For the last few years, my husband and I have wanted to take our soon-to-be 13-year-old daughter to a live concert. We’ve offered to take her to see Paul McCartney (she loved The Beatles as a kid), Imagine Dragons (definitely more for her than for us) and Taylor Swift (at least she’s good role model).
She declined them all and asked to see Weird Al Yankovic.
“Seriously?” I asked her. “Why?”
“Because he’s funny, and he’s a nerd,” she said. “My friends and I love his song ‘Word Crimes.'”
Apparently my daughter is not the only one who finds Weird Al hilarious. His Mandatory Fun tour is sold out at many venues, including the show we saw in June in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. And, while I’ve never heard any of his songs on the radio, my daughter and all the other people at the concert—including me—essentially knew all the words.
Maybe it’s because Weird Al has been a pop culture punch line for decades. He’s been mentioned on popular TV shows like The Big Bang Theory, and he’s been a guest character in just about every cartoon my daughter has ever watched—The Simpsons, Adventure Time, Johnny Bravo, The Powerpuff Girls, Back at the Barnyard, even an old Scooby Doo that I am pretty sure she saw when she was younger.
I have my own memories of Weird Al, like the first time I heard “My Bologna.” I was 15 when “My Sharona” was released, and it seemed so daring and sexually charged to me, so full of pent-up desire that the drumbeat sounded like a mating call. So, why would anyone turn it into a song about eating a sandwich?!
Then “I Love Rocky Road” and “Eat It” were released, and I understood. Weird Al was probably my first taste of parody beyond those crazy Wacky Packages labels we traded in middle school. Clearly, my daughter has caught on to sarcasm and parody much earlier than I ever did, but that isn’t surprising because she started reading Mad magazine when she was 11.
When we arrive at the concert, my daughter tells us that she wants to look at the “merch,” but there is a huge line for T-shirts, hats, trading cards. A line much longer than any I’ve seen at a Robert Plant, Rolling Stones or Jack White concert.
The venue is filled with parents with their tweens and teens. We even see a few kids she knows from school. Clearly, this is the place to be if you’re in middle school.
We take our seats and my daughter, who normally has little patience for anything that lasts longer than hour, is clearly excited. She keeps asking when it will start—and not because she’s bored. Once Weird Al bursts onto the stage singing “Tacky,” it’s hard not to smile. I look over at my daughter, and she is doing exactly what every other tween and teen in the audience is doing—taking photos and videotaping her favorite songs with her phone.
What becomes clear to me is that Weird Al no longer wears just his signature Hawaiian shirt. Throughout the show, he has elaborate costume changes, and when he and the band come out dressed as DEVO, I get excited thinking my daughter might actually know who DEVO is because of Weird Al. But she doesn’t get the reference.
She does know the origin of “Eat It” and “Another One Rides The Bus.” Our family favorite is “Smells Like Nirvana,” and I am thankful she actually knows about Nirvana and who Kurt Cobain was, and that Dave Grohl was in a band before the Foo Fighters, all because of Weird Al. I overhear her asking my husband, “Did you ever see Nirvana?” He has, and she is impressed…for a change.
The last number before the encore is “Word Crimes,” a clever song that pokes fun at how we’re raising a generation of kids who can’t spell or use proper grammar because of spell check and texting. I tell my daughter her English teacher should show that video in class. “She has,” my daughter says. No wonder these kids love Weird Al.
On the way out, we stop for merch. No surprise, my Mad magazine reader gets a T-shirt with Weird Al and Alfred E. Neuman.
On the way home, I ask my daughter if she’d like to see another live concert.
“Maybe,” she says, “if Weird Al plays here again.”
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