Lately I have become enamored – no obsessed — with the parody music of Weird Al Yankovic. I’ll say more in a future post, but I came across the archives of his fan club newsletters from the 1990s. I wanted to jot down some of my favorite parts. The first section consists of the tongue-in-cheek answers, while the second section consists of more serious and interesting answers. People think of him as just writing song parodies using the same melodies as the original singer, but in fact, Yankovic writes a LOT of original songs. Some are labeled as “stylistic parodies” because they are original songs in the style of of well-known singers. That doesn’t detract from Yankovic’s talent – although Yankovic’s ability to mimic other singers is downright scary! If you don’t believe me that his original songs are first-class, check out Generic Blues, Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, That’s Your Horoscope for Today, Albuquerque . Also, for lyrical inventiveness, check out the merciless Couch Potato parody of an Eminem song. It’s amazing to think that the original Eminem song won an Oscar, while Weird Al’s version has even more caustic lyrics than Eminem’s original ones. Here’s a list of his songs and even a list of songs falsely attributed to Weird Al .
Also, quite apart from Weird Al Yankovic’s songs, he has worked on some hilarious MTV skits/shows. Among them are his mock interview with Eminem. Here is a hilarious running commentary on a bad 1980s video.
Anyway, here begin the excerpts from the Weird Al Fan Club Newsletters.
Is there anything you did naughty as a boy that you never got caught for and still no one knows about it that you could confess to your forgiving fans right now? (Fearless Leader’s comment: And that you wouldn’t mind your mother knowing about?!?!?!?)
No. Absolutely nothing. I was perfect in every way. With the exception of that one tiny train-derailing incident.
Of all your albums, which is your favorite? (Bob Rodgers)
I seem to have a special place in my heart for the albums that sell the most copies.
What do you think of the current MTV as opposed to the MTV of the ’80s?
You know, the weirdest thing happened to me the other day. I happened to turn on MTV, and they were playing a music video!
A lot of successful bands meet and evolve in college. Why do you think college is good for the creative musical process?
I’m sure that my songwriting ability would suffer immensely if it hadn’t been for those three years of calculus that I took in college.
What birth control devices do you condone?
I’ve always figured that my personality was an effective birth-control device.
How often do you bowl? (Hawaiian Ryan Swoverland)
At least once every five years, whether I need to or not.
If the 3 Tenors did another concert and let you pick the songs for the medley (okay, so it’s a really hypothetical question…) what would you make them sing? (#’s 1 & 2 – Unruly Julie Jiles)
A medley of “Kung Fu Fighting,” “The Night Chicago Died” and “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero.”
Can you give any information on your new album?
Yes. (Unfortunately, I can only answer one question about the new album, and I’m afraid that was it.)
Will the Backstreet boys ever be on your show? because that’s my favorite band and tv show!!
Seeing as how the show was cancelled in January, that might be a bit of a problem. Okay, here’s what you do? get a tape of the Weird Al Show and then record a video of the Backstreet Boys in the middle of it. Then just watch it and pretend
Can you name all the Spice Girls?
Sure. I hereby name them all Bob.
What is your new years resolution?
I am very interested in becoming a vegan (a vegetarian at least). Can you give me any advice?
Don’t eat meat.
fred of chgo il asks: In “UHF” in the beginning, when one of the guys pulls out the gun to shoot you, he uses his left hand, but when it’s on the ground, it’s the right hand, can you tell me why that is?
I think we realized the continuity error after we had already shot the footage with the actor – the disembodied arm that the prop guys had supplied didn’t match the arm that our actor was using for the whip. At the time, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. We just rationalized, “Who’s gonna even care about this 10 years from now? Besides Fred, of course.”
What is the craziest thing that you and the band have done at/to a hotel while y’all were on tour?
We cleaned our rooms before the maid got there.
Can you name any of the songs on your new album?
Yes, I can name all of them.
Is there a specific reason why you tilt your head in photos?
The left side of my brain is much heavier than my right side.
What was your worst subject in middle school?
Physical Education, no doubt. Just out of curiosity, did anybody in history ever NOT have a sadistic Junior High School P.E. coach?
Were the people in your Disney special your real parents?
That’s what they tell me.
CMonkey2000 of Spatula City, Liechtenstein asks: Seriously, how do you rationalize being a vegan and playing a gig at the Great American Rib Cook-Off?
The same way I can rationalize playing at a college even though I’m not a student anymore.
Ed of Winter Garden, Florida asks: Hey Al! Love your work, but aren’t you slipping a bit? “Don’t Download This Song?” I mean, the whole downloading music from the Internet controversy is like 5 years old, man!
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s a completely dead issue – people stopped illegally downloading songs off the Internet years ago, and the RIAA is no longer taking legal action against P2P sites or criminalizing people who share files. What was I thinking? Thanks for setting me straight. By the way, don’t forget to e-mail Neil Young and ask him why he’s still writing songs about Iraq on his new album. I mean, come on… that war is so 2003!
Hannanh of St. Louis, MO asks: Why do you write dirty songs? Since I’ve heard a few (like “Bill Clinton Bimbo Number 5”) myself and a few of the kids at my school (like 183) are boycotting you and spreading the word fast. You disgust me!
As I’ve stated very clearly in the FAQ, there are a lot of crude and vulgar parodies floating around the peer-to-peer sites that have my name attached to them. They are NOT by me. All of my material is really pretty family friendly. Of course, you would KNOW this if you actually BOUGHT my CDs instead of trying to ILLEGALLY DOWNLOAD them off the Internet like the amoral-yet-self-righteous HOOLIGAN you obviously are! YOU disgust ME!! Ah, the delicious irony of it all…
Matthew Walker of Highland, CA asks: How come your parodies are often played faster than the original songs?
I generally like to make my parodies a couple beats per minute faster than the original song, just for a little energy boost. Also, I find that the comedy usually plays better if the tempo is a little quicker.
Sizzling Volleyball of Budd Lake, NJ asks: Hey Al, have kind of a complicated/tedious question for you: Over the years, I’ve wondered how your homages or songs “in the style of” come into being. Many are homages to “demented” bands (B-52s, Talking Heads, Devo, Oingo Boingo, TMBG, Zappa, etc.), but others are less so. Also, there are many that seem to be affiliated to no one particular band, but are genre parodies: unplugged, ska, hair band, etc. Are these bands that you listen to, and so are a sort of tribute? Or are they something else?
As you’ve obviously noticed, I have done quite a few style parodies over the years — that’s what I call songs that are original (as in, not direct parodies) and yet they are done in the style of another artist, group or genre of music. It’s an interesting exercise for me to try to get into the heads of these artists — or at least attempt to crudely forge their musical signatures. In fact, I enjoy doing these kinds of songs so much, I hardly ever do an “original” original any more. (I guess “Hardware Store” could be considered a true original — but truth be told, that was actually a screwed-up style parody. I started out trying to write in the style of a particular group, but I got it so wrong that I just gave up and did it my own way instead.) The artists that I’ve style-parodied range from the extremely popular (Bob Dylan, Nine Inch Nails, James Taylor, etc.) to the semi-obscure (Tonio K, The Rugburns, Hilly Michaels, etc.) — but they’re all favorites of mine, and my homages to them are always done with great affection and attention to detail. In the past, I never put the artists that I style-parodied in the Special Thanks section on my album, mostly because I wanted to see if fans could figure out what I was doing (without being given any obvious hints). But I’ve come to realize that’s a little unfair to those artists — to whom I certainly owe a huge debt of gratitude– so I plan to acknowledge all my musical influences in the CD liner notes in the future.
Tim Sloane of Ijamsville, MD asks: Al, which of these purchasing methods should I use in order to make sure the most profit gets to you: Buying one of your albums on CD, or buying one of your albums on iTunes?
I am extremely grateful for your support, no matter which format you choose to legally obtain my music in, so you should do whatever makes the most sense for you personally. But since you ASKED — I actually do get significantly more money from CD sales, as opposed to downloads. This is the one thing about my renegotiated record contract that never made much sense to me. It costs the label NOTHING for somebody to download an album (no manufacturing costs, shipping, or really any overhead of any kind) and yet the artist (me) winds up making less from it. Go figure.
Gary Derrick of Mustang, Oklahoma asks: I was recently watching Late Night with Conan O’Brien and the tambourine player with that night’s musical guest (whom I can’t really remember at the moment) looked surprisingly like you… any idea who your evil twin is?
Well, first of all, it was Jay Leno, not Conan O’Brien — and FYI, the musical guest was Ben Folds — and the guy who looked surprisingly like me was … me. But you’re absolutely right, it WAS a tambourine. The story is, Ben and I have been friends for a while (I directed one of his music videos and we’ve performed on each other’s albums). I went to see Ben when he was in concert here in Los Angeles, and afterwards we were hanging out in his dressing room. At one point he said to me, “Hey, I’m doing the Tonight Show tomorrow — you should come on the show with me and just play tambourine!” And we both laughed at what a ridiculous idea that was. Then the next morning, he called me up and said, “I just woke up from this weird fever dream, and I think it was some kind of a sign — you HAVE to play tambourine on the show.” I was honored to accept his offer, of course, so I hopped in the car and headed down to the NBC studios, practicing the tambourine as I drove. I was surprised when I got to the stage — I thought they were going to have me tucked away somewhere behind the string section, but they had me standing right next to Ben’s piano. It was kind of surreal — my first appearance on the Tonight Show in 20 years, and there I was being a professional tambourine player! Well, needless to say, I had a blast, and I think the performance came off very well. And I’ll be happy to slap the tambourine again for Ben any time he wants.
Jake L. of Readington, NJ asks: When you recorded your lines for The Simpsons, were there any that got cut out of the episode?
Thankfully, my part wasn’t cut at all, which was lucky for me because I know a lot of really, really funny lines from that episode wound up on the cutting room floor. My band recorded the instrumental track for the ”Jack and Diane” parody at Mad Dog Studios in Burbank, but I got to go to the 20th Century Fox lot to sing the song and read my lines in a studio sitting next to Dan (Homer Simpson) Castellaneta himself, which was a huge thrill for me. Originally I was only intended to be in the body of the show, but the recording session went so well, the writers thought it would be a great idea for me to sing an extended version of the parody over the closing credits (and of course, I did too)! So they came up with some additional lyrics and I went back to the Fox lot several weeks later to record that as well. Then, shortly before the show aired, I had to go back one more time to re-record the end of the song? — I think the original ending went something like, “Oh yeah, we got time to fill — Why don’t you go pee before King Of The Hill? “ The problem was, by the time the episode was scheduled to air, The Simpsons was being followed by Oliver Beane, not King Of The Hill — so they had me change it to the more generic “Oh yeah, Weird Al had fun on this show “ Even if it was just a brief cameo, being on The Simpsons was definitely a high point in my life — big thanks to all the writers, producers and artists who helped make it happen!