Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

Random Weird Al appreciation

I've been a Weird Al Yankovic fan as long as I've been a Star Trek fan.

I got into both around age 9. The LP for In 3-D got played a lot at our house in Virginia Beach, by both me and my older brother. More LPs, tape dubs of other albums, watching his videos and AL-TV specials, eventually buying each of his albums on CD, finally seeing him in concert in 2010: it's been rewarding.

And I appreciate, more and more, how much hustle the guy has.

You need plenty of talent to have a 40-year career, like he's had. You need a certain amount of luck. But you also need to keep, at, it. And to want to keep at it. Weird Al's been writing, singing, recording and performing since the 1970s. He made it his day job in the Eighties, after a time when he was both a musician and a record label desk job person. He's written books. He's acted in TV and film. He became his own director. He's done Saturday morning television and introduced very young audiences to talent like Stan Freberg. He's toured more and more. So has his band, the exact same band since the early Eighties (no personnel changes!), and they can play anything, and play it well.

He's always rebounded from flops. The non-success Polka Party! (STILL A GOOD ALBUM, I SAY) was followed by his hit Even Worse. The dual flop in 1989 of UHF, as both a film and an album, was followed by 1992's success Off the Deep End, with Al redoing Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

You may know how Al got Kurt Cobain's OK to turn "Smells Like Teen Spirit" into "Smells Like Nirvana" — Al called his friend/former partner Victoria Jackson at Saturday Night Live's set on the day Nirvana was rehearsing its upcoming appearance, he asked her to get Cobain on the phone, she did, Al asked Cobain's permission, Cobain asked if the song would "be about food," Al said "Actually it's about how no one can understand what you're singing, Kurt laughed — but I also like this story from after that album's release:

Fans started telling Al that they loved his parody of the band Extreme. "What Extreme parody?" Al thought. He hadn't done one, but people had heard his fake love ballad "You Don't Love Me Anymore" and thought it based on Extreme's one hit, "More Than Words." But instead of getting hung up on the confusion, Al used it: he quickly made a video, in the style of the "More Than Words" video, for his song.

And I hadn't known this story until recently: before he thought of "Smells Like Nirvana," Al thought of turning Michael Jackson's "Black or White" into his own version called "Snack All Night." He'd had success with turning Jackson songs into tunes about food before, why not again? Until Jackson said no. He didn't want the song's overt politics to potentially be blunted by a funny version being out there. And he made the right decision, and Al, instead of stewing about it or thinking it unfair, kept looking for new inspiration. And found it.

No, I won't be at Weird Al's May shows in Portland, or in Eugene. But plenty of my friends will be. Al has stressed that, by his standards, this concert tour ("The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour") is him indulging himself — no song parodies, focus on his originals, unexpected covers of surprising songs — but he knows how to get an audience eating out of his hand. It's been a satisfying tour for him and for his fans. When someone as professionally enthusiastic as Lin-Manuel Miranda likes your work, that's a great sign.

Thank you for your continued hustle, Weird Al.
Tags: music

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