I can say with some confidence that there are a handful of artists who truly did change the direction of my life and personality. It happened for the first (and probably strongest) time in 1992. I was in second grade and was eight years old.
Until you are a certain age, you have "friends" who are mostly just playdates or people you would invite to your birthday party. People you might play games with or sit by in class. But it takes a sort of intellecual advancement before you get to the point where you might be sharing music with someone. Kyle was the first and definitely musically most influential friend that I've ever had. Here we are in 6th grade.
I don't remember the context in which he gave it to me, but I'll always remember the tape:
A home-recording of Weird Al's "Even Worse". I didn't know the name of the album then, it just said "Weird Al" on one side and had it's original label (I think something from Kyle's mom's work?) on the other side.
I see now on Spotify that I always started it on Side B (with Lasagna), but that's just because that's the side the Weird Al label was on.
This song (and album) bring a wave of nostalgia over me. Even when I hear a digital copy now, my mind still hears the degrading casette tape and the hum of my walkman in the background. And that GARGLING solo! Man.
It started with just that one tape, but every chance I got I would hound Kyle for more. I made copies of the ones he had in that first year or two, and then as he outgrew it a bit I took the originals, all of which I am still holding on to. I didn't have to buy my own copy of anything until 1996, when Bad Hair Day came out! Probably after about a year of my obsession, my parents got me my first Walkman, which was one of my most cherished posessions from then on. They were probably so sick of hearing "Dare To Be Stupid" that it was as much of a gift for me as it was for them. I remember a 10 hour road trip to Ashland where I just laid down in the back of our Dodge Caravan with my case of Weird Al tapes and sessioned through them one by one.
The amazing thing about having Weird Al as a first real musical experience- a lot of the songs he's riffing on are some of the biggest songs of all time. But if you don't KNOW the source material, it's like he's written album after album of the catchiest songs ever which also happen to be funny. Probably 75% of the Weird Al parodies from this era I heard before ever hearing the song they spoof, and now they are forever altered in my mind.
Here's a video of one of my absolute favorite parodies played on top of the original video for the song.
Weird Al was instrumental to me in so many ways. He was the first artist that I was constantly scrambling to find more from. The first whose album releases I anticipated. My first real CONCERT. And he taught me as much about comedy as he did about music. As a kid, every creative opportunity in school from this point on was parody. I wrote a parody of the night before christmas about cows that made it into the newspaper. He was absurd but not crass; even when it was toilet humor it was levels above and the most clever toilet humor possible. He taught me the power of comedic reference- that having a wide base of pop culture knowledge leads to better understanding of cultural comedy, but he did it in such a way that he still had such strong appeal to one who had NONE of that knowledge. He's like a kids movie that has something for all ages. Everything he's done he's done in the spirit of fun and the excitement of making a joke that everyone is in on, and it's a lofty goal to live your life with the energy and lack of cynicsm that he puts into every thing he does.
I'm sure I drove everyone around me insane, but really no musician has ever so totally encompassed my identity as Weird Al did from the ages of 8 - 12. And I'm sure I'm not alone, and I'm sure that the world is a better place as a result.
Up Next- a couple years of a weird assortment of radio singles that randomly punctuated mostly just a lot of Weird Al.