Gateway Drugs – “Weird” Al Yankovic’s “Even Worse”

by Dan McInerney on January 13, 2009

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Hello! This is Dan. Comedy Nerds co-host, and infrequent website contributor. Welcome to a new series I’m starting, GATEWAY DRUGS, where we discuss the people, places and things that made us into the Comedy Nerds we are today.

My first entry was a big one for me, Mr. “Weird” Al Yankovic. As a child one of my favorite things to do was to swing on my tire swing in the backyard while a cassette tape “Weird” Al’s “Even Worse” album blasted out of my Fisher Price tape player. (It was one of two tapes I had, the other being whatever Tiffany album had “I Think We’re Alone Now”, meaning between the two albums I owned, I had both the original and parody version of the same song).

That album is the first comedy thing I can remember becoming completely obsessed with. It was a total revelation to me. Though I didn’t realize it then, one of the main draws of comedy for me was its propensity for doing and saying things you weren’t supposed to. Taking “Bad”, the most popular song in the world (or at least the world as far as I knew it) and changing the words to be about a big fat guy just seemed so wrong. In taking the song of the most famous person on Earth, and making it into something foolish, “Weird” Al seemed to be flagrantly thumbing his nose at the society’s neat little rules. In my boring suburban world, full of bedtimes and scowling teachers, it was a beacon of light. It said the opposite of what everything else told me: “Rules are made to be broken.”

“Fat” was what you brought here, but once you got past that “Even Worse” held an embarrassment of riches for the young and all ready slowing warping mind. (Sadly bereft of cable at the time, it wouldn’t be until years later I saw the pitch perfect video for “Fat”; “Yo Ding Dong, man, Ding Dong, Ding Dong, yo.”) Standard Yankovic parodies such as “Lasagna” and “This Song’s Just Six Words Long” appeared, but as we move onto the b-side, things start to get kind of, well, weird.

Despite his reputation as a children’s performer, a handful of “Weird” Al’s song feature surprisingly dark comedy. “Even Worse” features two such songs, “Melanie” and “Good Old Days”. These were the songs that I turned the volume lower when listening in my room. These were the songs that truly felt dangerous. To be honest, they scared me a little. The visions they offered were of worlds were things didn’t work out in the end. This is not what sitcoms and Little Golden Books told me. This was my first taste of subversion. It was repulsive and compelling simultaneously.

“Melanie” was told from the point of view of an obsessed stalker. A subtle but titillating allusion to sex pops up near the beginning as he describes seeing Melanie “in the shower, reaching for some soap”, then says he may never have discovered her if he “hadn’t bought that telescope”. The narrator of the song tries a series of increasingly bizarre and creepy tactics to get Melanie to notice him before committing suicide in hopes this will finally catch her attention. The last line of the song being “I may be dead, but I still love you.”

Even more disturbing is the last song on the album, the acoustic ballad “Good Old Days”. It starts out describing scenes of a seemingly ideal, Norman Rockwell-esque childhood, only to discover on the last line of the first verse that during all this the young man is in the basement torturing animals to death. The chorus fondly says “Those were the good old days” before relaying two more stories, one in which the narrator remembers a kindly shop owner in town, then tells us “I don’t know why I set fire to his place” and that he beat him with in an inch of his life, then discusses the beautiful prom date he tied up and left for dead in the desert. “Sometimes in my dreams I can still hear the screams. Oh I wonder if she ever made it home.” (Making this song oddly similar to Warren Zevon’s more adult “Excitable Boy” describing a lovely date to the junior prom that we are told ends when “he raped her, then he killed her, then he took her home.”)

Love songs ending in suicide? Nostalgic ballads about budding young serial killers? These were not topics frequently found in pop songs. And along with the subversive thrill I got listening to them, I also happened to find them incredibly funny. Now, there no way of knowing if they affected me, or if I was attracted to them because of something that was all ready inside of me, but as an adult I still often drawn to dark, sick, twisted humor. But, this album was very important to me at the time. And was unquestionably key factor in my first baby steps towards becoming a full-fledge Comedy Nerd.

See 25 years of “Weird” Al videos at Comedy Central Insider: http://ccinsider.comedycentral.com/cc_insider/2008/09/25-years-of-wei.html

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