Following Al: Getting Weird

(Note: I found some half-finished posts in the backlog. Found. Right where I left them. There’s like a hundred, no exaggeration. Most will continue to languish there, but a few — like this one — just needed energy I did not have at the time. I have it now, so I’m getting to some I think are worthy. This one, which I sketched notes for in the spring of 2018, is first up. It was intended to be post one of a planned trio. The other two will now also happen, though maybe not immediately following this one.)

I was in seventh grade when Even Worse was released. I remember some friends talking excitedly about it one morning before school. I had no idea what the big deal was. When I asked, one of my friends rolled his eyes and said, “I can’t believe you don’t know who ‘Weird Al’ is.”

That was a defining moment for me.

It’s the first time I can recall being geek-shamed in a positive way. I mean, my friends weren’t “cool,” and they were self-aware enough to know they weren’t “cool” and to know, by extension, that “Weird Al” wasn’t, either. If we were into something, it wasn’t “cool.” Ergo, I had to get into “Weird Al.” Q.E.D.

Of course, being a good friend, one of them loaned me his cassette of Even Worse, which I took home, listened to, and dubbed.*

*(Kids, dubbing is the process of copying music from an authentic original cassette album to a blank cassette tape. This is how we conducted music piracy before digital downloads.)

It wasn’t long before I went completely Weird. I saved my allowance and bought all (four) of Al’s previous albums. I even eventually bought my own copy of Even Worse. I put them in the very front of my cassette case, and one was nearly always in my player.*

*(More music format trivia: Cassettes could wear out from too much play. I was concerned, rightfully, that this would happen to my “Weird Al” collection, so I made dubs of the originals and then proceeded to wear the dubs out while keeping the originals in great shape.)

Al has released a lot more albums since — 14 total studio albums, plus some extra collections — and I have every one, in formats from cassettes to CDs to digital downloads as the years have gone by.

If you hit shuffle on my music collection, there’s a damned good chance you’ll get a “Weird Al” song.

Al has picked up a bit of cultural cachet in recent years — his last studio album hit #1 on Billboard, he sang a medley at the Emmy Awards, was finally awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and has lately been jamming/hanging/collaborating with the likes of Weezer, Portugal. the Man, and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

This movement in the direction of genuine recognition and “coolness” does not make me love him any less. I don’t mind anyone who’s come to Al late in life. Hell, I was late. Starting at album five made me feel so behind, like I might never catch up and be a “real” fan. Pfft. Give it time, newbies. Some day starting at album 14 may feel relatively early, too.