As The Boy frequently points out to me, I am no musician. I do, however, know what I like. And I really, really like Weird Al Yankovic’s “Alpocalypse” album (I bought it through my iTunes store). Weird Al and I go back a long way–clear back to those winter afternoons when I listened to “Dr. Demento’ on a scratchy little transistor radio.
Weird Al got a lot of play time on Dr. Demento. I grew used to thinking of him as a the polka king, and a pretty darned good parodist. Which he was. But that was then. I moved to LA and couldn’t find a station that played Dr. Demento and Weird Al and I became Estranged. We probably still would be, if I hadn’t given birth to a son whose sense of humor is Warped, to put it mildly. Because I am a good and loving mother I introduced him to Weird Al at a tender age. We wore out a couple CD’s, and that was that. Or so I thought.
Then last year he discovered YouTube, and in his browsing he happened upon Weird Al again. And suddenly it was, “Mom, you gotta hear this,” and, “Mom, come listen…” and, “Mom, can we get…?”
And so it happened that I downloaded Weird Al Yankovic’s “Alpocalypse” album. And because I am now Middle Aged, and sadly out of touch with music these days, I found myself listening to Weird Al not as parody, but as music. And you know what? Weird Al’s come a long way, baby. Of course there are still the evergreen accordion polka numbers, but there is also much, much more. I’ve included a couple clips here.
So now we’re in a “Weird Al-rea,” so to speak. Take, for instance, “Skipper Dan.” (I’ve included a link for it below.) A hefty percentage of the songs on the “Alpocalypse” album are not parodies of songs, but of styles. In other words, Weird Al has picked a few characteristic riffs, chord changes, and sounds and woven them into otherwise original songs. The result is some pretty amazing, definitely ear-pleasing music that seems to move out of the realm of parody and into the realm of “influenced by.”
Music aside, though, Weird Al’s lyrics bear consideration. Take, again “Skipper Dan.” In an interview, Weird Al explains what inspired the song–a trip to Disneyland, a spin on the “Jungle Cruise” ride, and an aside by the “skipper” referencing his failed acting career. Yes, Weird Al’s songs are in many cases just plain fun (try getting social relevance out of “Yoda”–go ahead; I’ll wait), in some cases he uses humor to showcase social issues. Skipper Dan’s a guy who went to college, got an advanced degree (in Fine Art, no less), graduated–and now can’t find a job except for skippering tourists through the Disney jungle, performing the same “schtick” (Al’s word) 34 times a day. Sound like anybody you know? The difference is that Weird Al leaves us smiling ruefully, rather than reaching for the razor blades. If “Skipper Dan” started out as a parody, it moves so far beyond it as to demand judgment as music–and as social commentary–in its own right. This is a musician who has only gotten better as the years have passed.
I recommend you immediately browse to your favorite music purveyor and download the album. But buy it first. Meanwhile, here’s “Skipper Dan.” Enjoy.