"Bob," from the 2003 album "Poodle Hat
," is certainly one of the most interesting songs ever put together by parodist Weird Al Yankovic
. Unlike his more typical hits, this is not a new set of lyrics set over some other musician's tune, but is an entirely original song sung in the style
of another -- here, Bob Dylan
. It's not clear whether Yankovic first had the idea to do a song parodying Bob, and then decided to make it a collection of strung-together palindromes
, or whether the palindrome concept came first, with the Dylan stylization following, but either way the two concepts combine ingeniously. Dylan is done just right for a parody -- with nasally elongated vowels
and a hint of a twang
, backed by acoustic guitars, a piano, tambourine
, and a lively harmonica
, the listener
can immediately tell both that it is Weird Al singing, and that it is Bob Dylan being referenced.
The music video
) is suitably stripped down, in black and white
, and its very existence has its own story. Yankovic had not planned to make a video for this song at all, instead expecting an Eminem
parody to be the centerpiece of the album, envisioning a very involved music video taking beats from throughout Eminem's career. But the rapper
had a last minute change of heart
, allowing the song to be included in the album, but vetoing the video. In order not to have an album completely unsupported by a music video, they turned to the Dylan parody as the simplest one to put together an idea for. And the idea is indeed simple -- it is (as Tem42 pointed out to me)
"a variation on the videos recorded for Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues
" -- and goddamn, it is exactly the same setup!!
Weird Al, in a white shirt
, black vest
, and familiar-looking wig
, stands in an alley
piled up with garbage bags
, tossing out a series of cue cars
. The cards have the lyrics -- one palindrome per card -- written in thick, scripted capital letters. (INXS
did the same for their 1987 video for the song "Mediate
.") In the background, two older men with walking sticks appear to converse in the alley, another detail lifted from Dylan, one tall and thin with curly hair, the other heavier, bearded, and bald. Weird Al's face appears stern -- he isn't singing -- and like Dylan, his glance casts about disinterestedly as he tosses out the next card, and the next.
But the best element of the song is the intricate arrangement of the lyrics. It would be a mistake to think that a bunch of palindromes were randomly drawn and then jumbled together. They are instead carefully woven so that there is a hint
of abstract meaning in certain verses
, and a bit of attitude infused through the flow
of the whole:
I, man, am regal, a German am I
Never odd or even
If I had a hi-fi
Commentary: Could've started with any line, but this is an "I am...." statement, the second line asserts balance
, and the third references music
Madam, I'm Adam
Too hot to hoot
No lemon no melon
Too bad I hid a boot
Commentary: The first line of this verse is another "I am" sort of statement, and one of the most famous palindromes in history; the third line didn't have to come close to rhyming with the first, but they made that happen anyway.
Lisa Bonet ate no basil
Warsaw was raw
Was it a car or a cat I saw?
Commentary: It's just funny that a palindrome incorporating Lisa Bonet was thought of. This could have been ordered the other way around, but it's better ending this one on the question....
Rise to vote, sir
Do geese see God?
Do nine men Interpret? Nine men I nod
Commentary: This verse on the other hand seems structured almost as if it always intended to tell this story -- that the singer is amongst some sort of jury of nine all solemnly rising to vote on the middle question, of whether geese see God.
Rats live on no evil star
Won't lovers revolt now?
Race fast safe car
Commentary: This too seems to tell a whole story -- rats not living on an evil star raises the question of whether lovers will revolt -- mandating racing fast. Perhaps to escape the revolt?
Pa's a sap
Ma is as selfless as I am
May a moody baby doom a yam?
Commentary: This one is the family
verse -- Pa, Ma, and their moody baby. Again, this verse makes sense ending on the rhetorical question
. A harmonica solo is interposed at this point. In the video, Weird Al actually holds up a cue card reading "(harmonica solo)."
Ah Satan sees Natasha
No devil lived on
Not a banana baton
Commentary: This verse manages to juxtapose two Luciferian palindromes before correctly noting that a Tylenol is, in fact, not a banana baton.
No X in Nixon
O stone, be not so
O Geronimo, no minor ego
Commentary: This is the history
verse, beginning with a comment on one historical figure and ending with one on another. And the contrast presented between them is perhaps the most actually Dylanesque moment in the entire piece.
"Naomi" I moan
A Toyota's a Toyota
A dog, a panic, in a pagoda
Commentary: I pause to note here that a lot of the palindromes selected are first person action statements, 'I did' this, 'I saw' that, 'I won' the other. I feel that's no accident; this makes the song as a whole feel more like a personal narrative. Beyond that note, this verse sports two contrasting aspects specific to the culture of Japan
Oh no, Don Ho
Nurse, I spy gypsies, run!
Now I see bees I won
Commentary: This verse is just fun. It sort of carries over the sense of 'panic' from the last line of the previous verse, and then shifts into demented cats and pollinating prizes.
We panic in a pew
Oozy rat in a sanitary zoo
Commentary: This verse does something interesting, which is to rhyme all three lines, which creates a new beat, a sense of chaos coming together in an orderly manner -- and with another line including 'panic' to underscore that the frantic buildup of the song is about to culminate.
God, a red nugget, a fat egg under a dog
Go hang a salami, I'm a lasagna hog
Commentary: This is the only verse which includes only two palindromes, each taking half the verse, with the first being its own sort of hodge-podge of thrown together things. Now this may just be my own sense of things, but I think the very last line was chosen to go out on because Weird Al has a famous lyrical association with food, with many of his most famous songs having eating-centric themes -- one of his first parodies was "My Bologna" (lifted from "My Sharona
"); others included "I Love Rocky Road", (from "I Love Rock 'n' Roll
") "Eat It" (taking off of Michael Jackson
's "Beat It
"); and "Fat" (a sequel of sorts to the tune of Michael Jackson's own sequel of sorts, "Bad
"). And so, including lines referencing a lemon and a melon, basil, a yam, a banana, and tofu, and closing on a line referencing salami and lasagna, solidifies a subtle foodie
thing going on all along. And it is again a first person declaration -- the song begins with him calling himself regal, and ends with him calling himself something seemingly less than regal -- a lasagna hog. In its own way, it seems like a refutation of the building theme of panic and collapse from the three preceding verses, running up to the first line of this verse.
In closing I reiterate my impression that it would be easy to throw together a list of palindromes, find a few couplets that rhyme, pair those, and call it a song. But what Weird Al has done here is much more than that. Even for the listener unaware that this was a collection of palindromes, he has structured a sense of something happening
over the course of the lyrics, and happening around himself (if not exactly to himself) as narrator
, building in a sense of rising pressure
and an edible release
IRON NODER: TOKYO DRIFT