Because I am An Old, two of the radio stations I play in the car—because my car is An Old as well—will sometimes play “Beat It.” Through the entire song, as Michael Jackson sings the actual words, the ones in my head are not the ones he sings. The ones in my head are the ones Al Yankovic sang in 1984. And, yes, I knew them in 1984; I remember singing them with friends at the time. About as long as I have had any sense of current pop culture, Weird Al has been part of it. This is true for a lot of people my age, but I think it’s led us to underestimate his sheer musical talent.
These days, he’s doing a lot of voicework. A lot of it seems to be getting your nerd cred in—if you can get Weird Al on your show, you can prove that you’re a certain kind of cool. (From what I can tell, one of the exceptions is Dan Povenmire, friend of a friend of mine, who is legit a huge fan. There are probably other exceptions, but this is one I have slightly more direct knowledge of.) Sure, yeah, some of them are a certain kind of cool, but his appearance on Storybots feels hugely cynical to me. Not on his part, but that show does have an awful lot of a certain type of celebrity.
Another memory I have is from high school, when I was on our way to a concert up in Bakersfield with my Academic Decathlon team. For reasons. Anyway, I think I had brought the tape of Off the Deep End, and one of my friends kept making me skip the original tracks, because all he wanted to listen to was the parodies. And don’t get me wrong; some of the parodies on that are solid. “Taco Grande” and “The Plumbing Song” have suffered from the complete pop culture vanishing of Gerardo and the actual songs released under the name Milli Vanilli, but of course it does feature the great “Smells Like Nirvana.” But it also features “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” one of the funniest original songs he’s ever done.
What my friend missed was that, for over fifteen years then and over forty now, Al Yankovic has been a pop culture chameleon the likes of only people like Madonna and David Bowie. Admittedly it isn’t that he reinvents himself. He’s always been Weird Al. But that album included a Beach Boys-style original song, a grunge parody, a boy band parody, and a song that sounds beautiful and soulful until you listen to the lyrics. And that’s just one album. Since “My Balogna,” no one has captured as many musical styles as Al.
And, damn it, I like UHF! He’s not wrong that it’s not the best title; it is now, to my children’s generation, completely meaningless, and I think FCC changes mean that the basic idea that you can’t own two TV stations in the same town doesn’t hold true anymore. But it’s the only place I can take Michael Richards at all, and Victoria Jackson is perfect for her role, and it’s ridiculously quotable. And, hey, it’s got Gedde Watanabe, who’s the next person I want to see a career comeback from. I do kind of regret that he didn’t get Joel Hodgson to play Philo, though. That would’ve been two of the Genuinely Nice Guys of nerd culture in one movie, and it would have been fantastic.