Day One hundred and sixty-five: "Jackson Park Express" from Mandatory Fun
Well, friends, we have come to another huge milestone here at The Weird Accordion to Al: the final song on 2014s Mandatory Fun, the last of Al’s fourteen studio albums to date. We made it! I have now written about every track on every “Weird Al” Yankovic studio solo album.
That brings us, of course, to another of Al’s album-ending epics of deeply personal perversity and darkness. This is historically the spot on each album where Al gets weird, where he takes his time, where he chases his wild muse wherever odd places it leads.
In “Jackson Park Express” that curious place is a bus that’s the setting for a tale of romantic obsession at once wildly melodramatic and perversely unimportant, even pointless.
Now I don’t want to brag, but I have spent a lot of time with mentally ill people on bus rides. To put it another way, I have spent a lot of time on buses. I probably didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve probably been on Greyhound buses with people like the rancid romantic singing “Jackson Park Express.”
My time following Al on tour in 2018 was spent mostly on buses. Buses figure very prominently in Al’s oeuvre. Though “My Bologna” predates it, “Another One Rides the Bus” is, in many ways, the real beginning of Al’s career. Al began his life as a non-Capitol recording artist raging against the machine that drives poor people around and his fellow bus passengers and ended his fourteenth album inhabiting the delusional mind of one of the weirdoes who make bus travel a low-key crucible, particularly if you’re paying attention to the people around you, which I encourage you not to do. At best, you’ll be depressed. At worst you’ll encounter the sinister gaze of someone like the creepy Casanova crooning this myopic ballad.
There’s a bus at the beginning of Al’s career as a recording artist and a bus at the end. In between there’s a rocket-powered limousine ride straight to the top, baby!
“Jackson Park Express” is the Gone With the Wind of Al’s songs about creepy casanovas, about lousy lothsarios. It’s bigger, longer and more involved than any of Al’s previous anti-love songs about l’amour fou at its most foolish.
On a musical level, “Jackson Park Express” is huge, an epic that stretches out over nine leisurely minutes. On a lyrical level, on the other hand, “Jackson Park Express” is about almost nothing.
In the mind of the cracked romantic singing it, however, “Jackson Park Express” is about everything. It’s about love at first sight. It’s about destiny. It’s about romantic and sexual chemistry. It’s about romantic obsession. It’s about romantic passion so outsized and unhinged that it becomes a form of happy madness.
To the outside world and to listeners, however, it’s something much different and much more modest, even perversely small and inconsequential: the romantic fantasies of a bus passenger over the course of a ride to work.
“Jackson Park Express” is about unrequited love at its most one-sided and delusional. Our insane anti-hero/villain’s life changes completely, if ephemerally, when the unfortunate object of his desire takes a seat opposite him on the bus to work and the two exchange glances that give the song’s singer all manner of delusional hope.
It’s not unusual or insane to read into facial expressions, body language and gestures, to interpret a warm smile as an invitation to flirt, or angrily crossed arms as a defensive gesture implicitly warning strangers to stay away. Sure enough, “Jackson Park Express” opens on a comparatively sane note, with the lovestruck bus passenger thinking he and his oblivious would-be soulmate share a special connection based on her smile and their relative proximity.
In a fit of optimism, our narrator interprets his fellow passenger’s smile as communicating implicitly but brightly and unmistakably, "Hello, Haven't seen you on this bus before.”
Needless to say, dear readers, things take a turn. The situation escalates. At first the public transportation Romeo simply imagines very weird flirtation involving nose jobs, Hewlett-Packard printers and baggies full of deer ticks. You know, the accoutrements of love.
It doesn’t take long, however, for affectionate glances to lead to declarations at once outsized and vaudevillian: our deluded woman-killer shoots his beloved a look he intends to mean, "You are my answer, my answer to everything/Which is why, I'll probably do very poorly/On the written part of my driver's test.”
This is not the only time our narrator is excessively literal in his non-verbal declaration of adoration. Later he silently implores, ”I would make any sacrifice for your love: goat, chicken, whatever.”
In his feverish imagination, the singer and the woman he’s mentally courting are experiencing all of the various phases of a romantic relationship, from the big bang of love at first sight to the giddy intoxication of young love and newfound infatuation and finally to the weary disillusionment of breaking up, in conceding to yourself, your partner and the outside world that your love was not, alas, meant to stand the test of time.
Our singer’s conception of love more closely resembles Cronenbergian body horror. Through facial expressions, of course, our creepy crooner tells the luckily oblivious object of his desire/madness, “I'd like to rip you wide open/And french-kiss every single one of your internal organs/Oh, I'd like to remove all your skin, and wear your skin, over my own skin/But not in a creepy way.”
In his appeal, this gent is more Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre motion pictures or Buffalo Bill, the charming fellow from Silence of the Lambs than a traditional romantic. From everything he reveals about himself, the woman with the one good eye is lucky that her “relationship” with the singer is exclusively a figment of his overly vivid imagination. A man who wants to wear your skin as a suit or cut you open so they can salivate all of your esophagus is not to be trusted. That kind of devotion could easily turn creepy.
“Jackson Park Express” reminds us once again that Al is of course the over-looked father of horrorcore. The violent lunatic singing this warped song of obsession might think he’s whispering sweet nothings but in reality he is, like most of Al’s romantics, substantially closer to a serial killer than a dream man.
It’s nice, I suppose that the lovesick man singing the song doesn’t want to see his object of desire cry, but cauterizing her eye ducts with an arc welder is not the way to go about it.
The song’s narrator imagines a sweeping narrative of flirtation, infatuation, love and then heartbreak but the only gestures he actually seems to be making are an unmistakable glance at her shirt the singer imagines, correctly this time, can only be interpreted as “I like your boobs”, and another look that says, “Hey, I think you got something on the side of your mouth.”
“Jackson Park Express” begins in a place of delusional hope and closes on one of delusional resignation, with our antihero reconciling himself to a noble, stoic ending to something that never actually existed in the first place.
It took me a while to warm up to “Jackson Park Express.” It’s a bit of a sleeper, an epic shaggy dog story of a Cat Stevens homage that ultimately won me over in no small part because I had the pleasure of experiencing it live more than once.
The ending of the studio album portion of this project, and the beginning of its Kickstarter/book-making/Medium Rarities-covered aspects invites the question: will Al put out more albums? It’s been five years since the release of Mandatory Fun. The record industry, and the “business” have both changed tremendously since then in ways that make you wonder if there really even is a record industry anymore.
Despite the sense of closure I am currently experiencing having officially written about every single “Weird Al” Yankovic studio album I would be overjoyed if Al puts out an album next year even if it renders this project incomplete. Heck, that’s what second printings are for although I will be overjoyed I’ll be obscenely grateful if the first printing is a success.
With the simultaneously epic and slight “Jackson Park Express” we’ve come to an end but don’t worry, with Medium Rarities and the book still on deck it will be a very, very long time until I’m done writing about Al. Y’all might be done reading my obsessive thoughts on the man and his music but that’s another matter entirely.
Celebrate the (near) end of The Weird Accordion to Al by contributing to the Kickstarter for the book over at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/weirdaccordiontoal/make-the-weird-accordion-to-al-book-a-ridiculous-r?ref=project_build
And of course y’all can give me money as well over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace