Entering “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Alpocalypse With the Right Kavvanah

June 15, 2011 at 10:58 pm, by

Yesterday, I heard two great pieces of news:

1)      My copy of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s new CD, Alpocalypse, has now been shipped!

2)      I can listen to a streaming version of it for free!

My response to Piece-of-News 1 was: Great! My response to Piece-of-News 2 was: complicated.

Did I really want to hear Alpocalypse now?

Did I want my spotty internet connection to ruin the revelatory experience of hearing an album in its entirety for the first time? Did I want to listen to the album without reading along with the liner notes? Did I want to listen to the album without examining the album art? Did I want to listen to the album without first watching the Alpocalypse DVD?

No, I did not. I wanted the full multi-media presentation: the packaging, the video, the smoothness of the audio quality, the… well, I could go on.

I realize I’m talking about the music of a man who plays polka versions of pop songs, a man who gained fame writing songs about food, a man who signs stuffed poodles. But, I want to be fully cognizant of Alpocalypse when I see and hear it so that I can fully appreciate the work that has gone into it. Those elements that serve as the foundation behind any creations of arts or entertainment—whether they are intellectually deepening, emotionally challenging, or merely reasons to laugh—are matters I try to take seriously.

Weird Al is, to me, the ultimate DJ of pop culture and humor. Every CD of his is replete with light, but biting, social commentary laid over the music of the society he criticizes.

In his “Bedrock Anthem” from 1993’s Alapalooza, Weird Al did not merely put silly lyrics about The Flinstones to the music “Give It Away” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

He put silly lyrics to the lyrics of the Peppers’ song. It would be one thing to reproduce the Peppers’ music, but Weird Al also took on the very (bad) grammar of the original lyrics (“How come everybody wanna keep it like the kaiser?”) and applied it to his newer, even stupider lyrics (“How come Grand Poobah always gotta run the whole show?”).

Furthermore, the music video is not only evidence of Yankovic’s knowledge with the Peppers’ “Give It Away” and “Under the Bridge.” Yankovic, who directed this video (and would later direct almost all of his subsequent music videos), took the time to spoof yet another piece of pop culture trivia: “No Rain” by Blind Melon.

Weird Al is a master of spitting out pop culture references and then immediately spitting on them. I don’t want to experience just a smidgen of Alpocalypse now. I want to wait until I can hear and see the CD in full, after having acquainted myself as much as possible with the references I’m waiting for Yankovic to debunk.

Since the music itself has leaked, the Internet has info about what songs are being parodied by what, so I’ve been listening to the originals so I can prepare myself. Anticipating “Party In the CIA,” I watched Miley Cyrus“Party In the U.S.A.” (and survived)! I re-watched B.O.B. and Bruno Mars“Nothin’ On You” to ready myself for “Another Tattoo,” and also gave Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” another spin so I’ll have a greater appreciation for Weird Al’s “TMZ.”

“Jonah,” you say. “You’re nuts!” “No,” I say. “That’s pistachio!” To me, this is the perfect way to prepare for my ritual of enjoying a Weird Al album to the utmost degree. And, to me, it is a very Jewish thing to do.

Every morning, before I get to the main prayers of the Shacharit service, I recite Pesukey Dezimrah—“verses of song” in praise of God. But before reciting Pesukey Dezimrah, many Jews may (as I sometimes do) recite Yigdal, a poem based on the “Thirteen Principles of Faith” established by the 12th Century rabbinic philosopher Maimonides.

Through this practice of reciting Yigdal, we remind ourselves of what we believe (or what some might want us to believe) before we begin to encounter what we believe. Before we can have an honest dialogue with that which stands before us, we must observe the rabbinic dictum of coming to know that before which we stand (Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 28b).

You might be familiar with the phrase “Da lifney mi attah omed”—“Know before Whom you stand”—a phrase frequently etched into synagogue arks or other pieces of architecture. For a Jew, it may not be enough to talk to God, we must direct our frame of mind—our kavvanah—towards that which we may come to know before we can truly speak.

Weird Al is not God, but Weird Al is a creator, an entertainer, and an artist I take seriously, and so is God (though I take God a little more seriously; sorry, Al!). I’m getting into the right kavvanah for when the Alpocalypse (album) comes (to my door-front).

Before I encounter it, I truly want to know what I’m getting myself into.

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