I find hilarious, because I have the mind of a small child but their greatest, decidedly non-lame claim to fame is that they wrote and recorded a song that very directly led to one of Al’s most beloved and excessive songs.
“Dick’s Automotive” runs a comparatively succinct eight minutes and forty one seconds. Al and his band weren’t about to be reigned in by such a brief running time, so “Albuquerque” runs eleven minutes and twenty one seconds, although in concert, Al and the gang have been known to stretch the song out even further, not unlike Phish.
In it its kooky way, “Albuquerque” captures all of the phases in a man’s life, not unlike the movie Citizen Kane, from his childhood and adolescence on through a very surreal and incident, and crazed-weasel-packed adulthood.
Like Steve Poltz in “Dave’s Automative”, Al talks his way through the verses, taking his time and aggressively emphasizing words. We begin with an appropriately surreal account of the singer’s childhood when he enthuses, “Way back when I was just a little bitty boy/Living in a box under the stairs in the corner of the basement of the house/Half a block down the street from Jerry's Bait shop/You know the place.”
It’s an unenviable situation, to be sure, made worse by this poor, unfortunate yet insanely lucky soul’s mother force-feeding him sauerkraut for twenty six and a half years. Sauerkraut is perfect for Al, a gross food word that just plain sounds funny on its own and is furthermore blessed with the kind of randomness that Al has always adored.
Eventually our hero leaves the basement and a nightmarish gauntlet of unwanted sauerkraut consumption and wins a first class ticket to Albuquerque that goes swimmingly except for Bio-Dome as the in-flight and, on a more alarming note, the crash that kills everyone onboard except for our dadaist hero, who survived by keeping his tray table up and his seat back in the upright position. That’s more than just mandated protocol: here it’s a life saver.
From there, the song goes in about a million directions at once, while simultaneously speeding deliriously and deliberately off a cliff, as our unlikely narrator experiences a series of nonsensical, adventures involving autographed lucky snorkels, one dozen starving, crazed weasels and our hero cutting off a strangers arms and legs due to an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Wacka wacka doodoo yeah!
Among many other things, “Albuquerque” is another lousy Lothario song. In this case, our confused hero meets Zelda, the woman of his dreams, a “ calligraphy enthusiast with a slight overbite and hair the color of strained peaches” whom he marries and has children with but must leave when she proposes joining the Columbia Record Club, reckoning he’s not ready for that level of commitment.
“In “Albuquerque” the titular location is less a city than a state of mind, a paradise where “sun is always shining”, “the air smells like root beer” and “the towels are oh so fluffy.”
“Albuquerque” is no mere song. It’s an entire crazy world onto itself, rife with in-jokes and allusions both to detritus Al had already sung about, like dental floss, and things that he’s be singing about in the future, like weasels. Al’s disillusionment with Zelda over something so silly, meanwhile, presages the thematically similarly “Close But No Cigar.” Listen closely and you can hear Al’s past, present and future all colliding merrily into each other like bumper cars. All in a magical, magical land called Albuquerque. After all, you can't spell Albuquerque without "Al."
“The Saga Begins”, which, astonishingly did not chart despite its ubiquity and enduring popularity, is the kind of song you can sing along to with your friends. “Albuquerque”, on the other hand, is the kind of song whose lyrics you get tattooed on your bicep.
How beloved is ““Albuquerque”? In a 2012 Reader’s poll on Rolling Stone, it ranked third, just below the slightly more popular and mainstream-friendly “White & Nerdy” and “Amish Paradise.”
It’s a song that gives goofball self-indulgence a good name, so hopefully it’ll be a staple of the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour. No song in Al’s oeuvre is quite as ridiculous, or as self-indulgent, or as ill-advised as ““Albuquerque” and I mean that in the nicest, most flattering way.
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