Following Al: Weird Weekend

(Note: This is the second post in what was intended to be a trio. Like the first, it has languished in Draft Hell for a good portion of the time I was away from the site. I have finished it more or less as originally intended, so maybe just pretend you found it in the Archives? Great. Thanks. The final one will also happen, though maybe not immediately following this one.)

So, in 2018, “Weird Al” Yankovic was free for the first time.

Free from obligation, that is, to a record label. The prior year, with the release of Mandatory Fun, his 14th studio album, he had, at long last, fulfilled his recording contract and no longer owed anyone anything, professionally speaking.

How did he choose to celebrate? By taking the band on tour. Just the band, though. No costumes, fancy sets, monitors, backups, or extras. Not even the previously obligatory guest appearance by the local 501st Legion garrison.

It was just, as Al put it, “five old guys on stools, playing music.”

Some background here: I already mentioned how long I’ve been a fan. My concert-going days had to wait a while, but ever since I’ve had the means — starting during my college years — I have seen Al at least once on every tour that has come through Georgia, and he almost always comes through Georgia.

I’ve see him everywhere from terrible lawn seats in the Valdosta heat at Wild Adventures to front row at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta, something like a dozen shows all together.

I had not, however, generally gone to the effort to see him more than once on any particular tour. Not that I don’t love the shows, but the big shows have always been pretty predictable — the latest hits, plus a few old favorites, with the odd deep cut tossed in. I loved the shows, but within a tour, they were the same, night to night.

Not this time.

This time, the shows would feature mostly original songs. None of the big parody numbers. And, and … every night would feature a different set list, pulled from about 70 songs the band rehearsed for this tour.

To say I was a little excited would be to terribly understate the issue. I immediately sought out dates near me and found two: A show in Augusta on Saturday, followed by an Atlanta show the next night. I set an alarm on my phone for the time tickets went on sale, and I pounced to get good seats for both.

Two shows! Both different! Wooo!

And yet … there was the temptation for more.

I looked around to see where else, within relatively easy driving distance, the tour would swing through.

Chattanooga.

It’s only two hours from Atlanta. Easy. But … that show was the Friday right before the Augusta show on Saturday. Augusta is also two hours (plus a bit) from Atlanta. Did I really want to drive two hours to Chattanooga, see a show, drive two hours home, sleep (a bit), get up, drive two more hours to Augusta, see a show, sleep (a bit), drive two hours home, then watch a third show?

No, I did not.

Want to drive that much.

I absolutely wanted to see three shows in three nights.

Reluctantly, I let the opportunity pass, consoling myself that I would have two shows in two nights, and that would be fantastic.

Then a funny thing happened.

My job decided I needed to attend a conference the week leading up to these shows. The conference was in Nashville.

Funny thing about Nashville — it’s two hours north of Chattanooga, a total of four from Atlanta.

Now, some people, having bought tickets to see shows on Saturday and Sunday and now having to drive an extra four hours the day before said shows, might be a tad grumpy.

I was ecstatic.

See, I had to drive through Chattanooga to get home.

And if I was going to drive through Chattanooga anyway, damned if I wouldn’t stop for a “Weird Al” show.

Thus it came to pass that, counting from Friday morning through Sunday night, I drove a little over eight hours (traveling about 550 miles), watched three concerts (about six hours total), and slept, well, some.

I was a tired monkey come Monday.

A tired, happy monkey.

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 fell 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.