Monday, September 4th, 2017...6:47 pmchoc

on “Hardware Store”

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(this is what musical purgatory looks like.)

I had hoped, upon receiving this assignment, that I wouldn’t have to write an article about the lyrical complexities of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Hardware Store.” But after locking me in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus, driving me bankrupt with textbooks, placing me in a dorm that resembles middle-school health classroom that’s ridden with curses from a ghost who—rather than what would normally be considered haunting—prefers to deliver occasional barrages of mild inconveniences, sequentially triggering my bipolar manic-depression and dense general anxiety, it was clear that the semester was not willing to—as you say, give me a break.

The word is blazon:

blazon

and “Hardware Store” accomplishes the dictionary definition of the verb quite easily by premise—however, what’s much more interesting is that it fits under the technical literary definition (a—usually lyrical—poetic category of things to be admired in a—usually female—subject) in a vague, abstracted, but still intact fashion: and here’s how.

The most striking thing about the image above is that the inconspicuous seeming song “Hardware Store” is that, although it’s an original composition (and not a parody, for which he’s more widely known) is included in the Essential Weird Al Yankovic collection—which, to be fair, in an ideal world—would be his entire discography.

As a comedy musician—although also a multi-instrumentalist and highly achieved vocalist—much of his genius and skill shines through on the quality of his musical writing and delivery. This feat is usually accomplished by his pieces being a stylistic or direct parody of an existing work of music, rewritten and performed to a comedic twist: and unlike many of his other original composition “Since You’ve been Gone” and “One More Minute,” the piece fails to create much of a stylistic connection to preexisting music.

So how, a layperson may ask, did Hardware Store make its way into his Essential library? There’s only one answer—the work is an entirely independent, pure, succinct concentrate of Yankovic’s lyrical ability without the crutch that a parody implies (as the subversion of our expectations in hearing “Fat” instead of “Bad” is a considerable comedic accomplishment in itself, which this piece lacks.)

So let’s delve into how “Hardware Store” stands on its own as a comedy lyric, using both forms of blazon.

Although inconspicuous at first, it’ll come to a lister’s attention that the song starts with a wildly removed premise—a citizen of a town, which is due to get a hardware store, is almost impossibly obsessed with the arrival of the store in town, and is overeager to purchase, well, hardware. Akin to a superfan at their favourite band or artist’s concert, he sets up a tent to wait outside for the store to open, and excitedly catalogue every item he’s there to purchase, starting from ball-peen hammers to “a pair of pliers for every single room of my house.”

The main technique Yankovic uses to elevate the rudimentary idea of a “Hardware Store” to get a laugh is performing the writing and delivery through blazon. (this is the dictionary definition, not the literary one) The exaggeration is what creates the incredulous atmosphere and an ironic enjoyment of the speaker’s behaviour: it’s just a hardware store, but the words “Hardware Store” are repeatedly reinforced as an object of divine significance and even the final line culminates at a choral crescendo in a three-part harmony that recalls one’s experience listening to an in-church gospel choir.

But! There’s more to Yankovic’s lyrical stylings than a simple exaggerated narrative voice and delivery: it’s that we can actually hear a form of what resembles poetic blazon from Elizabethan lyric poetry, albeit about a hardware store that’s about to open tomorrow, rather than a young maiden that the upstanding English gentleman feels a different kind of blazing passion for.

Here’s an excerpt from“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe, referenced from the e-book version the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms in the entry on blazon:

poem

We can see that Marlowe’s key descriptive asset in this piece is a repetitive embellishing of the devotion he harbours towards the object of the piece, promptly exaggerated as to capture the immense volume of his sensation towards her in a—maybe—overly exuberant and flowery language in an implausible but dedicated fashion.

Now here’s an excerpt from “Hardware Store”

lyrics

We see that it accomplishes much of the same goals in the same fashion when it comes to describing the  the speaker’s heart, their motivation, and intention.

Although we haven’t gotten to a more technical example of poetic blazon, we can already see that —not explicitly, but in essence—”Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Hardware Store” bears heavy resemblance to 16th century Elizabethan lyric poetry.

In “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” an ekphrastic piece by Sir Walter Ralegh in response to the previously shown “The Passionate Shepherd to his Love,” we see a more generic form of blazon as defined in the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms:

a

And this segment in “Reply” resembles the extended segment in the Outro of “Hardware Store” where Yankovic performs a significantly fast-paced rap (which he delivers surprisingly intensely—he’s actually a very accomplished rapper as seen his other works: see “Word Crimes” and “White & Nerdy”) about the things he’s going to buy at the store:

a

One will be able to spot that, although drastically different in format and voice, the essential idea behind the purpose of a poetic blazon—to describe and re-describe the overwhelming sense of passion and heart for the subject matter—is captured, albeit in a comedy song, by one of the most overlooked musical lyricists of our time.

Perhaps the most impressive achievement, (although perhaps immature) however, is the subversion of the main lyrical quality of the song: embellish and exaggerate everything in sight in the aforementioned extended praise, where, amongst the many pieces of tools and everyday necessities (fans and dehumidifiers,) we catch a auditory glimpse of something that doesn’t quite belong—

This line with its questionable content, which would normally be subject to the listener’s consideration of the countless implications that its subject… implies, is quickly followed by “tennis rackets, angle brackets…” which has the effect of confounding listeners in a much more wider sense than the premise of the piece itself. (an automatic what)

In his biggest gambit, Yankovic momentarily subverts the main tool he used to create a comedic atmosphere from a hardware store to write the most significant comedic line in the song—a prank of sorts, which comes from the fact that everything else is delivered with such blazon that the line, which arguably calls for more significant delivery, gets buried in seemingly much less significant ideas such as “Duracells and Energizers” and “hamster cages.”

In the next post, I’ll elaborate on how “Hardware Store,” in its description of a desperate individual waiting for a chance to purchase simple, common tools that can be found outside a hardware store successfully critiques the culture of the modern American consumer with its use of satire; soon after, I’ll write on how his use of verbosity and run-on sentences captures the entire experience of poetic blazon and the embellished significance of a common “Hardware Store” by exaggerating the notion of over devotion and passion about something pathetically useless and impractical.



3 Comments

  •   Professor Seiler
    September 5th, 2017 at 11:05 am

    Cho, this post has such *verve* and energy–way to go on that front.

    To make it finished, however, you’d need to do 2 things:
    1. on content: you’re working with the dictionary definition of “blazon.” But is that the same as the literary one?

    2. on style/shape: go back through and “kill your darlings,” as the cliché has it: how could you get this post down to a pithy, more consistently on-topic 250-300 words? Concision is part of the challenge.

  • Hi, On 1. I clearly state I follow both the dictionary definition and the definition listed in the dictionary of literary terms—I study Hardware Store with respect to two pieces of Elizabethan poetry that were referenced directly in the dictionary and, while I conceded that it’s not a direct use of blazon that resembles such lyrical poetry from the Elizabethan period. (“what’s much more interesting is that it fits under the technical literary definition (a—usually lyrical—poetic category of things to be admired in a—usually female—subject) in a vague, abstracted, but still intact fashion: and here’s how.”)

    On 2. I also tried to make it clear that I made the article overblown and over-verbose, not consistently on-topic, not concise—the reason is stated in the last paragraph: the song fails to accomplish what a typical listener would expect a song to accomplish, and is incredibly verbose, overbearing, sporadic, and lengthy for no reason. I’d have written the post to be 300 words but I’m afraid I couldn’t let myself do that because it doesn’t do justice to the feeling that is Hardware Store. With this justification I was fine with killing some of my darlings (some points on this assignment and compliance for the rules, with some ignorance of the course content) to represent how I felt Hardware Store should be presented.

  •   Professor Seiler
    September 6th, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Hi Cho! I didn’t miss these comments in your post, rest assured. But rather than arguing with the prompt, part of the *learning* of this blog post–and all the blog posts–is to write with the concision and precision required. Happy to discuss how to bring your wonderful energy to bear in this assignment during office hours. Please do come by!

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