Professional partier Andrew W.K. obviously doesn’t need a reason to party. Partying is in his DNA; it is as crucial to his W.K.-ness as the all-white ensemble. However, if there were ever a time particularly worthy of celebration, it’s now. The party connoisseur turns 35 years old today: Friday, May 9th. Naturally, the authority on partying would have some pointers for throwing a birthday bash — so that’s why we reached out to the birthday boy himself.
When we asked if there’s such a thing as “too much birthday party,” W.K. unsurprisingly answered without hesitation, “Oh no, not at all.” We delved into the glory of baked goods, the importance of “Happy Birthday”, and party etiquette. Without further ado, the sage of shindigs shares his top seven birthday party must-haves…
1. Celebratory sweets are important.
Cakes are probably the most important thing to me if there’s some kind of birthday celebration. Even if it’s just a cupcake. To each their own — if someone strongly dislikes cake, but they like cookies, or they don’t like baked goods, maybe they’d like an ice cream bar or something. Or ice cream cake. That to me is really good — I love ice cream cake. Even if you don’t eat it and you have a few guests and they get to enjoy it, I think there’s the blowing out of the candles ritual that’s quite magical, the smell of those candles once they’ve burned out; that to me always instantly makes me connect with every previous birthday, or even the birthdays of other friends. It’s a very particular smell, and of course you can smell candles being blown out all the time, but there’s something about them being mixed with cake at that birthday moment that is very powerful. You realize, “Wow, this was the moment I was created so many years ago.” So yeah, cakes — some sort of celebratory sweet.
2. Party accessories rule.
I have enjoyed them at the times when it’s been provided or when I was younger, even more recently, some kind of hat, small hat that’s pointed — a party hat. Or a noisemaker, the ones that unroll kind of like a frog’s tongue or something. They have a nice sound to them.
3. Festive atmosphere is key.
Something that’s festive, so I would say festive decorations are important. My mom always decorated, even if it was just a happy birthday sign. It doesn’t have to be elaborate at all. It could be a centerpiece that you draw yourself — some little added element that provides an additional little atmosphere.
4. Sing “Happy Birthday,” and sing it well.
I think it’s very important to sing a very sincere and heartfelt version of “Happy Birthday”. First of all, it’s a fantastic song. Second of all, it is still an active, copyrighted song, so you’ll notice that it’s often not included in movies because they have to get the rights from those songwriters. It’s amazing that it’s not gone into public domain. As far as I know, it’s still under copyright, so you don’t hear it that much outside of actual birthday parties, which makes it perhaps even more magical.
So, sing it. Really sing it as best you can. Don’t start in too high of a key, because then at the end of the song it jumps up: [singing] “Happy biiiirthday” — that’s an octave jump, much like in other great songs such as “God Bless America” or even the national anthem. If you start too high, you’ll quickly realize that you’re about to run out of your range and that’s not very fun for anybody. Unless you get some laughs if your voice cracks. And you have these choice tag lines such as “and many more” and “you look like a monkey and you smell like one, too.” There’s many little tags you can put on there to lighten the mood.
But I think it is very important to sing that song. Even if the person, oftentimes the birthday person, doesn’t want it sung. I guess it can be awkward, too much attention, sometimes people get embarrassed, but it’s very moving, very overwhelming, and sometimes in those emotional, very powerful situations, people get a bit bashful. Like, you have to force the song on them, even if they’re being shy and bashful.
Yeah, definitely. Like at restaurants when you’re bombarded.
Yeah, and everyone will sing along! And that’s a beautiful thing. It’s actually one of my most favorite things if I’m dining out and by chance it’s someone’s birthday, and it’s not obviously very inappropriate to join in. It’s very fun when a bunch of strangers start joining in, too, and they might not say your name; you just leave that part blank, or you just sort of mutter something that could sound like a name like [singing] “Happy biiiirthday dear [mutters], happy birthday to you.” That’s a very fun, communal, I mean, talk about a party — when you can get people you’ve never met before singing a song about your birth, about the day you emerged into this world, that is true partying.
5. Party with etiquette.
Now, I have, like many folks, purposely asked people to not have people get me gifts on the birthday, especially if they’re already coming to an event. Related to this, I think that if you are throwing your own birthday party, you cannot ask people to pay. You have to insist for paying for everything. And this is debatable — this goes into, sort of, social etiquette, party etiquette — and that depends on where you’re from and how you were raised, just whatever your sort of, ethics, are here — but it’s my feeling that if I invited my friends out to dinner in a formal way to celebrate, especially me, I would not expect them to pay. Now maybe if they offered to, maybe you could say, “Well, hey, maybe we’ll go out for drinks after and you can pay for that,” or “We’ll go out later another time.” But I think that’s a nice gesture. And then you might even end up getting some nice gifts, like a golden watch or a check for five thousand dollars from a friend. You never know! Always be overly generous.
If your friends are throwing the party, it’s nice to bring some sort of party favor for as many people as you can. I think it can be something very small, almost trivial; it doesn’t need to be big. Like we used to do when i was a child, we used to do a goody bag full of at least a dozen different things: A piece of candy, a rubber bouncing ball, a cool sticker, some kind of a toy bracelet, there’s all kinds of stuff. But these days, I think if you just get one very simple thing, it could be a very nice piece of chocolate. Well, that’s not a very good example. It could be a rubber bouncing ball, it really could. It could be a squishy, squeezable, light-up yo-yo kind of thing. There’s all kind of things you can get at any kind of novelty shop or even at the drugstore. It’s the idea that you’re offering a little something back.
And if your friends have thrown you a birthday party — and this is all sort of under the etiquette side — I would write thank you notes, especially if they’re hand-written, but at least say thank you through an email, a text, or a phone call. Just a very quick “Thank you very much for the birthday party” … that can mean a lot.
6. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. If you get gifts, be gracious.
I’ve done this, and I’m still very much embarrassed about it, unfortunately. My friend has forgiven me and very much had a good sense of humor about it, but there’s been times when I insist people not give me gifts, and they gave me gifts, and then I kind of almost resented the gift, almost sort of insulted the gift in front of the person as they gave it to me.
For example, one of my managers years ago once gave me for my birthday (even though I said no gifts, we were actually recording my album, we weren’t really doing anything special this day), but he came over and he gave me a portable DVD player. At the time, this was really quite rare. I don’t think it was that easy to even find a DVD player in a computer at this time. It was a very big deal. I was touring a lot. I was traveling a lot, and he thought this would be such a great thing for me on the road. And it was extremely thoughtful. It was quite high-priced when it came to birthday gifts, especially for me and this manager. It was really over-the-top. And what did I do? I said, “Uh, I think this is a present that you would like. Why don’t you just have it?” And it was extraordinarily rude of me.
So, I guess as they would say, “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” Always be very gracious, accept the gift with extreme kindness and good cheer, and even if you don’t like it, really just appreciate the thought and care that went into this person getting you anything at all. If you really don’t like the gift, you can just throw it away or give it away — just make sure they never find out. The funny thing is, and I have told this guy this many years later, I actually use that DVD player all the time, and it’s been over 10 years since he gave it to me.
7. Take the pressure off. (It’s your birthday; don’t celebrate if you don’t want to.)
You don’t have to celebrate your birthday if you don’t want to! And if someone else doesn’t want to celebrate their birthday, they have the right to not celebrate it as well. Some people are very in-depth about birthdays, and I’m sure everyone has some experience with this if not themselves; some people just really don’t like it. It might be because they don’t like that kind of attention, it might be because they don’t like this idea of getting old, or who knows what, but you don’t have to celebrate your birthday.
You’re gonna remember it most likely. And even if no one else remembers it, you can’t hold that against them either. I’ve talked to people that would get very offended if no one remembered their birthday, and of course it’s not ideal, of course it’s wonderful when people do, but don’t hold that against them, either — even if you’re the person that remembers everybody’s birthday, always buying everybody gifts in advance, you send a card and call every time on birthdays. My own dad doesn’t even know what my birthday is, and I don’t remember most of my family’s birthdays either, especially what exact date it is. But that’s just how we do it.
Let each person have their own freedom in how they celebrate (or don’t celebrate) their special day of emerging into reality.