Weird (Al) Memories

The mid-’90s were the years of my musical awakening. High school was less than a year away, and my only exposure to music at the time was limited to classical music and rock ‘n’ roll oldies — basically, whatever my parents listened to. After finally getting my own radio for Christmas, I kept the dial tuned to 98.5 KOME, San Jose’s local modern rock station, and my world opened to the music that would later define me. I fell instantly in love with a lot of different bands and albums; there was Nirvana’s Nevermind, Green Day’s Dookie, The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but perhaps most importantly, there was “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Bad Hair Day from 1996.

Bad Hair Day was the first CD I ever requested for my birthday, and I was ecstatic to actually get it (I’m sure it’s because there was no Parental Advisory label). I was floored — it was all the music I loved, but with new lyrics. Funny lyrics. Scratch that — hysterical lyrics! It was a beautiful marriage of rock and comedy that I didn’t know could exist. “Lump” was now an anthem for Forrest Gump, “Waterfalls” became the story of making responsible phone calls, and “Gangsta’s Paradise,” a song which I liked but was played on radio and TV ad nauseam (thanks a lot, Dangerous Minds), became the song parody that I wound up playing ad nauseam myself.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had when my mom came into my room one day while “Amish Paradise” was playing:
Mom: What’s he singing about?
Me: It’s called “Amish Paradise.” It’s a funny song about living as an Amish person.
Mom: I don’t think that’s very nice. They wouldn’t like what he has to say.
Me: Yeah, but how are they ever going to hear it?
Mom: That’s true!

We shared a good laugh. My mom stayed and listened to a few more songs which weren’t really her cup of tea. But the fact that she listened with me in the first place was pretty special. That day with my mom was a good one thanks to “Weird Al.” I’m sure he’s created many similarly special moments for other kids (and their parents) throughout the years.

I remember becoming consumed by wanting to know all about “Weird Al.” The Internet was in its infancy, so I didn’t have Google or Wikipedia to help me. I found a Usenet group (remember those?!) that had some info, but it wasn’t enough. My real education came in the form of Tower Records and their listening stations. Their comedy album section was small, but it was filled with Al’s old albums. I loved the art. I loved the parodies. I wanted to buy them all! Of course I couldn’t, since I was a kid and I didn’t have much money, so instead I listened to whatever I could, whenever I could.

“Weird Al” Yankovic’s music helped get me through some rough times that year, between a few hospital visits and my parent’s divorce. Even the worst days could be brightened by “The Alternative Polka,” my de facto favorite track off Bad Hair Day — an album I’ve played so much I’m surprised it still works. It was released at a very formative time in my life, and as an adult it’s helped me reconnect with my youth and the music from an era that I still love. It’s been my companion on long road trips driving from Los Angeles to San Jose and back.

I’m so happy that 2014 has seen the resurgence of “Weird Al.” Between his first chart-topping album ever (Mandatory Fun) and re-issues of UHF and The Compleat Al, I feel like “Weird Al” is finally getting the recognition that is both well-deserved and long overdue. And it couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy; even in the midst of all the impressive things he’s had this year, he still took time to sign posters at our Comic-Con booth and pose for a picture with the Shout! Factory staff. I had to keep the excited ’90s kid inside me at bay during the photo. ’90s-me would have been overjoyed to know that one day a photo with “Weird Al” would even exist, and I’ll treasure it forever.

Thank you, “Weird Al,” for the connection to my childhood that your music will forever bring.

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