Watching the Watchmen

Watchmen – I actually read the graphic novel on which this film was based a few years back, but I don’t recall if I wrote about it at the time. I had to return it to the library before finishing it and then read the end at a bookstore, so my memories of the rest of it weren’t so great by that time. The movie refreshed my memory about a lot of it, though. The comic was sort of a deconstruction of the idea of superheroes, and while I liked it, I wasn’t quite sure what the message was supposed to be. Not that there has to be a message, but it was interesting how so many of the characters seemed to be nihilists. The Comedian is a jerky rapist who considers everything to be a joke, Rorschach someone who hates humanity and has a particular distaste for liberal philosophy, Dr. Manhattan separated from mankind by his super-powered brain (although he’s still human enough to leave his girlfriend for a younger woman), and Ozymandias thinks the way to help the world is to kill a bunch of people. I don’t know that it’s necessarily promoting a nihilistic worldview, but it didn’t appear to be totally against it either. Apparently writer Alan Moore identifies as an anarchist, as well as an anti-tonsorialist.

Although gritty superhero stories were certainly nothing new in the 1980s, there does seem to be a general sense of idealism to the genre, and Watchmen is largely but maybe not totally rejecting that. The movie was made more than twenty years after the comic had been finished, with a few different directors having given up on the idea of filming it. From what I remember of the graphic novel, the film was pretty faithful, with the biggest change being the ending. I think that might have actually made more sense in the movie, though, as it returned to the theme of impending nuclear war. I didn’t know most of the actors in the film, although I do remember Jackie Earle Haley as Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, and totally misrepresenting the character as far as I’m concerned. I think he used pretty much exactly the same voice for Rorschach. Speaking of voices, Dr. Manhattan’s struck me as the kind someone might use when reading to a child. I seem to recall Richard Nixon having been elected for a third time as something that didn’t come up until later in the comic, while the movie mentioned it right away. Speaking of which, Back to the Future Part II had a newspaper from the altered version of 1985 mentioning Nixon running for a fourth term.

Not sure how Biff being rich would have had any impact on that, but I do wonder if it was an intentional Watchmen reference. Also, there was a clever joke at the end of the graphic novel about an actor with the initials RR preparing for a presidential run in 1988. This turned out to be Robert Redford, but the movie just flat-out mentioned Reagan, probably because the gag would have been harder to pull off in a different medium.

Posted in Book Reviews, Comics, Philosophy, VoVat Goes to the Movies | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Well, It’s a Paradigm Shift Now

Are you all ready for some Mandatory Fun? “Weird Al” Yankovic’s fourteenth album just came out this week, and he says there’s a good chance it will be his last physical record. That’s not to say he’s retiring, just seriously considering switching to digital distribution of individual songs. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I prefer albums, but I can kind of see his point. It’s not like Al has done concept albums or anything. On the other hand, I like the fact that they tend to alternate between direct parodies and original songs, and I’m always somewhat interested in track order. If this does turn out to be true, it’s the end of an era, but not the end of Weird Al. Anyway, this new album features a fitting name and artwork of Al as a dictator. As far as the songs go…well, let’s see.

Handy – About eighteen years ago, Al wrote a parody of the theme from Friends about home repair, the joke being that he intended it as the theme to Home Improvement. Of course, Home Improvement predated Friends by a few years, but whatever.

Apparently the Rembrandts were okay with it, but NBC didn’t want the song to be overexposed. Yeah, good job with THAT, guys. Anyway, Al seems to be someone who never wastes an idea, and this song has a lot of the same jokes. The parody target is Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” which is apparently a big hit with the kids, but I wasn’t familiar with it. I listened to it when I found out Al was parodying it, and I can’t say I was that fond of it. Like, what is Ms. Azalea going for with that voice? I like the parody, though; I think Al sometimes manages to make songs more listenable. The video shows Al’s character with blond hair and a mustache, which I guess he thought made him fit the role better. Or is it because Iggy has blonde hair? I don’t know.

Lame Claim to Fame – This is a style parody of Southern Culture on the Skids, and while I’m sure I’ve heard them before (I believe my dad had one of their albums), I’m not familiar enough to really tell where the style is coming from. I think it would count as rockabilly. The lyrics are about the narrator’s weak connections to celebrities, like knowing someone who had jury duty with Art Garfunkel and using the same napkin dispenser as Steve Carrell. It also references Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the Nigerian Prince scam, and people posting “first” on Internet comments. If this one is video fodder (and I’m guessing it might be, since there are some pictures floating around that would best fit this song), I’ll bet someone is going to post “first” there. I also just had to look up Kim Kardashian’s birthday, and it turns out to be three days before Al’s.

Foil – The title for this parody of Lorde’s “Royals” might seem pretty obvious, and the first verse hearkens back to the food theme that Al has been using less in his recent work. He continues in a more bizarre theme related to the same subject for the second verse, getting into the character of a foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist, and tying together a lot of different ideas along these lines. I was curious as to where the foil hat idea actually comes from, and Wikipedia suggests a 1927 story by Julian Huxley. It also points out that there’s some basis to aluminum foil providing protection from radio waves, but whether telepathy would work the same way is anyone’s guess. Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant from The State appear in the video as men in black.

Sports Song – This pretty much gets to the point of every sports fight song out there: “We’re great, and you suck.” The use of technical language (“Try to assimilate that information, and it might just help to cope with your impending loss”) reminds me of Tom Lehrer’s football fight song “Fight Fiercely, Harvard,” although Al’s isn’t quite as genteel.

The video features the marching band from Riverside City College, not far from Los Angeles.

Word Crimes – Al has made a few short videos where he corrects common grammatical mistakes on signs and such, so this song is in some ways the extension of that. I’m impressed that Al managed to turn Robin Thicke’s popular but controversial “Blurred Lines” into an anthem for language snobs. I’ll admit to being a bit of one myself, although I’ve eased up on it in recent years. While I’m not sure what I’d consider the best song on this album, “Word Crimes” is probably the most original, although I guess you could say it’s sort of a meaner version of Schoolhouse Rock. Al has admitted to sticking in a split infinitive as a joke, perhaps to emphasize that no one is free from the occasional hypocrisy in this respect: “That really makes me want to literally smack a crowbar upside your stupid head.” I suspect “smack a crowbar upside” is also somewhat grammatically flawed, although I’m not sure how to say it properly. “TO the upside OF your head,” perhaps? And while the phrase “cunning linguist” is an old joke, it’s still amusing that Al is getting crap past the radar, as they say. The animated video includes references to the number twenty-seven, Al’s character from UHF, the “get a brain, morans” guy, and Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.” No naked ladies with inexplicable goats, however.

My Own Eyes – I kind of think the lyrics to this one come across as mostly wacky for the sake of wacky, which isn’t to say they aren’t funny, just that there isn’t any larger point that I can see (with my own eyes, anyway). I know it’s a Foo Fighters style parody, but is it tackling any particular song of theirs? I do have to say it sounds really good music-wise. The guitar riff is quite reminiscent of Velvet Revolver’s “Slither,” which Al had earlier used in “Polkarama!” My favorite line is “I saw a mime get hacked to death with an imaginary fever,” although the old man dying of Bieber Fever in the next line comes close.

NOW That’s What I Call Polka! – Since I understand some of the titles for earlier polka medleys come from compilation albums, it’s about time he got to this one! For me, it’s the polkas more than the parodies where I tend to think, “Hey, why didn’t he use this song? It would have been perfect!” Of course, there are both rights and arrangement issues to deal with there. Some of the classic sound effects (breaking glass, gunshots, bird calls) are featured here, as is Al’s wife Suzanne screaming during “Scream & Shout.” I’d say the funniest bit is during “Thrift Shop,” when Al starts replying to the lines like he did with “Last Night” in “The Angry White Boy Polka.” The way he says, “I do!” and “It’s large!” crack me up. While the best polkafications often tend to be the ones that totally change the mood from the originals, the format can also be effective in mocking the repetitiveness of songs, in this case Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” being the obvious example. I hope the end of physical Al-bums doesn’t mean the end of Al’s polka medleys as well, but sadly I saw an indication that it might, as they’re a lot of work for him. He did provide some hope that they might stay alive in concert, however, so anyone attending an Al show after the promotion for this album ends had better make some good recordings! Speaking of which, I found a pre-album version of “Polkas on 45″ on YouTube, which includes a few songs that didn’t make it to the final cut, like “Der Kommissar,” “1999,” “She Blinded Me with Science,” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

Mission Statement – While most of Al’s parodies are of recent songs (the four that pair classic songs with recent movies being the exceptions), the style parodies provide Al an opportunity to take on some stuff from earlier eras. This one takes on the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young with lyrics incorporating as many corporate buzzwords as possible. It’s somewhat more subdued in its humor than many of the others here, letting the ridiculous language speak for itself instead of actively joking about it. And the musical arrangement is excellent, especially when it brings in the added harmonies towards the end.

Inactive – Here’s another one where I didn’t know the source material, Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” Listening to it, I thought it had an interesting sound but wasn’t that great overall. I kind of have to say the same thing about Al’s version, which is easily the weakest of the parodies on the album. I’ve heard that there were a few other parodies of this song with the “inactive” theme before Al’s, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I’ve heard that other people came up with “Another One Rides the Bus” and “Gump” before he did, and I’m sure many children independently thought up “Eat It”; but Al’s versions were obviously the definitive ones), it’s a little disappointing when he seems to be trying for more original ideas with most of his recent parodies. Oh, well.

First World Problems – I remember reading that Frank Black’s kids always wanted to listen to Weird Al, and since this is a Pixies style parody, I guess they can now listen to Weird Al imitating their dad. Actually, he doesn’t really go for an imitation of Frank’s voice, but he does latch onto how, particularly on earlier Pixies songs, Frank often sings the higher parts and Kim Deal the lower. Here, the Kim part is sung by Amanda Palmer, another artist whose work I’ve been eagerly following in the past few years. It’s sort of a trade-off, since Al was one of many guest vocalists on the Evelyn Evelyn song “My Space.” There are hints of “Debaser” and “Tame” from Doolittle in the music. As for the words, the First World Problems meme has been around for a while now, but Al DID record this one over a year ago. As of this writing, this was the most recent video to come out, and it’s pretty literal aside from the narrator’s comeuppance at the end. Maybe it should have had Al just holding his mouth open instead of lip-syncing, like in the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man” video.

Tacky – Pharrell Williams’ admittedly catchy “Happy” here becomes a list of tacky clothing and behaviors. Al really seems to have a knack for capturing some of the most annoying things people do, often online. I think I might actually like it if someone brought along a coupon book on a date, though. The video for this one features Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Jack Black, and some other comedians I’m less familiar with.

Jackson Park Express – After ending Running with Scissors with “Albuquerque,” Al has placed an atypically long song at or near the end of each album. This one, largely inspired by Cat Stevens, isn’t as epic as some of those, but it’s still quite clever. The song is told from the point of view of a guy who imagines a detailed, intimate, and bizarre conversation with a woman on a bus (in Chicago, apparently) based only on minor gestures. It includes some amusing puns and entertaining creepiness, although at least this unhinged narrator doesn’t pursue the object of his affection like the ones in “Melanie” or “Do I Creep You Out?”, as he takes her brushing against his leg on the way off the bus as an indication that she’s breaking up with him.

So how does this album stack up to the others? I don’t know; I think I’m long past the point where I can make any attempt at ranking them. In many ways, it’s more of the same; yet Al also consistently manages to come up with new ways to tweak his formula, and new subjects to lampoon. Nothing here was particularly unexpected, but it has the right mix of wordplay, sarcasm, absurdity, and technical skill that make Al a lasting success as both a musician and a comedian.

So, should I go back and do a song-by-song review of Alpocalypse, or is that enough Al for a while? Let me know.

Posted in Albums, Conspiracy Theories, Frank Black/Black Francis, Humor, Language, Music, Pixies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Best Friends Forever and Even Longer

We’ve established that there aren’t very many ROMANTIC couples in the Oz books, but there are a whole lot of best friend pairs. Some people choose to make them romantic pairings as well, because that’s what fans of pretty much every fictional universe seem to want to do these days, but they’re not canonical. The Scarecrow and Tin Woodman are probably the most frequently used, but when they were first introduced there wasn’t much of a sense of their being close friends. Sure, they got along, but the story was more about how they both related to Dorothy rather than to each other. The stage play made the two of them a comic duo, however, and this likely led to their being largely inseparable friends in the later books.

This might also have been why L. Frank Baum decided to give the Cowardly Lion his own counterpart in the Hungry Tiger.

They walk shoulder to shoulder pulling Ozma’s chariot, and sit on either side of her throne during state occasions. The Marvelous Land of Oz also presented Jack Pumpkinhead and the Sawhorse as a pair of sorts, with the horse being intended as Jack’s steed because he had a hard time walking, and they are a team in the Queer Visitors from the Marvelous Land of Oz comics and one of the Little Wizard Stories.

Since the Sawhorse becomes Ozma’s steed and Jack moves outside the Emerald City, however, they aren’t together quite as frequently in later books. The beginning of Lost Princess established Button-Bright and Ojo as best friends, but they weren’t all that frequently paired up in the rest of the Famous Forty.

Then there are Trot and Cap’n Bill, and while the Cap’n is sort of a surrogate father to the girl, they’re also best friends.

Betsy Bobbin and Hank also qualify, as do the Guardian of the Gates and the Soldier with Green Whiskers. Of course, these characters don’t always appear together, but such duos were definitely a recurring theme for Baum. Ruth Plumly Thompson tended not to feature these character pairs quite as much, although this was probably largely personal preference in many cases. She used the Scarecrow a lot, for instance, but Nick Chopper was more often than not just a supporting character in her stories. She did introduce a pair of constant companions in the Comfortable Camel and Doubtful Dromedary, but then apparently separated the two at the end of Yellow Knight.

John R. Neill went back to the Scarecrow and Nick usually appearing together, to the point where he made the Scarecrow King of the Munchkins, presumably for the sake of symmetry since the Tin Woodman ruled the Winkies. He also tended to pair up Ojo with Kabumpo, despite the fact that I don’t think the two even interacted in the Thompson books.

Posted in Characters, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

My Problems Are Temporal Things

The old proverb that money can’t buy happiness was probably, like so many things in this world, made up by a rich guy who was trying to keep the poor in their place. On the face of it, I guess it’s correct, in that money can’t DIRECTLY buy any kind of feeling. What it CAN buy, however, is security, and that can certainly make people happier. Also, there’s that whole Hierarchy of Needs thing, which says that when people are concerned about basic needs, they can’t worry as much about how they’re feeling. That said, I think it is true that depression doesn’t discriminate, and I’m sure plenty of rich people suffer from it. I have to say that I sometimes have trouble feeling sorry for them, though. I guess I’m saying that, if I had the choice of being depressed and rich or depressed and poor, I’d probably prefer the latter.

At least then I could probably find ways to alleviate my depression, as well as medication to keep it in check. While I guess it’s not directly related, I sort of associate this with all the stories of celebrities doing dumb things. Maybe they don’t do any more dumb things than the average person; it’s just that they’re more publicized. On the other hand, when I hear stories about Justin Bieber or Lindsay Lohan driving drunk, I think, “Don’t they have enough money to just hire a driver?”

I guess it’s possible they don’t, as some celebrities end up with crappy contracts or (in the case of child stars) parents who take all their money; but it seems unlikely. Mind you, drunk driving is something I’m pretty intolerant of with anybody of any economic class, but it just seems like it would be so much easier to avoid if you didn’t have to worry about the cost of a cab. And with celebrity drug addicts, what reality is it that they’re trying to escape? The one where they have a lot of money and people love them? Yes, I know there are other reasons people do drugs, but the escape one is the easiest for me to understand. A lot of poor people stay in abusive relationships because they feel they don’t have anywhere else to go, but why would this be the case for Rihanna? Maybe I’m not being fair here, though, as it’s not like rich people never have problems. And I’m not talking about problems like, “The Rolls is in the shop, so I have to take the Lexus.” I mean genuine issues that everyone has to deal with, including physical and mental ones.

It often strikes me that comedians who DON’T have deep-seated depression must be a definite minority. And social anxiety must be even worse when strangers want to take your picture or come up and express their love for you as you’re walking down the street. I’ve never been someone who felt that someone else having things worse makes your problem invalid, as some other people seem to (or at least claim to; it’s probably different when it’s THEIR computer that crashes when they’re writing a paper due the next day).

And in my last Weird Al review, I talked about the Angry White Boy trend in music, and how people will basically say, “What problems do you have? You’re a white kid in the suburbs!” The thing is, anger doesn’t always have to come from anywhere rational. The bigger issue is that most of the music of this variety that I’ve heard is terrible. Maybe my main point is that I think everyone has the right to complain and to be upset. They just shouldn’t pretend their concerns are WORSE than those of other people. To give an extreme example, you can bitch about your job all you want, but that doesn’t mean you understand what slavery was like.

Posted in Celebrities, Drugs, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sign My Poodle, S’il Vous Plait

My look back at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s catalog moves into the new millennium with Poodle Hat from 2003. The title apparently derived from a time when Al’s poodle Bela sat on his head. It’s kind of unusual among his album titles, because while it’s whimsical, there isn’t any actual joke to it. The cover shows Al on a subway with Bela on his head, and most of the other riders are friends and family. I remember buying this album at Target on the day it came out and recording it to a cassette because my car at the time didn’t have a CD player. It was not one of his better-received albums, perhaps due partially to a lack of promotion.

Couch Potato – Al returns to his old standby subject of television with this parody, featuring a narrator who has kind of a love/hate relationship with the tube. There are elements here of “I Can’t Watch This” in that it’s a rap that criticizes some TV shows of the period, but it’s not quite as negative. It mentions both then-contemporary shows and old favorites like The Flintstones and The Muppet Show. I believe the joke about TiVo thinking someone is gay because they watched Will and Grace is based on an actual anecdote. This remains the only lead parody on one of Al’s albums NOT to have a music video, because apparently Eminem gave permission for the song but not a video. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, both because Eminem frequently employs comedy in his own songs and videos, and because I’m not sure why a video would be so much more objectionable than the song. When Al did a fake interview with Eminem, he made it less absurd than usual, instead pointing out the rapper’s hypocrisy.

I do think it’s strange that Al didn’t try to make a video for any other parodies on the album, but apparently the “Couch Potato” one was already in pre-production, so maybe it was a budget issue. You know what I’m saying?

Hardware Store – I believe Al said that he originally intended this to be a style parody, but it ended up sounding nothing like the artist whose style he was trying to imitate, so it’s basically a true original. I don’t know who that artist was, but the song is excellent as it is. The premise of people in a small town being really excited because a big hardware store is opening is probably pretty accurate. One part of the song has Al quickly listing many different items the store sells (including automatic circumcisers), and the speed with which he does it has led to his never even attempting to play this one live.

Trash Day – A parody of Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” which will probably come to my mind for the rest of my life whenever someone mentions the heat. It’s interesting that most of the parody titles on this album don’t really give an indication as to what they’re spoofing. I can understand why “Couch Potato” wouldn’t be called “Lose Your Mind,” as that would give no indication as to what the song was about. I’m not sure why he didn’t just use “Rotten Herre” as the name of this one, though. I don’t find this to be one of Al’s more memorable parodies, but I always like it when I listen to it, mostly for the lines “it’s so bad the roaches wear slippers” and “I wipe my feet before I go outside.”

Party at the Leper Colony – Apparently leprosy doesn’t ACTUALLY cause body parts to fall off, but that’s become such a common part of popular culture that it’s not surprising Al would use it in this song. It’s mostly a collection of puns, although as someone pointed out, it’s kind of surprising he didn’t include the line “throw your hands in the air” anywhere in it. It has a Bo Diddley rhythm, and Buddy Holly, Kenny Loggins, and Bruce Springsteen (specifically Clarence Clemons’ saxophone work in his songs) have also been proposed as influences.

Angry White Boy Polka – This polka medley has a more consistent theme than most of them, and it’s a theme that contrasts well with the cheerful music. Two years prior, Al directed the video for Ben Folds’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” which also mocked this variety of music. Ben has said that he was mostly aiming his song at Korn, however, and they’re conspicuously absent from the polka. I’ve seen the genre of Limp Bizkit and their complaining comrades referred to as “nu metal,” although I’m not sure exactly what that means. Mostly lots of screaming about wanting attention, apparently. On the other hand, I don’t think the Hives, the Vines, the White Stripes, and the Strokes really fit the category. They were white boys (well, aside from Meg White), but not particularly angry; their style has been described as a revival of garage rock. I do love what Al does with “Last Night,” though, so I don’t object to their inclusion. Eminem is represented again here, and while he qualifies as an angry white boy, he doesn’t do the screamy metal thing.

Wanna B Ur Lovr – Described by Al as a song where he’s trying to sound like Beck trying to sound like Prince, it’s made up entirely of terrible pick-up lines. Some are ones I’ve heard pretty often, although I don’t know whether anyone genuinely uses them. Others parody common lines (“You must have fallen from Heaven; that would explain how you messed up your face”), while others are presumably original and often humorously disturbing (“My love for you’s like diarrhea; I just can’t hold it in”). The song samples some sound effects from Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. My main gripe about this one is that it’s long, being one of few Al songs that breaks the six-minute mark, and unlike most of the others there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for it to do so. In concert, this seems to have replaced “One More Minute” as the one where Al goes out into the audience.

A Complicated Song – Meh, I have to say this comes across as rather desperate. Avril Lavigne‘s “Complicated” was definitely ripe for parody, as it was played constantly and its lyrics are so freaking stupid. Al pretty much admitted, however, that he couldn’t think of any one theme to apply to the entire song, so instead he came up with three unrelated verses. The last verse about being decapitated and finding it merely inconvenient is pretty good, but the other two not so much.

Why Does This Always Happen to Me? – Al had collaborated with Ben Folds several times in the past, and here he does a style parody of Ben’s music with Ben himself playing the piano part. According to Al, the lyrics are based on his own selfish side, and while they’re obviously exaggerated, I think there are identifiable elements to them. I’m sure many of us have seen a car accident and not thought about the victims at all, just about how it tied up traffic. We know it’s self-centered, but it’s still human. The line where the narrator is upset because his late friend owed him five dollars is kind of a recurring theme in Al’s work; the bit in UHF where Bob refuses to bash in George’s head because George still owes him five bucks comes to mind.

Ode to a Superhero – Like “Yoda,” “Jurassic Park,” and “The Saga Begins,” this one pairs up an older song with a then-current movie, in this case Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. While I’ve grown a bit tired of “Piano Man” due to its overexposure, I’m glad Al was able to parody a Billy Joel song. Back in Al’s earlier days, he recorded “It’s Still Billy Joel to Me” about Joel’s attempt to break out of his soft rock image by incorporating new wave into his 1980 album Glass Houses, but it was already dated by the time Al’s first album came out, and it was somewhat meaner than usual for him (although that’s still rather tame by the standards of most comedians).

“Piano Man” had actually used accordion, and in his version Al plays the solo on the instrument as well. The lyrics are the typical somewhat snarky plot summary, and while it’s obviously not as epic as “The Saga Begins,” it’s probably funnier. The funniest line is the one about how Willem Dafoe is scarier without the “dumb Power Rangers mask” on. Hey, he’s not wrong.

Bob – As someone who enjoys playing with words, how could I not appreciate a song that’s made up entirely of palindromes? And Bob Dylan is an obvious choice for a style parody, the fact that his first name is both a palindrome and sort of a running gag for Al being nice bonuses. I know I’d come across several of the palindromes incorporated in the song before, but not all of them, so I don’t know whether any were original with Al. For the most part, the order of the lyrics just seems to be based on what sounds good, but there are a few that are obviously purposely paired up, like “Ah, Satan sees Natasha/No devil lived on” and “Pa’s a sap/Ma is as selfless as I am.” This was the only song on the album to receive a music video, which of course spoofed Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

eBay – The Backstreet Boys’ song “I Want It That Way” was already four years old by the time this album came out, but since it was still receiving radio play (unlike, say, the New Kids on the Block song Al spoofed on Off the Deep End), the parody wasn’t as outdated as it could have been. It focuses on the sort of weird stuff you can buy on eBay, comparing it to a “worldwide garage sale.” I believe this parody came out around the same time eBay started using song parodies in their own commercials; the one I can remember used the tune of “On Broadway” (“They say there’s shopping day and night on eBay”), although obviously Al’s was more absurd.

Genius in France – I haven’t really heard that much by Frank Zappa, but I can still appreciate this style parody of his work, with Frank’s son Dweezil playing the opening guitar solo. I enjoy all the stylistic variations within it. The idea for the lyrics comes from how popular Jerry Lewis is in France, although I’m not sure the narrator actually IS Lewis so much as someone inspired by him. It was somewhat unfortunate that the “freedom fries” thing was in the public consciousness around the time the album came out, as I don’t think the song is supposed to be at all political. It is interesting how mocking the French is still socially acceptable, but I guess the fact that they’re more of a national group than an ethnic one helps. Besides, in this particular song, I think the fact that the narrator holds his biggest fans in such contempt is part of the joke. I’ve seen it mentioned that Frank Zappa mentioned poodles in several of his songs, but then so does Al, so I suppose it would have been doubly odd if they HADN’T been mentioned here.

I already did a song-by-song review of Straight Outta Lynwood when it came out, so I don’t see much point in doing another. That was almost eight years ago, but I can’t say my opinions on the songs have changed all that much. I do appreciate “Do I Creep You Out?” a little more now, although it’s still not as good as “Melanie”; and while I still like “Canadian Idiot” I think it might have been a little too easy. My review of Alpocalypse wasn’t song-by-song, though, so I might still do that one. Since I’ve been doing these at the end of the week (my original goal was to do them on Thursdays, since that day appears several times in Al’s work, but it hasn’t always worked out that way), I guess Mandatory Fun will already be out by then, although who knows whether I’ll have my copy yet? I pre-ordered it, but I never seem to be one of the lucky people who gets my pre-orders before the official release date.

Posted in Albums, Humor, Music, Television, Weird Al Yankovic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Patchwork Relationships

Jared Davis recently wrote about relationships and sexuality in Oz, a topic that I’d addressed before. Jared and J.L. Bell have also commented on how a passage in The Tin Woodman of Oz has taken on a different but perhaps still appropriate meaning: “‘Well, perhaps our Emperor is queer,’ admitted the servant; ‘but he is a kind master and as honest and true as good tin can make him; so we, who gladly serve him, are apt to forget that he is not like other people.’” Since this is the book that portrays the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow as akin to a married couple, the modern definition of the word “queer” might fit. Of course, Nick Chopper was engaged to a woman back when he was human, but found he was unable to love her upon losing his heart.

After getting one from the Wizard of Oz, he seemed totally uninterested in seeking out his old love Nimmie Amee, instead concentrating on his new role as Emperor of the Winkies. In Tin Woodman, he tells Woot the Wanderer that his heart is kind but not loving, and Woot argues that the kind thing to do would be to seek out Nimmie Amee and marry her. It turns out that Nimmie has moved on…well, sort of; and while NIck is somewhat jealous, he isn’t all that broken up over the fact. It might be tempting to read this turn of events as an indication that Nick has come out of the closet and found his true love in the Scarecrow. Really, though, does he have any libido at all as a tin man? He blames the loss of a heart for his loss of interest in Nimmie, but maybe it’s due to the lack of another organ entirely.

Jared mentions that the Scarecrow flirts with the Patchwork Girl, and that in turn her devotion to Popla the Power Plant in John R. Neill’s Runaway seems to go beyond mere friendship. If sex and reproduction are impossible for these beings, maybe monogamy isn’t such a big deal for them. Even in Gilbert Sprague’s Patchwork Bride, which marries off the Scarecrow and Scraps, they eventually decide to live apart because the straw man misses the Tin Woodman.

I tried to think of examples of married couples among the artificial constructs of Oz, and I did think of a few, but they were quite minor characters. Emerald City introduces the married baked goods Pop and Mrs. Over, and mentions other familial relationships among the citizens of Bunbury. King Christopher and Queen Christine of Crystal City, who are made of crystal, have an adult daughter who wants to get married herself.

And the wooden Hi-Los in Jack Snow’s Magical Mimics are another married couple with a child, in this case a boy named Charlie who goes to live with Edgar Bergen.

The Hi-Los were carved and animated by Princess Ozana, but we don’t know anything about the origins of the crystal people. Even in a fairyland, how can these couples have children? I’m not even sure I’d want to hazard a guess, although in some cases they might simply have been created as family units. That’s true for a lot of toy families, so the concept might seem natural enough to kids. It might also be appropriate to mention the Lollies and Pops from Scalawagons. There are six Lollies, each of whom has a Pop, and who consider each other cousins. Perhaps the Pops are brothers, but there’s no sign of any Moms.

Really, such issues as gender identity and familial relationships among artificially created beings often seem to be a result of appearance. The Scarecrow was made to look like a man, and the farmer who makes him calls him one. The Patchwork Girl, on the other hand, is created to be female. Nick Chopper was a human male before receiving his tin body, but if Ku-Klip had made him a body with stereotypically feminine characteristics, would he have become the Tin Woman instead? It wouldn’t have been the first sex change to take place in Oz. For that matter, could an artificial being created with a male form decide to identify as female instead? Well, why not? I get the impression that L. Frank Baum was largely thinking of how a child would likely see these magically animated beings. The Scarecrow is dressed like a man, and Scraps has long hair and wears a dress like a girl.

Except for the brief period she was dressed like this.
In a way, though, he was perhaps ahead of his time in suggesting that gender for such beings was more of a social construct, and sometimes a personal decision, than a rigidly defined concept. As for families, Jack Pumpkinhead identifies his creator as his parent, but the Sawhorse doesn’t. Mind you, it is a somewhat different case, as Jack is made by Tip and brought to life by Mombi, while the Sawhorse had already been made by someone else before being animated by Tip. Since Dr. Pipt was responsible for bringing both the Glass Cat and the Patchwork Girl to life, I suppose they could consider themselves sisters, but they don’t. Again, I think there’s a large amount of personal choice at work here. And communities of beings that were presumably artificially constructed, like Bunbury and the Lolly-Pop Village, might have their own ways of deciding how they’re related.

Posted in Characters, Families, Gender, Jack Snow, Jared Davis, John R. Neill, L. Frank Baum, Oz, Oz Authors, Relationships, Ruth Plumly Thompson | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Future Sound

If you’re a fan of They Might Be Giants, you’ve probably seen that there’s a free download of the band performing their first album live in concert. I understand they did a few shows recently where they performed all of this album, and I saw one where they did all of Flood. There have also been shows featuring Apollo 18 and John Henry in their entirety, but as far as I know they haven’t done any others. While these shows are cool to attend, the thing with a recording of the whole thing is that, if I wanted to listen to all the songs from an album in order, I’d generally just listen to the album. Still, when hearing live versions (or any alternate versions) of familiar songs, it’s interesting to note how they differ from the studio recordings. The most significant change here is that “Toddler Hiway,” performed in character as sock puppets known as the Avatars of They, includes an extra verse. Most of the others are played pretty much as they are on the album, although “Hide Away Folk Family” replaces the spoken part with the audience screaming as if they’re in Hell, and there’s more of the fake backwards singing at the end. John Flansburgh mocks Satanic backmasking rumors by singing “Natas” a few times, although the way he pronounces it isn’t how it would actually sound backwards. During the between-song banter, Flansburgh mentions an early interview where someone asked what “Rabid Child” was about, and he apparently thought the title was self-explanatory. This is pretty common with TMBG, really. Still, I don’t see how “Rabid Child” is particularly confusing as far as TMBG songs go; maybe the interviewer was wondering whether the title character was actually rabid. “Absolutely Bill’s Mood” was dedicated to its namesake Bill Krauss, who apparently attended the show, and John Linnell made a comment about “unless he’s in his mood,” which was funnier to me than it probably should have been.

Since I’m discussing TMBG and watched Meet the Robinsons last night, here’s TMBG performing the song “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” from the Carousel of Progress at the Magic Kingdom:

The song was on the soundtrack for the movie, but wasn’t played in the film itself. I’ve only been to a Disney park once, Walt Disney World on my honeymoon, and I actually didn’t go on the Carousel of Progress. I believe Beth did when she went later on. I also understand that one of the rotating walls killed an employee back in 1974, which I can’t say I consider progress.

Speaking of songs about the future, here’s Neko Case and Kelly Hogan singing about a future designed by male nerds contrasted with one created by women in “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For.” It kind of reminds me of the Futurama episode where it’s revealed that Star Trek would eventually become a religion, and we all know how that turned out.

The Avatars of They compared TMBG’s first album to Camper Van Beethoven at one point, and I wonder if that’s based on any actual reviews. Certainly there are some similarities, and it was through the old FAQ that I first discovered CVB. After a long hiatus, they reunited in the early twenty-first century, and actually just released a new album, El Camino Real.

Intended as the southern California counterpart to their more northern La Costa Perdida, I have to say I find it much more enjoyable than that one. There were a few songs on Costa I really liked, but most of it was forgettable. Camino has several quite catchy numbers, although I think the better ones are clustered toward the beginning of the album. “It Was Like That When I Got Here” and the chorus of “Camp Pendleton” will probably get stuck in my head in the future, and “Sugartown” is a song about a rather unwelcoming community of former fishermen that David Lowery has said is sort of a conglomeration of a few different California neighborhoods. I do have to say that the album lacks the more avant-garde trappings of many of CVB’s records, and I find it pretty similar to the last Cracker album. I guess that, when two active bands or projects have the same lead, they’ll probably eventually bleed together somewhat.

Finally, while not really related to anything else in the post, I just discovered recently that “Mack the Knife” (which I occasionally get mixed up with “Minnie the Moocher”) was originally written in German by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. There’s a recording of Brecht singing it on YouTube.

The song was famously recorded in English by Louis Armstrong and Bobby Darin, but its main use in popular culture within my lifetime might be McDonald’s Mac Tonight commercials from the late 1980s, starring a jazz singer with a crescent moon for a head. I’m not sure whether he or Grimace has it worse.

Maybe he’s related to John R. Neill’s version of the Man in the Moon from The Little Journeys of Nip and Tuck.

Posted in Advertising, Albums, Camper Van Beethoven, Cartoons, Comics, Futurama, John R. Neill, Kelly Hogan, Music, Neko Case, Star Trek, Star Wars, Television, They Might Be Giants, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment