“Weird Al” Yankovic
I’m a Tulsan, and Tulsans my age own Weird Al the way the Jews own Yahweh. Like a sports fan who loves an underdog team, we root for Al, win or lose, right or wrong, funny or painfully unfunny. My generation, the Gen X’ers who just started elementary school around the time Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was blowing up, got to see all those episodes of Al TV, plus of course the “Eat It” and “Fat” videos when they debuted, plus all the funny mash-up interviews he did in the nineties and continues to do. And most importantly of all, Al filmed his movie UHF right there in Tulsa, and a bunch of us got to be in it (can you spot the orange haired boy in this scene?):
I admit that Al is more miss than hit nowadays. For every “White and Nerdy” he puts out, there’s always some dumb song with a concept stolen from a Saturday Night Live sketch, or a parody involving food that’s just not filling anymore. But like every rock and roll star, his old stuff is sooo good, especially when he had the accordion strapped on. He pioneered the type of cultural trivia comedy that later infused the songs of Redd Kross and made Mike Myers’s movies so popular. And deep down in his soul, Al is a punk rocker, going against the grain to find a sense of humor when everyone around him is so full of themselves, and often doing it with a snarl.
Take one of my favorite songs from his self-titled debut, “Happy Birthday”–a song that my friends and I won a lip synch contest with in the fifth grade. Using a theme he would try again on later albums, he takes a holiday sentiment and debases it with a blunt reality check:
Well there’s a punk in the alley, and he’s lookin’ for a fight
There’s an Arab on the corner buyin’ everything in sight
There’s a mother in the ghetto with another mouth to feed
Seems like everywhere you look today there’s misery and greed
I guess you know the earth is gonna crash into the sun
But that’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a lot of fun
So if you think it’s scary and it’s more than you can take
Just blow out the candles and have a piece of cake!
Of course, it could just be that as a Tulsan, I’m hiiiiiiiiiighly prejudiced in favor of this man. But I just can’t help thinking that the young Al was a genius pioneer of mirth. I mean, hell, when you see his first appearance on the Tom Snyder show, squint your eyes just a bit, and imagine you’re at the Smell or Il Corral (R.I.P.) or Club Ding-A-Ling in L.A. Can’t you see this guy winning over crowds of young hipster who never heard that they should hate Dr. Demento? If you think Gang of Four or the Fall is anywhere near as punk rock as this, you’re a mean-spirited, ignorant fuck: