Day One hundred and thirty three: "I'll Sue Ya" from Straight Outta Lynwood
Watching American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic and his band perform the Rage Against the Machine pastiche “I’ll Sue Ya” in concert during Al's latest tour, I found myself once again marveling at how perfectly they captured the sound and aggression of Tom Morello, Zack de la Rocha and the gang. They really did sound exactly like Rage Against the Machine, I found myself thinking, immediately followed by, “It’s too bad I don’t really don't care for Rage Against the Machine.
That makes Rage Against the Machine an anomaly among the artists Al has paid reverent tribute to in song. Generally, if Al thinks an act is worthy of a pastiche I’m a big fan. Ben Folds? Love the guy. The Talking Heads? One of the all-time greats. R.E.M? A big personal favorite. Devo? Doesn’t get much better. Smile and Pet Sounds-era? Yes, please.
But every once in a very long while Al will do the unthinkable and write a song in the style of a band that I do not personally enjoy. That’s also true of “Craigslist”, which I would enjoy so much more if it were not an uncanny recreation of a vintage Doors song, a band that I similarly do not care for.
I like to think I appreciate Rage Against the Machine just fine. Morello is clearly a phenomenal guitarist with a distinctive and bold style and I respect the hell out of the passion and intensity of the band's message and the atom bomb visceral impact of its live show, it’s just not something I respond to emotionally or intellectually.
Rage Against the Machine’s signature, both on record and onstage, is righteous rage, ferocious sonic fury. The angry shouter of “I’ll Sue Ya” is anything but righteous, however. He’s another of Al’s demented narcissists, an entitled loser who thinks that the world owes him everything in exchange for doing absolutely nothing, and is hopelessly tardy in delivering on everything that he feels he is due.
So he takes to the nation’s courts in search of redress and sweet, sweet justice but mainly in pursuit of a wholly unearned payday, the legal windfall that is every greedy, opportunistic American sleaze bag’s birthright.
“I’ll Sue Ya” explores another unfortunate element of the American psyche: our inveterate litigiousness. It’s rooted in bits of contemporary pop folklore like the famous 1994 “hot coffee” case of Liebeck vs McDonald’s where a 79 year old woman named Stella Liebeck was awarded 2.86 million dollars after she received third degree burns after spilling McDonald’s coffee on her lap.
At the time it was seen as a grievous abuse of the legal system by a woman blaming a corporation for her own mistakes until the facts came out. Public opinion shifted once it came out that McDonald’s mogul Ray Kroc was the one who served the coffee at the tail end of a three day Angel Dust binge and that instead of serving it in a styrofoam cup he threw it into the poor old woman's eyes while cackling, “Enjoy your scalding, Devil Witch! It’s black! Black like your soul! I can do whatever I want and no court can touch me, for I am the Dark Lord of Hamburgers!”
Yet people nevertheless looked at Liebeck versus McDonald’s as what is known pejoratively and dismissively as a “nuisance lawsuit.” What’s a nuisance lawsuit? Well, it’s something the dude shouting “I’ll Sue Ya” files a whole lot of. He files lawsuits for nonsensical reasons, like his belief that Colorado looks “a little too much like Wyoming.” He sues for petty reasons, like Earthlink putting him on hold and his Starbucks Frappucino being too cold (an inverse of Lieback versus McDonald’s) but mostly he sues companies and peoples and places for his own stupid, eminently avoidable mistakes, from wearing Fruit of the Loom underwear on his head to visiting the state of New Jersey.
Our lawsuit-loving yeller gives ridiculous reasons for all of his legal action with the exception of Ben Affleck, about whom he argues, not unreasonably, “Aw, do I even need a reason?” There’s another Affleck jab a little later in “Close But No Cigar” that serve as reminders that before he got his groove back as both a bankable leading man and Oscar-winning auteur, Ben Affleck was reduced to walking punchline status. When Al name-checked him here, he was riding a big wave of awfulness that includes 2003’s Daredevil, 2003’s Gigli, 2003’s Paycheck (and, I would hope, 2003’s firing of his agent), 2004’s Surviving Christmas, 2004’s Jersey Girl, 2005’s Elektra and 2006’s Man About Town. That’s a whole lot to come back from.
Rage Against the Machine are not together at the moment, but when they reform in exchange for a fat, fat payday and all the groupies and booger sugar they can handle I think they should end every show with a straight faced cover of “I’ll Sue Ya.” It’d be a fun way to show off the band’s fabled love of shenanigans and levity. They’re famously big goofs so this would be very much in character. Besides, I imagine that Al’s music, particularly his polka medleys, have been a big influence on Rage Against the Machine so it’d be nice if they repaid him for all of that inspiration.
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