When I was 16 years old, I saw “Weird Al” Yankovic live during his “Running With Scissors” tour. Now 16 years later, I’ve seen him again, but I also got to do something my teenage self only dreamed of: I had a 15-minute phone interview with him (which appeared in the July 23 Portland Phoenix, “‘Weird Al’ on the write”) and met him after the concert. I exploited my powers as a journalist, but for the greater weird.
Having the chance to not only see Al live again, but to talk to and meet him has allowed me to wholly embrace his impact on my life. I had foolishly thought I’d outgrown Al, but I now see the error of my ways.
In 2003, when Poodle Hat was released, it let me down. I liked the album, but I didn’t love it. I adored his previous album, Running With Scissors, from beginning to end. I had it memorized. Expectations were perhaps unreasonably high for the follow up. I mistook disappointment as a sign that I had moved past Al’s antics.
I didn’t buy another one of his albums until last year’s “Mandatory Fun” but, I couldn’t quite quit Al. Who in their right mind could deny the joys of “White and Nerdy” and “Perform This Way?” But it was the video-a-day-for-eight-days marketing ploy for Mandatory Fun that fully reminded me of Al’s comic genius. The enthusiasm I felt for him as a teen came flooding back.
I was a strange kid, who, like a lot of square pegs that didn’t fit into traditional social circles, took a long time to realize that was OK. Having “Weird Al” helped. He let me know I could embrace my idiosyncrasies — to be a little bit odd and just own it.
For better or for worse, thanks to Al’s influence, I had an extensive Hawaiian shirt collection that I wore regularly. This probably did me no favors in terms of seeming less weird, but it did help me to find more of my kind: the misfits and goofballs.
With my friend Derek, we wrote our own song parodies, mostly centered around my high school nickname: Noodles. Alas, the lyrics to these gems were lost to posterity. This line from our “Peaches” parody has always stuck in my brain though: “Noodles come in a bag/they were put there by a guy in drag/in a factory in jersey.” Yeah, yeah I know it is too many syllables. I knew it then, too, but it still amused me. We also changed Queen’s “Dragon Attack” to “Drag Queen Attack.” Did I mention I watched a lot of Monty Python, too?
In 1999, when I found out Al was playing relatively nearby, I convinced the church youth group I was in to take a field trip to the concert. I had some resistance from one older group member who took issue with the line “Airline Amy, this is my new mission/Gotta get you in an upright locked position.” Admittedly, that’s a pretty dirty line for Al, but I made the case that he was innocent fun. This was a fairly secular church group, plus, I think the group leaders wanted to go just as much as I did.
I also performed as “Weird Al” two year in a row in my high school’s annual lip sync contest. The first year, Derek joined me as Bernie the Rabbi for “Pretty Fly for a Rabbi.” We were flanked by our back-up dancers: the Bernettes. The following year, I went solo for “Smells Like Nirvana,” emulating the performance I had seen months earlier.
Normally I was the shy smart kid in the corner, but those performances were when I came out of my shell. Years later, I discovered that my performances left a lasting impression, perhaps because it was the last thing people expected from me.
“Weird Al,” along with Saturday Night Live, Mel Brooks and Monty Python, helped shape my sense of humor. I learned that to be stupid, you have to be smart, and few are smarter than Al when it comes to being utterly absurd and silly.
When I spoke to Al, I wanted to share all this with him, but I decided to stay professional. A few moments of gushing aside, I think I succeeded. I had another chance to say this to him during the photo op and signing, but I didn’t take it. So, I’ll say it here: thank you, Al. More so than I ever realized, you helped me become the person I am today.