On September 24, 2013 Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Jr. declared that day to be “Weird Al Day” in the Oklahoma city where the artist filmed the movie UHF a quarter of a century ago. This is something that fills my heart with joy on a level I can’t even begin to describe in words. Not that I’ve ever let that stop me before.
Weird Al is one of my favorite musicians, and I’ll argue he’s one of the best of the last twenty years or so. He’s stayed relevant to pop culture for almost three decades without resorting to gratuitous profanity, sexuality, or any of the other controversial things most artists seem to be resorting to in order to maintain their fame. No, Al Yankovic has just done what he always has: been himself, been silly, and been incredibly entertaining doing it. He’s smart, he’s musically skilled, and his lyrical wit is second to none. He’s ripped Madonna, Michael Jackson, REM, Nirvana, Chamillionaire, Avril Levigne, Billy Ray Cyrus, Presidents of the United States of America,Pearl Jam, Lady Gaga…he’s always right there.
But more on that in a minute. Since we’re talking about Weird Al Day, it’s only fair to talk about the movie that made it all possible, because the reality is that some of you probably haven’t seen it yet. I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone, but it’s a campy 80’s romp about the people who own and work at a UHF-band television station. In line with a lot of 80s cheese flicks, a big bad network station wants to tear down their little ragtag station and they have a very brief window in which to make enough money to save their station. But one of the reasons I love this movie is, frankly, because it takes a poke at one of my other favorite comedic geniuses: Mel Brooks. There’s a point in the movie where someone says “Badgers? We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers!” Those of you who have seen Blazing Saddles just smiled. UHF is definitely a cult classic and worth as many watches as you can stomach.
Which brings me back to the real reason I love Weird Al: the music. More specifically, it’s the way he does other people’s music. Granted, he hides a lot of his own work in the form of style parodies like the song Dare to Be Stupid, which may have out-Devo’d Devo, but a lot of what Weird Al has done is single-song parodies and polka medleys. The medleys are actually impressive simply because of the way he synthesizes the various songs, but the parody songs are genuinely amazing. Even his first Dr. Demento single Another One Rides The Bus is brilliant in it’s simplicity, both in content and in practical composition (he and his drummer recorded the song in a men’s room using his accordian and case.) Perhaps the best part of his musical contribution is that it provides us a way to cope with songs we’ve either been oversaturated with or genuinely hated from the first time we heard them, allowing us to appreciate the music of the song by giving us words that don’t make us want to gouge our eardrums.