Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weird Al

I have lots of bad memories of primary school (Up to grade 8).  Most people have their "I was the outsider" moments of course as for many of us the school years were an endless series of hazings and putdowns occasionally punctuated with learning something or other.  One of the most revealing memories I have is when I was in grade 8 and my class was trying to put together a yearbook.  I wasn't remotely interested in the yearbook as I didn't particular *want* to preserve my memories of the year and presumably many of my classmates would have been perfectly content to forget me entirely.  However, the yearbook is supposed to contain entertaining and informative quotes from every member of the class so one of the girls involved in building the thing came to me to collect the requisite data.  Our conversation started roughly like this:

Her:  So, what is your favourite band?

Me:  Ummm.  I don't have one.

Her:  You have to pick one.

Me:  Uh, ok, Weird Al.

Her:  You can't pick Weird Al... pick something else.

Me:  But I like Weird Al!

Her:  Pick a real band, like Nirvana or the Chili Peppers.

Me:  -silent glower-

Things went downhill from there.  Thing is, if I had listened to all the bands without prior knowledge I might have picked one as my favourite that was acceptable to the yearbook committee but I was very biased... any band that the cool kids liked I automatically hated.  I liked Weird Al because he mocked all the cool bands and acted like a complete geek and yet was obviously really successful.  I had a simmering reserve of hate for all the cool kids who liked whatever band was considered most rebellious at the time and that hate spilled over to whatever they were into.  I reasoned that unthinking rebellion against the regime was foolish - picking favourites just to upset your parents was ridiculous in my view.  Of course choosing my favourites by rebelling against the cool kids mired me in hypocrisy but I was too young and too bitter to see that.

Today I was wandering around youtube and saw a wonderful video (seriously, watch it) by one Weird Al Yankovic.  I then was stuck viewing more and more of his music videos and wondering at the outrageous geekery.  This guy manages to spend his time writing the silliest of lyrics mocking whoever is big at the time and acting and looking like a Star Trek obsessed nerd without the most rudimentary of social skills and yet is hugely successful by any measure.  He has been making music for decades, has boatloads of money and recognition all while stealing the majority of his music from other people!  I may have been a clueless, hypocritical buffoon in grade 8 but at least my admiration for Weird Al wasn't entirely misplaced - I just got lucky that the thing all my peers hated happened to be something good.

There are plenty of people who geeks could take as role models but I think Weird Al is one of the best.  He does entirely his own thing to the extent that he practically has his own genre, he gets up on stage and acts in ways that are entirely ridiculous and yet he has thrived and endured.  You have something crazy you want to do?  Go do it!  Can you imagine the conversations he must have had when starting his career?

Dad, one day I am going to sing silly lyrics to somebody else's music and mock them the whole time!

Son, don't be ridiculous.  You are going to Law School just like we planned.

No Dad, I am going to act like a geek and sing songs about Pentiums and the Amish and Star Wars!

Son, don't make me lock you in the basement....

Weird Al, you rock.

1 comment:

  1. High school had its share of hazings and putdowns for Weird Al too. He's described himself more than once in interviews as the kind of kid you'd copy off his paper in math class and then beat him up at recess. I post on a Weird Al fan forum and we once had a visit from a guy who went to high school with Al and did, basically, admit to bullying him. But Al's parents were very supportive, he's often said how his father told him that success in life was being able to earn a living at something you enjoyed doing. Geek role model? Yes, absolutely. He knows exactly what he enjoys doing, and how he wants to do it, and he puts tremendous painstaking energy into everything he does. I've been to more than 30 Weird Al shows now, and he never, ever phones it in. And when you meet Al, he's friendly and down to earth and attentive. Not just to fans, but hotel clerks, venue managers, the girl who works the merch booth, his hairdresser on a video shoot... you get the idea. And he appears to be fundamentally a happy person. The geeks, freaks, and social misfits should be so lucky. And just maybe they can be.