Weird Al Yankovic
'Still Yankin' Our Chains!'
The foremost song parodist of the MTV era, "Weird Al" Yankovic carried the torch of musical humor more proudly and more successfully than any performer since Allan Sherman. In the world of novelty records -- a genre noted for its extensive back catalog of flashes-in-the-pan and one-hit wonders -- Yankovic was king, scoring smash after smash over the course of an enduring career which found him topically mocking everything from new wave to gangsta rap.
Throughout the '80s and '90s, Yankovic and his accordion became a staple of MTV, with elaborate music video parodies of pop icons such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Puff Daddy. Yankovic has a loyal following and a solid hold on his reputation as the best-selling novelty song producer of all time.
His Star Wars parody, "The Saga Begins" (to the tune of Don McClean's "American Pie") was widely distributed on the Internet and became a video favorite on MTV at the time of the release of George Lucas's Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). Yankovic's albums include Dare To Be Stupid (1985), Running With Scissors (1999) and the Grammy-winning Poodle Hat (2003).
Yankovich's new CD, Straight Outta Lynwood was just released, with its lead single being "White & Nerdy," a suburban parody of Chamillionaire's hit "Ridin."
Chatting recently with "Weird Al," and taking it from the top I first wondered at what point did Alfred Matthew Yankovic actually become "Weird Al"? And what was so damn 'weird' about you back then that it became your new 'first name' anyway?! "I got the nickname as a freshman in college and took it on professionally when I started doing shifts at my college campus radio station. Most of the other DJs on the station had goofy nicknames, and since I played a lot of “weird” music on my show, I thought the name “Weird Al” was appropriate. And obviously, it just kind of stuck."
It's been said that when a door to door salesman came around offering accordion and guitar lessons, your father opted for the accordion. So, based on that theory, what would have been his choice if the salesman had been giving lessons on either an Icelandic Fidla or a Samisen?! "I wouldn’t really want to speak on my dad’s behalf, but I have a pretty strong feeling it would have been an Icelandic Fidla."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of buying your new CD, how would you yourself describe the musical delight that they are in for?! "Well, it’s a DualDisc with 12 brand new Weird Al songs including parodies of hits by Chamillionaire, Green Day, Usher, R. Kelly and Taylor Hicks… plus the DVD side has 6 brand new music videos and a behind-the-scenes documentary, with all the songs available in PCM Stereo, 5.1 Surround and instrumental mode, plus an on-screen lyrics option with photo gallery, a 24-page color booklet… I mean, this thing is so packed with extras, you pretty much are forced to buy it. In fact, it’s mandatory!"
Your album title 'Straight Outta Lynwood' has obviously got direct lineage back to the same-named town that you were raised in. But, I'm guessing had you been raised in Compton you would have had another interesting title choice to make?! "You raise an interesting point – there’s appartently already an album called “Straight Outta Compton” and therefore I wouldn’t have been able to use that title. Maybe I would have just called it “The Alfred Yankovic LP.”
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Weird Al at his musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "Hmm… I guess I’d pick “Pancreas.” It’s impossible for me to fully articulate the deep bond that exists between me and my pancreas, but I thought this song came pretty close."
Are you quite sure that there is no distant relationship ties between yourself and polka king Frankie Yankovic?! "Maybe our bloodlines cross several generations back, but I discussed it with Frankie and we could never figure out any kind of direct connection."
With your song "Belvedere Cruisin'" having been the catalyst for your career, please tell us why it came to mind to record... and how someone so young (and presumably with no money) actually pulled the recording off in the first place! "As a songwriter, you write what you know about – and as a teenager, I didn’t know a lot, but I knew what it was like to ride in the family car – which was a big black 1964 Plymouth Belvedere with red upholstery. And since the song was just recorded in my bedroom on a 39-cent cassette tape, I found that even with my limited resources I was able to stay within my budget."
Please take us back to your first TV appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. What was that moment like for you? Can you recall all that happened that day as if it were yesterday? "I recall that as if it were just 25 years ago… which, strangely enough, it was. That was both exciting and terrifying – it was my first national TV appearance, and it was a couple years before I had a real record deal. I was straight out of college. My drummer Bermuda Schwartz was on hand to bang on my accordion case, and I played the accordion and sang my guts out, while barefoot and wearing crazy-quilt velvet pants. We did “Another One Rides The Bus” that night… and changed the world forever!"
In January 1998, you had LASIK eye surgery and shaved off your mustache, radically changing your trademark look. What inspired you to do such a thing back then, and do you have any regrets about having done such things today? "I got the surgery because I wanted to be able to see without glasses, and my eyes are too sensitive for contact lenses. I still like being able to see clearly, so I really have no regrets. At one point early on my manager wanted me to consider wearing fake glasses in public because I had developed such a strong image, but you know me… I’m all about keepin’ it real."
Having recorded a parody to James Blunt's "You're Beautiful" ('You're Pitiful'), Blunt's label, Atlantic Records, recanted their permission! Frustrating, annoying, or simply the nature of the musical beast that you work within?! "All of the above, I’m afraid. But the upside is, I released the song as a free download and it became a worldwide viral hit anyway. There are still links to it up on weirdal.com."
Of all your parodies, which one is still today your stand-alone favorite to reflect back on? And for what reason? "Out of all the parodies I’ve done in my entire life, my absolute all-time favorite is whichever one I’m currently promoting, so let’s go with “White & Nerdy.”
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Can’t get enough of ‘em."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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