Day One hundred and fifty-five: "Lame Claim to Fame" from Mandatory Fun
Verily, I am Methuselah-like in the years I have lived and the things I have seen. Yet American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic from Lynwood, California has nevertheless been famous almost as long as I have been alive. As I write this in 2019, it has been thirty-six long years since the release of his self-titled debut album proved that Al was so much more than just an accordion-playing bedroom artist with a dream angling for the top spot in the Dr. Demento Show’s Funny Five.
In the decades he’s been a household name Al has experienced fame from the inside out. He’s famous. His friends are famous. Everywhere he goes he is recognized by fans not exactly deterred from approaching him by his reputation as the nicest man in show business. But Al is also fascinated by fame as a subject.
The Southern Culture on the Skids homage “Lame Claim to Fame” is a little like Alpocalypse’s “TMZ” in its comic depiction of our culture’s pathological obsession with fame and celebrity, no matter how tawdry, tacky, unmerited or removed. Tom Kenny’s exuberant cry of “Everything celebrities do is fascinating!” from the earlier song could double as the wonky thesis of “Lame Claim to Fame.”
Al yowls the song from the perspective of a Southern yokel so fixated with celebrity that he clings to the flimsiest quasi-encounters with celebrities who run the gamut from the very, very super-famous (Jack Nicholson, Brad Pit, Kim Kardashian) to the extremely non-famous (an extra in Wayne’s World 2, an acquaintance of Brad Pitt, Ralph Nader’s second cousin).
The point of name-dropping is to make the name dropper seem more impressive by association, to transfer some of the famous person’s magical glow and power onto the person who just so happens to be a close personal friend, or a cousin, or former acquaintance of a bona fide celebrity. The farther removed from actual fame, the less impressive the claim. The star-struck hick of “Lame Claim to Fame” is so far removed from the actual world of fame and famous people, from red carpets and awards shows, that he might as well be living on another planet from the superstars whose star power he’s hoping will rub off on him.
The song’s theme lends itself naturally to the comedy of randomness and pop-culture references to the point where I wonder if there is a draft of this song with Al’s frequent muse William Shatner among the galaxy of stars the singer almost, sort of, kind of, doesn’t actually know at all, but has crossed paths with in deeply non-meaningful ways. The singer doesn’t actually know the star of Footloose, of course, but he “knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy, who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows Kevin Bacon”, establishing that there are, appropriately enough, exactly six degrees of separation between the actor and human party game and the almost impressively non-impressive fame whore humble-bragging his way through the song.
“Lame Claim to Fame” is a quintessential album cut, a modest tribute to a modest band that Al sells with demented, hillbilly enthusiasm and rowdy redneck energy. Al’s own claim to fame is nothing short of extraordinary, as I have hopefully documented over the course of this project, but this isn’t the best illustration of why Al deserves every bit of the extraordinary fame and success he’s accrued over the course of his remarkable career. Al also deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, of course, but that’s an argument and an injustice for another time and place.
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