By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Al's appearance at the fair two years ago had broken all previous attendance records. "He was so popular, people would stand in line for two hours just to get into the show," said Kevin Cable, a Yankovic look-alike from Santa Ana. "The line stretched all the way across the fairgrounds!" And this year's Experience, which combined a huge collection of memorabilia and a week's worth of sold-out appearances, broke records yet again: 163,000 people pushed through the turnstiles. Obviously, "Weird Al" deserved another look.
Inside the exhibition hall, a time line took us through Al's humble beginnings in Lynwood, California, straight through to the gold and platinum albums. An endless loop of videos, both old ("Eat It," "Like a Surgeon," "Fat") and newer ("Amish Paradise," a send-up of Coolio's "Gangster's Paradise" and "Bedrock Anthem," which melds the glitter-desert stylization of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away" with the story of the Flintstones), seemed to transfix all who entered. Most were long-time devotees -- like Amanda Cohen, the organizer of fan convention Alcon III, who flew out from Chicago -- but not all. "[The Experience] has shown a lot of Al to a lot of people," said Cohen. "Some of them know him, and some of them . . . their jaws are just agape! It's wonderful to watch people discover him."
You began to get a sense of "Weird Al"'s appeal when looking at the costumes used in his videos and stage show. The black, buckled "Fat" getup, the Devoesque hazmat suit of "Dare To Be Stupid," the torn jeans and blond wig from "Smells Like Nirvana" provide a sort of cracked illustration of pop music history in reverse. Yankovic's success, by and large, has outlived that of the artists he's parodied. His true accomplishment might well be, as one fan put it, "to humble all the big-egoed rock stars, knock them off their soapbox."
But can one seriously ponder an artistic legacy built from goofs on computer nerds ("All About the Pentiums"), Star Wars("Yoda," "The Saga Begins") and processed-meat products ("My Bologna")?
Apparently so. "He's sort of got his own little world," said Julia Reines, an original fan who has passed her enthusiasm on to her young son. "I think because he's so intelligent in the way he uses words, he seeps into peoples' conscience . . . that it's so incredibly . . . beyond pop culture. It's parody on a whole other plane."
On that score, surely everyone can agree. And speaking of planes, "Weird Al" fans flew in from 13 states for the experience of taking snapshots of his high school cap and gown, pointing at the original single of "Another One Rides the Bus" (recorded live on Dr. Demento's KMET show in 1980) and admiring dozens of Yankovic's gaudiest Hawaiian shirts. And some went beyond: "Just today, we went to Al's boyhood home, his high school, his junior high, we did a full minitour of his background," enthused Cid Strickler, a local woman who organized out-of-town fans.
For Fred, a convenience-store manager from Chicago whose van is adorned with album covers and portraits, this was her 65th "Weird Al" show. She first discovered his "genius" in 1992, when a friend left a tape in her car. "I took a month off work for the Running With Scissors tour. Forty-eight shows." To illustrate her dedication, Fred pulled out a scrapbook containing dozens of photos taken at the various shows. "Remember the version of Peter and the Wolf he did with Wendy Carlos? I have the cover tattooed on my leg. Al signed it."
At the end of the day, I still didn't have a handle on what makes "Weird Al" such an enduring figure. Then, a 20-ish hipster named Gabriel provided an answer: "He's nutty, funny, kooky, zany all rolled into one frickin' ball!" Which is probably why Gabriel's father predicted his son would outgrow "Weird Al." Gabriel wasn't having any of that though. For one thing, his father listens to Kenny G. For another, he said, "This is the greatest moment of my life."
DEAD AIR: Flight Canceled
IT WAS DIFFICULT TO HEAR OUTside the Museum of Flying last Sunday, with the Harley-in-the-round drone of an elderly radial engine passing repeatedly overhead. The engine powered a lemon-yellow biplane that dipped to Earth now and then to give dozens of passengers free rides over Santa Monica Airport's milelong runway. Inside the three-story museum, you could make out the murmur of old men in baseball caps, telling stories of their lives in aviation. Toddlers towing parents lined up behind cockpit simulators. One kid rhythmically slapped the 1931 Schneider Trophy Seaplane on its vast aluminum float, just below the DO NOT TOUCH sign. Attendance, according to one docent, was at an all-time high.
It was a great day for the 13-year-old temple of aviation, which opens directly onto the airport's runway. Unfortunately, it was also the last. Pending the possible move to a new location, this was the last the public would see of the collection that includes half a dozen restored and polished WWII war birds on floor display, scores of older and newer craft hanging from the ceiling, and thousands of bits and pieces of memorabilia -- cutaway rocket motors and earthbound flight simulators, old uniforms and helmets, oxygen masks and Hit Kit pocket song books, and hundreds of models and cinema displays of WWII action. This well-organized attic even includes the boardroom of aircraft titan Donald Douglas, complete with a Star Trekstyle conference table and a vintage Hammond chord organ for Cold War sing-alongs.