Hey all, Ernie here with a piece from David Buck, who fulfilled a somewhat long-term goal of ours with this issue: Do an article about Weird Paul. Who’s Weird Paul? I’ll let him explain.
Today in Tedium: The world of music can be a surreal place, full of unique and wonderful artists. There are a plethora of musicians performing and building their careers in an increasingly distracted, disinterested world. Some combine their music with extravagant live shows or unique methods of distribution. Others use a visual medium in tandem with their music to create an altogether earnest, funny and nostalgic works of art, despite the odds the world stacks against them. In today’s Tedium, we’ll on of these artists: Weird Paul Petroskey, Pennsylvania’s most prolific DIY musician and the “Original Vlogger.” — David @ Tedium
The year the Petroskey family of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, bought their first video camera. On Sep. 6 of that year, the family excitedly hooked up the brand new video camera and the rest is history. Paul began making videos with the new camera right away and later wrote an essay for school calling it “the day that changed his life.” Eventually, he would tell the entire story in a video from 2016.
Weird Paul Petroskey was probably one of the original content creators
The new Weird Paul documentary Will Work for Views begins with a few quotes from Weird Paul Petroskey that aptly sum up his art: “In the ’80s, I made a lot of what is now called ‘content’ and I needed a way to show it to people like I wanted to.” And in response to why he archives everything via YouTube, he said, “I do it because it’s my destiny.”
Paul was quite prolific during his youth, making numerous music videos, horror movies and other types of content that are remarkably similar to what people began doing in the age of social media. He made over 600 videos that are still being released across his primary channel and his 80’s Homemade Music Videos by Weird Paul channel.
In addition to playing music and making video, Paul collects movies, video games, and toys, which he features prominently in his recent video work and is a bit of a legend in Pittsburgh. In 2015, he had his own television show in Pittsburgh, all while continuing to archive his work online.
Eventually, Paul began to cultivate an interest in playing music, partly due to the influence of seeing music videos on television. This led to his homemade albums, a few record deals, live shows opening for the likes of R. Stevie Moore, Daniel Johnston, and Half Japanese, two documentaries and dedicated fans across the globe.
The dimensions of Weird Paul’s homemade amplifier from the early years of his career. Per the documentary Weird Paul: A Lo Fi Documentary, the amp was built by Paul’s dad out of an old speaker cabinet with a silk screen containing the Weird Paul logo over the front. Inside was an 8-track player. It was powerful, “like a wall knocking you over” and can be heard in some early recording and videos. The amp was used in several early Weird Paul shows, but sadly no longer exists. Per Paul, the amp was dismantled when he moved into a small apartment and no longer had the space for it. The silk screen survives, however, in all its lo-fi glory.
A silk screen with the Weird Paul logo on it.
The Lo-fi DIY music of Weird Paul Petroskey
Still rocking a BC Rich Warlock guitar he got in the late ’80s, Weird Paul continues to create music solo and with the Weird Paul Rock Band. His DIY aesthetic was developed and nurtured over the years and is constantly evolving.
As he explains in his 30th anniversary video for In Case of Fire Throw This In, Paul used a tape recorder to record tracks, then played back the recorded track on a stereo while recording a new part of a song. This form of bouncing tracks yielded a complete album that he copyrighted, released and sent to Dr. Demento. Unfortunately, Dr. D couldn’t use the songs at the time, sending Paul a polite letter detailing the reasons why. It was also around this time that he changed his moniker from “Off the Wall” Paul to Weird Paul by popular demand of his schoolmates/listeners, according to the video.
For the first album, Paul banged on pots and pans for percussion. On one song, synthetic drums from a Commodore 64 music program supplied the beat. The following year, Paul’s father bought him a Radio Shack mixer and the family obtained a Casiotone keyboard, both of which were used extensively in the recording of I Need a Pencil Sharpener and later recordings. Later records would go on to feature a variety of toy instruments from the Petroskey family collection.
His most recent album was a different type of DIY altogether, where he took the Todd Rundgren approach with the album.
“I played every note on every instrument on my last album, Still Going Strong,” he told me. “All the drums, bass, keyboards and guitars. I don’t play any instrument too well or in the exact way that a professional musician would play it, but I have my own style because of that.”
The approximate cost of making the album Lo Fidelity, Hi Anxiety, released in 1991 on the Homestead label. Per Paul, he and then-drummer Manny Theiner recorded the album at a local guy’s home studio on a 4-track over the course of three days.
Just some of Weird Paul’s many albums. (photo by the author)
Paul’s songwriting and musicianship is a unique phenomenon in the world of independent music
Imagine the irreverence of Barnes & Barnes circa their Voobaha album, apply a lo-fi punk aesthetic, add a dash of Half Japanese or the Ramones, sprinkle the lyrical sensibilities of Daniel Johnston on top, puree it in the blender and you have the music of Weird Paul Petroskey. It is pretty great, too.
Over the course of many albums, he developed an interesting, irreverent sound that he can call his own almost by accident. Paul told Tedium via email:
I didn’t really have any direction when I started. I was just recording parodies of other songs, like Weird Al, only mine were (unfortunately) not funny, though I wanted them to be. I just sang right over the songs and recorded it onto a tape recorder that usually sat on the toilet (I did all my recording in the bathroom).
I wanted to be like Weird Al, because he was my favorite singer. I’d wanted to be a comedian since I was very young and saw Bob Hope, Steve Martin, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, etc. But I was shy and didn’t know how to write jokes. So doing funny music was my way of getting to be a comedian.
Between 1984-1987, I was doing parodies of other people’s songs but with each tape I made, I did less and less parodies and more and more originals, until I put out my first real album, which contained no parodies.
At that point, I had gotten less into heavy metal and more into punk, new wave and indie rock. So by then, I had realized that music was also an emotional outlet and a way of communicating emotion to others. That was probably when I realized that music (at least the composition of it) was something I could be good at.
When I put out my first tape in 1987, that was basically me saying, “Okay, I am a professional musician now, I have released this album”. And the fact that I sold many copies of it to my classmates in high school made me feel like I was correct about it being something I could someday do for a living.
Much like R. Stevie Moore, Paul’s music has been released on a mix major labels and he has an archive of his own self-released cassettes and newer CD/digital albums. Paul currently releases most of his work on his own Rocks and Rolling Records label.
The early Weird Paul cassettes are a delightful mix of DIY cassette recording and strange song ideas. He was successful at selling copies of his first official album In Case of Fire Throw This In to kids at school and his song “I Stole a Bunsen Burner” was played on Pittsburgh radio.
On his YouTube channel, Paul discusses in great detail his other early works like Seeking the Death Penalty, Half Live Petroskey and The World According to Petroskey were never released outside of the small circle of kids at his school. The latter tape was intended to be a concept album, unfortunately, the original tape was lost after being loaned to a friend.
Beaten with the Ugly Stick is mostly renditions of Paul singing parody lyrics over the top of pre recorded songs. Perhaps the most interesting of Paul’s unreleased albums is Worm in my Egg Cream, which when discussed in the Weird Paul: a Lo Fidelity Documentary, was referred to by Paul as “Genius. That’s what people say when they hear this tape.” As one of very few people who have heard the tape, I must agree with this assessment.
The same can be said of many individual songs. Tunes like “Bronchitis,” a cough-laden instrumental from I Need a Pencil Sharpener illustrates Paul’s musical sensibilities in ways reminiscent of R. Stevie Moore’s The North. Other songs from this tape—the Ramones tinged ”My Head’s on Fire,” the fiery rocker “Knock People Over,” and a bizarre tune called “I’m a Guitar”—eventually appeared in slightly more produced versions on Paul’s Lo Fidelity, Hi Anxiety album.
A press release for Lo Fidelity, Hi Anxiety.
The album is notable for a few reasons, chiefly that it was the product of Paul being signed to a record deal for the first time and that it contained bonus tracks only on the vinyl version of the release.
Per Paul, “We put two extra tracks on the vinyl, because we saw a lot of CDs with bonus tracks coming out and we wanted to do the opposite because we loved vinyl.”
It’s also a good possibility that Lo Fidelity, Hi Anxiety helped grow Weird Paul’s fan base considerably.
“Around 1994 I think it was, they remaindered all the cassettes and they ended up at National Record Marts and Camelot Music Stores for 50¢ each or something,” he explained. “High school kids were buying them like crazy, I know because I started getting letters every week from kids all over the country who’d bought it and were totally into it.”
Paul would branch out into more ambitious territory with 1989’s Now I Blow My A-B-C’s, which featured 26 songs—one song written for each letter of the alphabet.
The album has great production relative to his earlier work—though Paul might disagree, as he referred to this album suffering from overproduction during a 2013 podcast interview. I’ll have to respectfully disagree, as the blend of acoustic music, punk rock, cassette trickery, synth-based tunes, and strange lyrical ideas with the broader concept of the album make it a personal favorite of mine.
Does Anyone Want This and My Last Tape round out the cassette era with numerous releases arriving over the past few years—Best Sled Ever, The Dame That Drove Me Nuts, Your Favorite Gum, 2001, The Mess of Weird Paul, Medically Necessary and Still Going Strong.
Then there are his numerous collaborations with others that can be found on his Bandcamp page. Never content to stop creating, a new album from Weird Paul Petroskey is forthcoming in 2019.
The number of thrift store haul videos Weird Paul currently has on his channel as of March 2019. Each video is a showcase of amazing thrift store finds at bargain prices, where Paul typically spends less than $20 on music, games, books, toys, and movies to add to his collection. These videos, along with mail day videos always feature two famous Weird Paul catchphrases: “That is Wild” and “Oooh, how kinky.”
Five Weird Paul videos worth watching right now, according to Tedium
5. 1984 McDonald’s Breakfast Review. In 1984, Paul took some McDonald’s breakfast food home and decided to make a vlog about the experience, predating Instagram, YouTube and the more modern food vlogs by a few decades. Not only did this video go viral for Paul, it showcases his offbeat humor and sincerity at such a young age. Later, Paul wrote a song about his feelings on this one going viral, called “Delusions of Grandeur.”
4. Pot of Macaroni. The lead off track from 2009′s As Heard in my Dreams is a slice of zany made more so by the hilarious video. Watch for Paul playing a toy saxophone, an oven mitt joining in on the chorus, and the obligatory boiling pot of hot water. It was a huge hit on Vine, with over 4 million loops and is probably the catchiest song about pasta you’ll ever hear.
3. Please Don’t Break my Atari. … or you’re gonna be sorry! In this classic Weird Paul video, we witness the destruction of an Atari 2600 by rubber mallet and hear a classic punk rock song all about Paul’s accomplishments and his disdain for seeing them destroyed. If you break his Atari, you’ll only break his heart.
2. This Guy’s Got a Bone Disease. This tender tune from 2013′s Still Going Strong should have been a radio hit. It’s catchy and superb on its own, but becomes enhanced by the music video. The video does a fantastic job capturing the essence of Paul’s humor. Aided by his father, Ward (outdoor footage) and his son, Tristan (indoor footage), Paul tells the story of a man suffering from a tragic disease...with a cool twist ending.
1. Peanut Butter Recall. This autobiographical celebration of one of Paul’s favorite foods is a literal listing—a recall, as it were—or all the different brands of peanut butter he’s consumed throughout his life. Set against the backdrop of a classic rock song with a beautiful descending riff, the song is a great entry point into Paul’s large body of work. Why not eat some peanut butter while you watch and read about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups afterward?
“A lot of people watch it and immediately they get sucked in, because it either makes them think of a time when they used to watch VHS or, if they weren’t alive then, it’s just interesting because it doesn’t look like everything else.”
— Paul Petroskey, in a 2018 interview with the Associated Press, describing the appeal of his home movies from the 80s as well as his newer nostalgia-themed videos on YouTube. Petroskey has been an active member of the YouTube community,
Weird Paul has fans everywhere. In his early years, he was championed by the likes of musician and owner of K records Calvin Johnson, John S. Hall from the band King Missile, and independent musicians like the Happy Flowers. His YouTube following is in excess of 20,000 subscribers and growing. Vice publication Noisey describes Paul as something of a cult musical figure with DIY sensibilities. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
In 2006, fan and filmmaker Stacey Goldschmidt produced a documentary highlighting Paul’s music career up to that point. Through the lens of her documentary, it’s easy to see why Weird Paul became a beloved cult figure in independent music—he’s relatable, interesting and just like the rest of us. He’s authentic.
Weird Paul and Jo Luijten, the mastermind behind Squirrel Monkey.
As Jo Luijten of Squirrel Monkey put it:
When I came across a random video made by Weird Paul I was immediately intrigued by the authenticity of his videos. He is definitely the most original vlogger of the internet. Even literally, because he started vlogging on VHS tapes in the early Eighties and uploaded a bunch of those vlogs.I recommend everybody who loves nostalgia to subscribe to his channel. In my videos I refer to Weird Paul because I want more people to discover his channel.
Paul tends to bring out that helpful spirit of cooperation in people. Weird Paul has led an extraordinary life and continues to do what he loves in the face of adversity. He always seems to overcome whatever hurdles life throws his way and emerges from each new experience with resolve to continue driving toward his artistic vision.
As Paul says the documentary Will Work for Views, “Success, to me, is making a living off my art.”
Hopefully, that wish will come true for Paul and the world will come to appreciate the music and art of Weird Paul Petroskey in its full nostalgic glory for a long time to come.
Find this one a fascinating read? Share it with a pal! And see you next time!