Day One hundred and fifty-nine: "My Own Eyes" from Mandatory Fun
Four decades into his unlikely and triumphant career, American pop parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic just picked up his fifth Grammy, defeating Guns N’ Roses, The Decembrists, Grateful Dead and Johnny Nicholas. Even more impressively, the Grammy is for Al’s 15 volume, career-spanning, high-end, elaborately designed box set Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Five Grammys is good. That’s REAL good. That fifth Grammy separates the real from the fake, the legends from the pretenders.
I’m not going to lie. If you only have four Grammys, you might still suck. You may still be terrible at what you do and an embarrassment to your family and your community. You may be utter garbage. You can fake your way to four Grammys. EASILY.
But five Grammys? That means you’re legit. That means you’re good at what you do and people like you. Five Grammys and you can throw away those Lyft and Uber brochures because you are officially successful at music and no longer need to contemplate a side-gig in the ride-share community.
Five Grammys is some serious validation. It’s the universe and also The Recording Academy telling you in the most literal possible way that you are a winner. And not just once, but five times. Five Grammy’s is a big thumbs up from your higher power. It’s Sean Connery shouting, “You’re the man now, dog!” in a barely comprehensible Scottish brogue.
Al didn’t just win in the usual comedy or music video categories, either, where his competition are literally clowns and buffoons who invite the world to laugh at them and their failings. No, Al triumphed in a prestigious archival category attesting to his astonishing resilience and endurance as an artist and pop icon that found him squaring off against, and completely destroying, to the point that they now lack all credibility and authority as artists, previously legendary rock icons like Grateful Dead and Guns n’ Roses. Once towering icons of the industry, Guns n’ Roses and Grateful Dead will now be now exclusively as losers Al beat like a misbehaving mule.
It was “Gotta Boggie” versus “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Box of Rain” for the big prize and Al handed these doped-up rock posers the kind of whipping outsider artist Wesley Willis, himself a five-time Grammy winner, sang so passionately about.
And this wasn’t even the Funny Five champ’s first box set. I should know. I first met Al in the late 1990s, when he came to Madison, Wisconsin for a show. One day at the Onion office a weirdly familiar looking dude knocked on the door of the A.V Club office and asked if our editor Stephen was there. We said yes and then this man went into Stephen’s part of the office and then to the section of the office where the comedy writers worked.
It took me a while to realize this man was “Weird Al” Yankovic without his mustache or glasses and while I foolishly attempted to work and not think about the fact that my childhood hero was hanging out a hundred feet away I eventually gave up and walked anxiously over to where Al was talking with the comedy writers.
“Hey Nathan, do you know “Weird Al” Yankovic?” someone asked me, to which I replied, ”KNOW him? I have the man’s box set.” That got a laugh, which made me feel good although I was not kidding. I did possess 1993’s four-disc Permanent Record: Al in the Box.
I never could have foreseen how prominently a much bigger, much more expensive “Weird Al” Yankovic box set would figure in my future, since that was the inspiration for this perversely exhaustive, years-long labor of love.
The box set and the accolades it has accrued are a powerful testament to Al’s status as an album artist, not just the “Eat It” guy. The aggressively goofy and goofily aggressive Foo Fighters pastiche “My Own Eyes” is a quintessential album cut. It’s about a man afflicted with an intense case of PTSD or Post-Traumatic Silliness-Disorder.
A series of unlikely, if not downright impossible images are burned indelibly into his frazzled brain, much to his regret and horror, each more ridiculous than the last.
Musically, this is about as straightforward as Al gets. The choruses are fundamentally serious but the verses are like little one-panel gag strips from Mad Magazine or National Lampoon, centered on a series of absurd images and conceits. A man’s guinea pig commits Harikari, a Japanese ritual suicide by self-disembowelment, which then finds a ghoulish second life as a hacky sack. The next door neighbor’s children sell lemonade and weapons-grade plutonium, accepting payment in MasterCard and sometimes human organs.
That mights seem a little peculiar, if not the kind of thing that would drive a normal man insane, making him want to disconnect his brain, but we are assured that this is REALLY good lemonade. In a wonderfully Al bit of subversion and misdirection the impassioned singer brings up human organs, children selling illicit, illegal and deadly radioactive chemicals and a lemonade stand, then focusses monomaniacally on one aspect of the lemonade stand: the lemon drink’s irrefutable quality. If we’re to remember anything about this unusual scenario it’s that the kids selling plutonium and accepting human organs as payment are selling homemade, delicious lemonade, not that Minute Maid powdered junk.
Like Bieber fever and the danger posed by mime’s imaginary cleavers, PTSD is no laughing matter. Post-Traumatic-Silliness-Disorder, on the other hand, is very much a laughing matter, particularly with Al and the gang rocking this hard and this ridiculously.
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