Day One hundred and nineteen: "Hardware Store" from Poodle Hat
On the back of a wonderfully self-deprecating tour tee-shirt Al just unveiled on Twitter, Al describes his current Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour as featuring “none of the songs you want to hear” and “all of the songs you usually skip over” as well as an experience that will be “crowd disappointing” as well as “audience-baffling.”
That may be true of some casual fans but the opposite is true of die-hards. It’s safe to assume that if you’re reading this, in online or book form, then you are most assuredly not the kind of fan who goes to a “Weird Al” Yankovic concerts to see him perform “Fat” and “Eat It.” I don't want to pander to y’all, but it seems safe to assume that for readers of this column, what Al refers to as “all the songs you usually skip over” are, in fact, the songs you particularly adore.
I’m talking about fan favorites like “Albuquerque”, “ The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota” and today’s entry, “Hardware Store.” Al contains multitudes. He is at once a creature of the mainstream whose biggest smashes are built on the sturdy foundation of hits by iconic mega-stars like Michael Jackson and Madonna, and a cult artist.
Al’s originals fall into the broad-to-the-point-of-meaninglessness category of “Alternative” both because he’s sometimes inspired by Alternative rock artists but also, by the very definition, Al’s originals and pastiches are an Alternative to the hit parodies Al is known for. Some people don’t even know that Al does non-parodies, so while the conceit behind the Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour is incredibly appealing to me, and, I'm guessing, to you as well, it’s a much harder sale for people who know Al only through the hits.
There are a lot of fans who would love to hear “Hardware Store” in concert but the tour is supposed to have a casual, semi-acoustic vibe, and the weird wonderfulness of “Hardware Store” lies, in no small part, in how lushly and elaborately it’s produced.
“Hardware Store” falls into a category of Al songs I like to call “Ditties of Comically Excessive Enthusiasm.” These are album cuts about everyday weirdoes whose lives are utterly transformed and enriched by the most banal of developments. These are insane over-enthusiasts whose humdrum existences change forever when they’re introduced to the sycophantic majesty of Ed McMahon (“Here’s Johnny”), the glory of the cable landscape (“Cable TV”) or an iconically tacky piece of American kitsch like a mass-produced representation of the King of Rock and Roll (”Velvet Elvis”).
The unlikely object of the singer’s affection/obsession in “Hardware Store” is of course the titular handyman paradise, which is posited less as a place to buy tools than a reason to stay alive.
In “Hardware Store”, the opening of a hardware store is like the premiere of The Phantom Menace, minus the crushing disappointment. People (or at least one rather peculiar person) camp out the night before to ensure that they don’t miss a moment of the hardware-based excitement. Al doesn’t just sound excited: he sounds enraptured. The existence of the hardware store and its infinite wonders induces a state of ecstasy in the singer usually attainable only through powerful psychotropic drugs and/or religious epiphanies.
In “Hardware Store” Al once again transforms the banal and everyday into the transcendent. The song builds and builds in speed and momentum until Al rattles off a hardware store’s entire inventory with a speed worthy of rapper Twista or that dude from the Micro-Machines commercials from the 1980s. Al loves words as much as he loves sounds, and the world of hardware gives him an awful lot to work with.
You can listen to “Hardware Store” a hundred times and still pick up something new with each listen, if only because Al’s machine-gun rundown of seemingly every single item you might find in the titular capitalist paradise goes by so quickly that it’s impossible to process it all in a single listen. Or a dozen listens.
Al designed it that way. He knows how obsessive his fans are so he writes songs filled with loving little details and in-jokes, like the number 27 reappearing yet again, this time when Al kvells about every every 27th customer receiving a ball peen hammer free.
This certainly is not the only “Weird Al” Yankovic song about a dude all but exploding with joy and excitement over something silly and banal, but it could very well be the best. The opening of a hardware store is awfully silly thing to get super-psyched about. Then again, so is a song about a hardware store, and that doesn’t make this any less of a delight.
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