Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Music's Immune to Parody

The brilliant Tim Minchin is armed with a grand piano in his stand-up comedy. His monologue consists of a series of songs, filled with satire. So, his music is parody, but it doesn't matter. It's still sweet, sweet music.

Here's one example of Tim Minchin playing with different genres of music, when joking on a subject – in this case ironically about having depth and a dark side, too:

Although his use of music is aimed at parody, it's still quite enjoyable as music. I think this is true only for music: It's immune to parody.

No matter how much you try to make fun of it, the music takes over and what we hear at the end is a song we like or not, regardless of its aim. Not even exaggeration works – it's just more of what we do or don't like. The parody is lost.

In this aspect, Tim Minchin reminds me a lot of Frank Zappa. His concerts were filled with parodical songs, making fun of several musical genres. It all turned into music, mostly very pleasant, inspiring, and intriguing, independently of the satirical ingredient.

Here's an example of Frank Zappa's musical ironies, making obvious fun of several genres in a single song:

Whatever his intention might have been with Florentine Pogen, and in spite of the singer's contortions, sweet music ensues.

Well, Frank Zappa was quite aware of it, so he allowed his songs to evolve into a festive meal of music, shown in the above song by his own guitar solo. This was more the rule than the exception with Frank Zappa. Even songs that started as the most poisonous satire grew into celebrations of the power and joy of music. He was probably completely aware of the golden rule: music's immunity to parody.

Another example from past years is the band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, having several hits with songs that were ironic to say the least. Still, a vast audience took them to their hearts. It must have surprised the band.

A flagrant example of parody failing is Sylvia's Mother, which was drenched in honey but still became a hit and inspired numerous sincere tears all over the world. In this version the band has sort of given in to that fact:

Oddly, the parody intended is much closer to work in a version taking the song totally seriously. See Jon Bon Jovi's cover version, completely devoid of humor. Because he preforms it without any irony in the subtext, he comes as close to parody as ever possible with music:

Like so much in life, the best parody is unintentional.


  1. Late in his career, Frank Zappa released a concert recording with a title that posed this question: “Does Humor Belong in Music?” That was in 1986. Even then, “Weird Al” Yankovic had an answer.