Weird Al Yankovic celebrates 35 years of spoofing around
Whether you roll your eyes at the thought of Weird Al Yankovic or sing along shamelessly with his parodies of pop songs at any given opportunity, "Weird Al" is tightly woven into American pop culture. Just about everyone from multiple generations knows of him and even though he doesn't have an incredible voice and is the epitome of a nerd (an image he embraces), no one else has been as successful at spoofing songs. Which might be the weirdest part of all.
Since 1976, Alfred "Weird Al" Yankovic sold more than 12,000 million albums, recorded more than 150 spoof and original songs and performed more than 1,000 live shows. He was nominated nine times for a Grammy, won three times, and has six platinum records.
Yankovic plays a show at Potawatomi Bingo Casino's Northern Lights Theatre. Show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $35-$45.
Part of Weird Al's success comes from his videos, which are often scene-for-scene rip-offs of the original video. The fact that Weird Al's career launched around the same time that MTV videos peaked in popularity definitely worked in his favor.
Weird Al directed many of his videos, as well as videos for Ben Folds, Hanson, Black Crowes and The Presidents of the United States of America. Weird Al also wrote and starred in the film "UHF" and the television program, "The Weird Al Show."
Weird Al, who often accompanies his songs with accordion, started playing the squeezebox at age six when his parents bought him lessons from a door-to-door salesman. Although Weird Al is not related to accordion player Frankie Yankovic, he says his parents jokingly thought there should be another accordion-playing Yankovic in the world. Sadly, in 2004, Yankovic's parents – who appeared in "The Weird Al Show" – died of carbon monoxide poisoning after they lit a fire in their fireplace and forgot to open the flu.
Weird Al got his start on the radio show "Dr. Demento Show" in 1976. In 1979, when The Knack's "My Sharona" rocked the radio waves, Al recorded his first parody song, "My Bologna." The next year, he recorded the song "Another One Rides the Bus" in response to Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust." Other famous parodies include "Eat It" (a spoof on Michael Jackson's "Beat It"), "Like A Surgeon" (a spoof on Madonna's "Like A Virgin") and "I Love Rocky Road" (parody of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll").
Recently, Weird Al made the news when Lady Gaga's manager rejected his offer to parody "Born This Way" but later, when Lady Gaga found out, she accepted the offer. Weird Al continues to tour rigorously and will release a new album, "Alpocalypse," on June 21, 2011.
OnMilwaukee.com recently caught up with Weird Al Yankovic and chatted with him about Eminem's disappointing decision, Prince's 20-year rejection and grocery shopping.
OnMilwaukee.com: Are the original musicians involved in the creation process of your parodies?
Weird Al: They are not involved in the parody once they sign off on it. I have to get their permission, of course, but they usually sign off on a concept. Sometimes they request to see the lyrics first, but not usually. This is better for me (showing them the lyrics), because that way, I don't have this nagging feeling while I'm composing that they aren't going to like it.
OMC: Has a musician ever gotten angry with you after your spoof on their song came out?
WA: Actually, I rarely hear back, but for the most part, like if I bump into them at an awards show, their response is very positive. I read an online interview lately where Lady Gaga said having me (spoof a song) is a right of passage.
OMC: Did Michael Jackson ever give you any feedback on "Eat It" or "Fat?"
WA: Yes, I met Michael on a few occasions. He told me he really enjoyed it. Michael was always very sweet and soft spoken. He was also a big fan of "UHF" (Weird Al's 1989 full-length film) and screened it at Neverland Ranch.
OMC: So is it true that Lady Gaga's manager rejected your offer to cover "Born This Way" and then Gaga turned around and accepted your offer?
WA: Yes. She ended up really liking the song. But unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.
OMC: What other snafus have you encountered over the years?
WA: Eminem allowed me to parody "Lose Yourself" but would not let me do a video at the time. It was a disappointment. More recently, James Blunt had given his blessing for me to do "You're Beautiful" as "You're Pitiful" but his record label wouldn't sign off. This was the first time I had experienced a record label going against an artist's wishes.
I think, these days, for most artists, it's good exposure and considered a badge of honor.
OMC: Is it true Prince rejected your offer to spoof one of his songs multiple times?
WA: Yes, especially back in the '80s. I had several ideas for "Purple Rain" and "When Doves Cry," but Prince wouldn't have it. Someday, though, I really want to take a shot at it.
OMC: Tell me about your original material. Also, does it bum you out that most people are unaware of your original music?
WA: Half of my material is original, and a lot of it is pastiche, which means it's meant to sound reminiscent of another group. And my hardcore fans are very aware of my original material and they like it as much, if not more, than the parodies. However, I am grateful that my parodies are so popular. Truly grateful to have made it this far.
OMC: I read that you became a vegan in 1992. Are you still?
WA: I am still a vegetarian, and I try to be a vegan, but I occasionally cheat. If there's a cheese pizza on the band bus, I might sneak a piece.
OMC: In the '80s, many of your fans were kids and teenagers. As you get older, is it harder for you to stay relevant with the younger listeners?
WA: At this point, my audience has a pretty varied demographic. It's family bonding music. There will be grandparents, parents and grandchildren at my concerts. When I started, my audience was primarily teenaged boys, but over time, this has changed. And there's always a whole new crop of 12-year-olds that appreciates a parody.
OMC: You have an 8-year-old daughter, Nina. Has being a dad affected your music?
WA: I wrote a children's book earlier this year. And I sing a lot to her around the house. I think my music appeals to children. Nina has always been a fan of my music. She particularly likes the Star Wars song ("The Saga Begins.")
OMC: Do you think you'll ever make a sequel to "UHF?"
WA: I don't think so. I would love to do another feature film, but it was never a commercial hit.
OMC: Who is at the top of your list to spoof someday?
WA: I don't want to give a laundry list of major artists, but I will say there are a few major artists I have always wanted to parody, but for some reason or another have fallen between the cracks.
OMC: So are you "weird" in your personal life? (Laughing.)
WA: (Laughing.) Good question. No, I don't consider myself that weird when I'm shopping for my groceries. I usually come off as a little odd, maybe.
Terming Weird Al's parodies "rip offs" is incredibly harsh. Little known fact: Weird Al takes care to obtain permission from every single artist he parodies, which certainly makes his stuff not a rip off in any sense. When Al wanted to parody Michael Jackson's "Bad," not only did Jackson give permission, he also offered free use of the original set for Al's parody, "Fat." As for how the artists mostly love the Weird Al version, Don McLean of "American Pie" fame praised the parody Star Wars version "The Saga Begins," turning the lyric "Bye-bye Miss American Pie" into "My, my this here Anakin guy." McLean even admitting to almost singing Yankovic's lyrics during his own live performances because his children played the song so often. And Dire Straits members Mark Knopfler and Guy Fletcher actually perform on Weird Al's "Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies", Yankovic's parody of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." It's not a ripoff when you have permission, honor the original musical style and change the point of the song in ways that are both hilarious and meaningful.
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