Heroes

Tomorrow night I’m going to see Weird Al in concert. I am about as excited for this event as I would have been if I had seen him back in 1984. I’m not the type to go to popular music concerts. We went and saw Bela Fleck in the mid-90s and we also went to a dive bar to see Junior Brown but that is really the extent of my pop concert experience. When I found out that Weird Al is playing the casino in Mt. Pleasant, there was nothing that was going to keep me away.

Weird Al taught me the most important lesson about being an artist; the truth points to itself (sorry to steal a Babylon 5 quote but I couldn’t resist). Great art has a purity of essence that cannot be violated. Throughout his entire career, Weird Al has made music that captures the total essence of whatever he has targeted. The arrangements are spot on, the synth sounds are perfect replicas of the originals, his vocal timbres shift to match the artist, his rhyme schemes will usually rhyme with the original lyrics. These are the signs of a master craftsman. His songs are so focused and well made that, as I’ve gotten out of touch with popular music, I can still connect with his songs even if I’ve no clue what the original song was.

Everything in Weird Al’s music points to itself. He creates musical ecosystems of the highest order and leaves no details to chance. People think it is easy and there are a ton of “crappy lyrics to popular songs” out there. Weird Al towers above them all because he understand the very soul and DNA of the original work. And when video is involved, it gets even better.

The ecosystem idea is very important to me as a composer. With my work, everything has to make sense. I don’t mean that my music is rational, far from it, but I think of creating ecosystems. Everything has to belong, even if it is unexpected. Things can be surprising but make sense after the fact. David Lynch does this. I try to as well.

Growing up as a nerd in the 80s, I got heaping helpings of Weird Al. Now I see how his work has laid a foundation for my current musical creations. Weird Al has been more influential on me than Beethoven, Stravinsky, Berg, Carter, or anyone else you think I would have put in my compositional heritage.

Experience some of this verisimilitude yourself. The video for “Bob” is about as perfect as it could possibly be. Not only does Weird Al channel Bob Dylan’s music but also the essence of the Subterranean Homesick Blues video. In the original, the rabbi was Alan Ginsberg. In the Weird Al, he is Dr. Demento. [I was wrong about Dr. Demento being in the video, thanks Lou, for the correction!]

And in Trapped in the Drive-Thru, you learn the valuable lesson that music dramas really need no plot. At all. The music can carry EVERYTHING. And what little plot there is here is so deftly handled and well crafted that my librettist (also a big time Weird Al fan) and I discussed it when we were writing “Secrets and Waffles” for the concert at Carnegie Hall last October.

There is a combination of excitement and reverence that I’m balancing inside. So yes, I’m stoked.

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3 Comments

  1. Lou Hunter
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I love this post, but feel I must correct you on the Bob video.
    The two people in the background are Jay Levey, Al Yankovic’s manager, and in the rabbi role, his drummer Jon Bermuda Schwartz

  2. HelenOE
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    I hope you have good seats; you’ll have a great time. Even the audiences in Europe had a great time when Al was there in December, and he was pretty much sick as the proverbial dog the whole time. He still gave it everything he had. He always does. Thank you for your insightful post; you’ve really nailed some essential and often overlooked truths about what makes Weird Al’s work so good, and so durable.

  3. Jay C. Batzner
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Lou – Thanks for the correction! When I heard it was Dr. Demento it made so much sense I never bothered to follow up with, you know, actual research.

One Trackback

  • By Summer Wrap-Up: Part 1 | Jay C. Batzner on August 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    [...] May, I blogged about going to see Weird Al in concert. I never followed up with any comment about the show. It was, of course, awesome. Two solid hours of [...]

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