Day One hundred and eleven: "Germs" from Running with Scissors

Well, folks, I have some exciting news. As you are undoubtedly aware, because you’re reading The Weird Accordion to Al instead of doing something normal, Al is about to embark on a tour unlike any other. Al has said of The Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, 

“By design, it has extremely limited appeal. Instead of doing festivals, fairs and arenas, we’ll be doing small, intimate theaters. Instead of putting on a big flashy production, we’ll be trying to go for something very informal and low-key… kind of an Unplugged/Storytellers vibe. Like we’re just hanging out, playing in your living room. So if you’ve really got your heart set on seeing fat suits and Segways and hearing all your favorite parodies… this probably isn’t the tour for you. Chances are we’ll be doing that kind of show again sometime in the future, just not THIS time.”

Needless to say, when I found out about the nature of Al’s next tour I got excited, very excited. It felt like it was custom-made for me, almost to the point of being an extension of the Weird Accordion to Al. After all, this column is devoted to delving deep into deep album cuts of Al’s oeuvre, the originals, the b-sides, the loving homages to obscure cult acts like Tonio K. and Marshall Crenshaw. On the Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour those treasures will finally be afforded the same courtesy as “Fat” and be played in the pubs and concert venues and VFW halls of our great nation, those sacred cathedrals of sound. 

True, Al isn’t technically playing any VFW halls, but metaphorically he’s playing all of them. As an old tour rat and Phan, who has written multiple books about heading out on the road in search of musical transcendence, and also a rocking good time, the opportunity to head out on the road and see a whole bunch of "Weird Al" Yankovic shows is irresistible. 

So as of now the plan is for me to attend Al’s shows in Chicago at the Vic on the 6th and 7th (where once upon a time I danced and sang onstage with They Might Be Giants alongside my A.V Club co-workers), Milwaukee’s Pabst Theater the 9th and 10th, Indiana the 12th, Augusta, Georgia the 14th and then finally my new hometown of Atlanta on the 15th. 

Al has been kind enough to put me on the guest list for those shows so if you see me there say hi. You’ll be able to spot me because I’ll be wearing my Juggalo make-up and a homemade tee-shirt saying, “Someone please talk to me, I’m desperate for company.” People might say that sounds sad, even a shame, and that I must really be crying out for attention but that’s just how I feel most comfortable. 

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I’ve still got to put a few more pieces of the puzzle left to fit together but I feel confident enough at this point to see my particular leg of Al’s tour as something incredibly exciting that I have to look forward to, as opposed to something incredibly exciting I’m hoping happens. The open road. Al. The America. It’s all so incredibly exciting! Gives a grizzled, jaded Juggalo something to look forward to! 

If you see me at one of the aforementioned shows, I’ll probably be doing some combination of the following: 

  1. Rocking out 
  2. Hippie-dancing 
  3. Screaming my fool head off whenever he plays a song I’m familiar with, and then turning to the person next to me and exulting loudly, “This is my jam!” 
  4. Seeing Emo Phillips perform no less than seven times. Keeping him honest by loudly heckling if he repeats any material

Yes, Al will be playing lots of originals and album cuts but I doubt that he’s going to trot out today’s song, “Germs” at any point in his big upcoming tour. 

That’s not necessarily because it’s a bad song, just an unusual one. Sonically, it’s one of the darkest and most ominous pastiches Al has ever recorded. Al and his collaborators nail (no pun intended) the distinctive sonic elements of the Nine Inch Nails song “Terrible Lie” and to a lesser extent, “Closer”: the woozy, ominous broken ventilator groove, the skittering, ominous synths, the wild oscillations between singing in a heightened whisper and an agitated scream. It’s all there. “Germs” sounds exactly like what it’s supposed to sound like, to the point where my dumb brain has chosen to categorize it as a Nine Inch Nails song as well as a “Weird Al” Yankovic song. 

With Al’s originals, the humor sometimes comes from the incongruity of the artist Al is paying tribute to recording a song about a particular subject. The Police, for example, would probably not record a song about the life-affirming qualities of owning a velvet painting of Elvis Presley, although it’s easy to imagine the B-52s, another group Al has both parodied and paid tribute to via a pastiche, doing so. 

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The thing is, I don’t have a hard time imagining Trent Reznor recording a song about his fear of germs at all. If anything, it’s easy to imagine him as a Howard Hughes-like germaphobe ranting to horrified passerby about the world being hopelessly contaminated with tiny, malevolent organisms, with predators we can't see but are crawling all over our diseased bodies. 

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The humor in “Germs” consequently is conceptual and abstract rather than joke or shtick-laden. In that respect, this works better as music than it does as comedy but as Al’s upcoming tour will undoubtedly prove, there’s a whole lot more to Al than the hits, and to making people laugh. He’s a musician, a songwriter and an artist, not merely an entertainer who has gotten more of a fat suit than anyone this side of Tyler Perry. 

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