One of the biggest names coming to Pensacon this weekend is just in it for the laughs. WUWF’s Bob Barrett has more.
Young Alfred Yankovic had his first accordion lesson at age 6. No one really knew at the time that it was a life-changing event.
His first single was released in 1979, a parody of The Knack’s song "My Sharona" called "My Bologna." Since then he has won multiple Grammys, appeared in movies and TV shows, toured the world and sold millions of records. He gave himself the name "Weird Al" when he was a disc jockey on his college radio station. He spoke with WUWF's Bob Barrett who asked him when he realized he could make a living out of singing silly songs.
Weird Al Yankovic: I think about a week ago. I’ve been playing around with it for the last 30-40 years. I’m really feeling I can make a go of this! I’ll keep at it.
Bob Barrett: Are the artists happy when you do their songs, and do some of them collaborate?
Yankovic: I can’t say that they collaborate other than writing the music for the parodies. But generally, yeah I tend to get a positive response (from artists) I approach, or who other people approach on my behalf. Maybe not so much when I first started out in the early 80s, but I’ve got a bit of a track record now so a lot of artists look at it as a badge of honor to get their Weird Al parody. It’s the true sign that they’ve made it. People know that I’m not there to step on their toes and make them look bad. It’s all in good fun. And it’s sort of like being on 'Saturday Night Live' or Mad Magazine or being referenced on 'The Simpsons.' It’s part of pop culture.
Barrett: Have there been any songs that (you really wanted to do parody of) and it’s just stumped you?
Yankovic: Yeah, most of the time. I can’t come up with a brilliant idea for every single song that I want to do. I can come up with bad ideas; that’s not a problem. I do have a quality bar that I try to not go under too often. So, yeah, a lot of times I really want to do a parody of a particular song and I can’t think of something that I feel would sustain the comedy for three, three and a half minutes.
Barrett: I guess the better question might be what comes first, the idea for a parody or a song that gives you an idea for a parody?
Yankovic: Well there are some topics that I have in my notebook that I want to tackle at some point, but it’s usually driven by the song itself. I mean whatever the hook or the title is, if I can come up with a variation on a theme, or a stupid pun, or turn the entire concept on its head. I try to think how I can take a song, and I generate dozens of ideas for it, and if (I think) one of those ideas has some potential then I’ll go in that direction. But it’s always a bit of a process.
Barrett: I don’t really want to make this about me, but I’m going to right now. I am a huge fan of both 'Star Wars' and The Kinks, so when you did 'Yoda,' I was in heaven. Who gave you a harder time, Ray Davies or George Lucas?
Yankovic: Well, neither one gave me a hard time but we definitely had a harder path through Ray Davies. Originally, (Yoda) was going to be on my first album because I wrote the song in 1980, and my first album came out in 1983. And I think we were able to get George Lucas’ permission fairly easily, oddly enough, and we just kept getting a no from The Kinks. And it wasn’t until I ran across Ray, I think it was backstage at the 'Howard Stern Show' or something like that, but it was years after the fact. And I said I was sorry I couldn’t put my parody on my album. And he had never heard of it. So it was one of those things where his publisher or representative or somebody that was supposed to be forwarding this information to him just decided on their own that he wouldn’t be interested in a parody. And that’s happened more than once in my career, but that was a case that once I talked to the artist directly he said 'Absolutely!' and we were able to get it finally approved. So 'Yoda' wound up on my third album which came out in 1985.
Barrett: You had a similar situation like that with Lady Gaga recently, didn’t you?
Yankovic: Absolutely, yeah. Her manager at the time was a little bit more than unhelpful, and wound up making a decision on her behalf and turned down the parody. And once people found out about it, and Lady Gaga found out about it, she said ‘No, I love Weird Al, of course he can do the parody.' So, if I have any kind of personal relationship with the artist I tend to go directly to them now if I can, because a lot of times people just make these assumptions on behalf of the artist which doesn’t do anybody any favors.
Barrett: Have you ever been covered? Are there Weird Al cover bands out there?
Yankovic: There are. In fact, there have been two or three full tribute albums of fans doing cover versions of my songs. I see cover versions all the time on YouTube. In fact, just last week I saw a heavy metal version of my song 'Dare to be Stupid,' which was kind of fun. I get to see that a lot and it’s always very flattering.
Barrett: Didn’t you just once feel like not giving them permission to do it, just to see what it feels like?
Yankovic: (LAUGHS) No, that doesn’t seem appealing to me. I like seeing people express their creativity.
Barrett: We’re going to see you this weekend at Pensacon. Do you do conventions often?
Yankovic: Not a lot. I’m not touring this year so I figured if I’m going to do conventions this is the year to do it. I love meeting the fans and I had a free weekend and I thought why not? It’s always fun for me and hopefully for the people attending as well.
Barrett: What do fans usually want, what do they ask you?
Yankovic: They ask ‘Hey, can I borrow 5 bucks?’ and I go ‘Gosh, I’m a little short right now. Will you take a check?’ It gets a little ugly sometimes. But people share little experiences from their life. Sometimes they show me their Weird Al tattoo!
Barrett: Oh no!
Yankovic: Every single fan is a little different, so you never know what you’re going to get. It’s pretty touching because some people say ‘Oh I’ve waited 20 years to meet you,’ and they’ll tell me a story about how I affected them in their life, or some random event from their childhood. It’s really great to touch base with these people and hear their stories.