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It is hard to take Weird Al Yankovic too seriously, which is exactly how he likes it because he does not take himself seriously either. As a matter of fact, Yankovic has been laughing all the way to the bank since 1983, with 12 million albums sold, six platinums records, four gold albums, three Grammy Awards, and 11 additional nominations, as well as a play list with 150 original songs and a lifetime itinerary with more than 1,000 live performances to his credit.
When he was a child, Yankovic parents made a momentous decision on his behalf, choosing between an accordion and a guitar being hawked by a door to door salesman. They chose the accordion and, as a result, instead of becoming one of the millions of kids who have picked up a guitar in the hopes of making it to the big time some day, Yankovic became the world’s one and only big time rock and roll accordionist. One more fact says it all: Weird Al, who became famous for playing the accordion, shares the same last name, but is not related to Frankie Yankovic, the first man ever to win a Grammy for a polka, played, of course, on an accordion.
Weird Al Yankovic
The California-born, 54-year-old performer is a one of a kind jack of all trades, singer-songwriter, musician, parodist, record producer, satirist, music video director, film producer, actor, and author who parlayed his strange look and even stranger sense of humor into a durable, multi-generational career. Yankovic started early, using his accordion to accompany himself on parodies of popular songs. By the time he was 16 years old, he was getting airtime on local radio stations with crudely made cassette tapes. His first single was pressed when he was a sophomore in college and, by the time he completed a degree in architecture at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, he already knew he would not be designing houses for a living.
One of his most unusual credits: Yankovic is also a writer of some note, not much, but some, having penned a children’s book called, When I Grow Up, which, in his case, sounds rather like wishful thinking. His first book actually rose to number four on the New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s Picture Books on February 2o, 2011, and, yes, there really is such a thing. A follow-up, My New Teacher and Me! was released in 2013, but Weird Al Yankovic’s forte is musical parody. His just released new album, Mandatory Fun,will gladden the hearts of English teachers everywhere once they hear “I Hate These Word Crimes,” on which he runs down his personal list of the grammatical errors that make him cringe most. The cut will endear itself to anyone who teaches grammar for a living, as well as anyone who edits younger writers. Watching the video version of the song should be a mandatory homework assignment. It is that good.
In this video, Yankovic really hits his stride, and knocks the metaphorical ball out of the epistemological park with a spot-on summary of just about every single malaprop and misconjugation that any one writer could possibly come up with in one article like, for instance, this one. There is nothing that focuses a writer’s attention upon the finer points of the writer’s art than writing an article about writing does because, after all, if the writer screws that up, there is no telling what else that writer might have screwed up. From experience, that is when the writer’s colleagues show up, knives drawn, to flay him or her in retaliation for the edits he or she has previously performed on them, which is why editors should never write and writers should never edit, or at least not at the same time.
While it is hard to put a finger on how he does it, Weird Al manages to run right along the edge of bad taste without ever stepping over that line or, if he does, his listeners are either so dumbfounded, or so convulsed with laughter, that no one ever notices. He has been doing it was an unerring ear for the fine tuned pun for more than 30 years now but there are rumors, started, it appears, by Yankovic himself, that this may indeed be his last album. He is thinking about going direct market digital, which would mean more songs, but no more CDs.
Weird Al bears an unmistakable, resemblance to another cult favorite from the 1960s, the late Tiny Tim (Herbert Khaury) whose ukulele-playing and falsetto singing style took him all the way to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson show, where his career culminated with his on-air 1969 wedding to his partner, Miss Vicki. If Weird Al had not taken up the least loved musical instrument in the lexicon of rock, the accordion, he might well have ended up with a ukulele, which is usually regarded as the second least favorite rock instrument.
There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but flattery will not get anyone anywhere unless the flattery gets noticed, so it then becomes necessary to exaggerate the emulation until it become parody and by that time the person being emulated is probably so bemused they do not even notice that the imitator has successfully captured the cadence of the original song in a new form but that is the essence of parody, the ultimate in-joke.
The joke was once on Weird Al Yankovic himself on the one and only occasion that he made it to Johnny Carson’s show because Carson really did not get Yankovic. Carson did not come right out and say, ” I don’t quite know what to make of this next performer, but here he is, Weird Al Yankovic,” in so many words but after Yankovic finished his second number, “Hooked on Polkas” from his Dare to Be Stupid album, Carson did one of his patented slow motion double takes and just said, “Okay….Thank you, Weird.”
Commentary by Alan M. Milner, National News Editor