Weirdly good

Weird Al by Kyle Cassidy
Weird Al Yankovic by Kyle Cassidy (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Back in 2011 I had tickets to go and see Weird Al Yankovic. Unfortunately the gig never happened because of earthquakes but I always hoped that he would make it back some day. So much so I even wrote a blog post and my own somewhat silly musical parody in an effort to lure him back.

Well folks, today is that day. Tonight at the Isaac Theatre Royal we will be enjoying the music of Weird Al, arguably the most successful musical parody act of the modern age.

Weird Al was probably at the peak of his popularity in the 1980s (and certainly I’ve always felt his hair and cheesy schtick was very suited to that particular decade) but he’s never really gone away, releasing album after album. His latest, Mandatory Fun came out in 2014 and was his most successful for years, with the online videos becoming instant classics. I actually think I might prefer his take on Pharrell Williams’ Happy, the equally infectious, and cheeky, Tacky.

And he doesn’t just do parodies. There are always some original tracks on each album which obviously tend towards the ridiculous. “Albuqueque” from his 1999 album “Running with scissors” is a favourite in our house, an epic journey involving love, violence and snorkel-theft (amongst many other weird and varied things).

He also always includes a polka medley on each album which mashes up all the biggest hits of the year…with accordion. It sounds nuts but it’s actually really good. And Yankovic is pretty proficient on the old squeeze-box…

If you’re in the mood for some humour in your listening roster then definitely check out Mandatory Fun or 2011’s Alpocalypse. In this “post-ironic” age musical parody and knowing references to pop culture are more common than ever so Weird Al is by no means the only show in town (though possibly the only one tonight).

Other artists you might also want to check out include –

What parody artists do you enjoy?

Read Harder Challenge

Cover of Bone GapI realised last week that I signed up for some reading challenges at the start of this year. Cue panic! I’ve completely bombed on the Reading the World Challenge, unless we’re going for continents rather than countries, but with some creativity I’ve managed to fit books I read this year into most of the Read Harder Challenge (previous categories completed are at my original post):

  • A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25 – Nimona, Noelle Stevenson
  • A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65 – The New Moon with the Old, Dodie Smith
  • A book published by an indie press – Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord
  • A book that takes place in Asia – Bearkeeper’s Daughter, Gillian Bradshaw (Turkey counts, right?)
  • Cover of SwindledA book by an author from Africa – Under the Udala Trees, Chinelo Okparanta (the audiobook has a fantastic narrator)
  • A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture – Dogside Story, Patricia Grace
  • A microhistory – Swindled, Bee Wilson (fascinating and horrifying in equal measure)
  • A romance novel – The One Plus One, Jojo Moyes (because my kind of romance story involves single parents and road trips and farting dogs)
  • A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade – Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  • A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.) – Bone Gap, Laura Ruby
  • An audiobook – Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (highly recommended!)
  • A collection of poetry –
  • Cover of Under the Udala TreesA book that was originally published in another language – The Arab of the Future, Riad Sattouf (so depressing)
  • A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure – I’d have to go with Things I Wish I’d Known, because for some reason I like reading horror stories about poop and babies
  • A book published before 1850 – The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  • A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”) – Bears in the Backyard, Edward Ricciuti (I’m really reaching here, but the survival techniques might be useful if I ever get attacked by a cougar?)

As you can see I’ve failed to complete four of them. I did start three (still reading Wolf Hall!) but unfortunately they might have to count for next year’s challenge. Yes, that’s right, I’ve optimistically signed up for the Read Harder Challenge 2016 already. Maybe I’ll tick them all off this time!

How did you all get on with your reading challenges this year? Are you planning to sign up for another for 2016?

Soviet Cuisine – not for the fainthearted

The CCCP Cook Book: True Stories of Soviet Cuisine arrived recently on my desk. I don’t even know why I reserved it, maybe it was the cover – a rather insipid looking aspic creation with a very strong retro feel, or just the idea that Soviet Cuisine, (which, let’s face it, is not top of foodies’ wishlists) had its own cook book.

Cover of CCCP Cook BookI was not disappointed. The book contains over 60 recipes, most of which I wouldn’t want to recreate. For example, Mimosa Salad calls for a tin of fish that you lay at the bottom of your dish, spread with mayonnaise, then a layer of chopped onion, spread with mayonnaise, cooked egg whites – and you guessed it, spread with mayonnaise followed by grated carrot, egg yolk and – mayonnaise. You can also layer in grated apple, or cheese and butter!

Thankfully the beauty of this book is not the recipes; it is the story of communism and how the population managed sporadic food supplies by using every ounce of ingenuity they could muster. The illustrations are taken directly from Soviet cookbooks and they are stunningly unappetising, but also wonderfully retro in their design. Alongside the subsistence recipes are the extravagant banquets reserved for the political elite, featuring a tonne of aspic, the occasional suckling pig, pickles and other delicacies.

Each recipe has a story reflecting the turbulence and uncertainty of the times, creating a book that is not just a history of food but is the history of an era. Ironically, Soviet-style canteens in Russia are now selling traditional Soviet-era food to queues of young Russian hipsters. I wonder when the craze will take on here?