• The Existentialist Music of Weird Al Yankovic [videos]

    Weird AlI have been a fan of Weird Al since I was a kid. It’s hard not to admire someone so profoundly successful by way of professionally mocking people. That’s what I’d do, if I had the accordion skills. As Al gained real fame and record sales, his music transitioned from sardonic, sometimes dark fare to increasingly lighter G-rated parodies. To be sure, he has always had purely silly, light-hearted music in his albums, but old-school fans fondly remember the richly morbid, edgier tracks common to earlier albums.

    Considering Al has put out compilation albums based on loose themes such as The Food Album and The TV Album, it seems a shame he does not produce a The Existential Album because the songs in question are all about meaning, striving, suffering, and failing in an indifferent universe. These also tend to be entirely original songs, not parodies of Michael Jackson or Nirvana. These did not make him famous, but they are some of his best work.

    Unsurprisingly, many of these tracks are stylistic perversions of mainstream love songs, and they’re all worth a listen. They play as much on the intrinsic alienation of the human condition as on the saccharine FM tunes they ridicule, with themes of sad resignation in accepting unhappiness with the wrong mate, unquenchable fear of defection of a paramor, and post-failed relationship hatred and anger. I am going to list One More Minute first because I enjoy the whip-lash satire technique employed.

    One More Minute (1985)

    The flawless doo-wop riffing and vivid imagery are quite compelling.

    Good Enough for Now (1986)

    The clever lyrics and country bluegrass motif will make you laugh, until you realize this is exactly how other people have (quietly) felt about you.

    I Was Only Kidding

    You Don’t Love Me Anymore (1990)

    The music video satirizes Extreme’s More than Words , but the song is entirely original. Includes cameo by Robert Goulet.

    You can’t get more on the nose when puncturing sappy nostalgia pieces than writing a parody called The Good Ol’ Days. These three songs appeal to the sensibility that nostalgia is largely nonsense. We tend to remember the positives of the past and forget the quotidian travails, the tedium, and the sharpness of the fears of those moments. Even if we’re psychotic monsters, as the storytelling voice of The Good Ol’ Days is. I Remember Larry is also about a severely deranged individual. These tracks are about the foolishness of the idea we can be sure the minds around us are human, instead of distorted charades, alien and inscrutable.

    The good ol’ days (1987)

    When I Was Your Age (1991)

    I Remember Larry (1994)

    Death, confusion, and Christmas
    All you need to understand is everything you know is wrong, Al sings in the eponymous track. The wacky tune belies the underlying message of the futility of knowledge. If you go back in time far enough, most of the beliefs a typical person had were some version of wrong or woefully incomplete. Thusly, we would be fools not to notice we are the time “far back” for our distant descendants. I solve that problem by not having direct descendants, but not everyone is as forward-thinking.

    Everything You Know Is Wrong (1994)

    When the narrator of the song has the opportunity to time travel back to any point in time, he chooses last Thursday in order to to pay his phone bill on time, because his spirit is crushed by the modern milieu and he attends to the minutia, the mountains of his useless existence.

    I’ll Be Mellow When I’m Dead (1981)

    The youthful defiance of social norms in Mellow is naive and strained, masking the writer’s uncertainty and fear of life, and of death.

    Mr. Frump in the Iron Lung

    Tellingly, this brutal reminder of mortality appears on Yankovic’s self-titled album along with Mellow. It is the final track of the LP. A little on the nose, I’d say.

    The Night Santa Went Crazy

    The hollow, over-sold bromides of commercial holidays are ready targets for Weird Al’s meditative vituperations.

    Christmas at Ground Zero

    Christmas at Ground Zero is a tidy wrap-up for this post. Weird Al is conveying that fear is the ultimate driver. The sleigh-belled music is a catchy tradition. But so is influenza.

    Category: featuredFeatured Inchumorphilosophy

  • Article by: Edward Clint

    Ed Clint is an evolutionary psychologist, co-founder of Skeptic Ink, and USAF veteran.