Day One hundred and forty-three "Craigslist" from Internet Leaks
The saga of “Weird Al” Yankovic, American pop parodist and national treasure is overwhelmingly happy. It’s the story of a nice guy who finished first, a mensch who has contributed an enormous amount to American pop culture and been rewarded tremendously in return.
Yet even a life and career as triumphant and venerable as Al’s is bound to have a few minor disappointments. Al is a terrific director, for example, who frustratingly has not had an opportunity to direct a single major motion picture whereas that Michael Bay creep has directed a whole bunch.
Al is also a terrific comic actor and in-demand voiceover artist (my son and I just watched the episode of The Transformers where he voices Wreck-Gar) who has not had many opportunities to showcase his gifts as a thespian on film, television or the stage. WHEN will Al finally have an opportunity to play King Lear?
That’s one of the reasons I dug Al on Comedy Bang Bang so much. Since Al was as important to the show as Scott Aukerman (one of the curious aspects of Al on Comedy Bang Bang was that, despite being an ostensible sidekick/band leader, Al was nevertheless ten times more famous and successful than the show’s star), he got an opportunity to not just appear in a lot of sketches, but to actually act in pretty much episode while playing himself.
When I write that Al is a good actor I’m only partially talking about stuff like UHF, Comedy Bang Bang or the many cameos he’s contributed to pop classics like The Naked Gun and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. To me, a lot of Al’s best, and certainly most-seen acting is done in videos and onstage.
During his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, Al did not merely sing songs like his appropriately psychedelic Doors tribute “Craigslist.” No, Al performed them with his whole body and soul. Even that is selling Al short. Al didn’t just perform “Craigslist” as if overtaken by Jim Morrison’s peyote-addled wandering spirit: he outright channeled the man in a way that bordered on spooky.
Al clearly relished the opportunity to slip out of his own skin and into the whiskey and perspiration-soaked persona of the Lizard King, 1960s sex god, self-styled mystic, rock and roll legend and profoundly ridiculous human being.
Jim Morrison was, of course, the anti-“Weird Al” Yankovic, a debauched libertine and the very personification of bloated rock and roll pretension. Morrison took himself and his music so seriously that it’s hard, if not impossible, not to laugh at him.
Jim Morrison didn’t just croon pop songs and occasionally expose his penis in concert settings; he sang about Important Things. We’re talking sex and death and war and freedom and transcendence and drugs and darkness and the whole strange, sorry, sad parade.
So the humor in “Craigslist” is primarily conceptual in nature. The Police pastiche “Velvet Elvis” impishly imagined what Sting and the boys might sound like if they were paying rapturous ode to the titular icon of American trash culture. On a similar note, “Craigslist” re-imagines Jim Morrison not as poet-rockstar-philosopher of the public imagination but rather as a lunatic Craigslist obsessive subjecting other users, and the public at large, to their irritating eccentricities and oddball demands.
The song is a follow-up of sorts to the Backstreet Boys parody “Ebay”, which is similarly about how simultaneously miraculous and obnoxious new technology both makes our lives better and easier and also infinitely more annoying.
If Morrison sang about the Big Things, Al’s bizarro world version instead obsesses on inane minutia, like his insistence that while the trash can full of styrofoam peanuts he’s advertising are free, the trash can holding them is not part of the deal, nor are his own trash bags so they’ll have to bring their own garbage bags if they want to take advantage of this singularly unappealing “bargain.”
The song gives Al a lot to work with onstage, particularly a spoken word component where the singer angrily, indignantly dresses down an understandably irritated barista (whose employer and location changed during the tour according to which town Al and his band were performing in) with the nerve to get annoyed by him just because he was taking his sweet time deciding on his order, and also talking to his mother on the phone and wasn’t about to be rushed, just because there are twenty people standing immediately behind him.
“Craigslist” is a little like “I’ll Sue Ya” for me: a loving, pitch-perfect tribute to an important American rock and roll band I do not particularly care for. That ultimately proves both an advantage and a disadvantage for me: I understandably prefer Al’s pastiches of my favorite artists to icons whose work leave me cold. On the other hand, replacing the Lizard King’s bloated, unintentionally self-parodic presence with Al’s satirical, crazy house mirror version of Jim Morrison can only be seen as an upgrade. To paraphrase the song title of another rock group as known for their pretentiousness as their artistry, Al’s perversely petty take on the Doors’ frontman is even better than the real thing.
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