Artist Profile: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Profiled by Michael Heumann
Forget the parodies, which are funny for a while but quickly grow old; forget the cutesy, goofy persona that tends to be geared towards 11 year olds; forget the fact that he got rid of his glasses and his mustache, got laser eye surgery, and turned himself into a gigantic, hippy poodle. Forget all that. In fact, forget everything you know or think you know about "Weird Al" Yankovic, and just listen to "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota," a leftover track from his UHF album. This Gordon Lightfoot-esque epic about a giant ball of twine and other surreal American treasures (all of which are expertly documented in the greatest travelogue book ever written, Roadside America) is proof that Weird Al isn't as big a joke most people believe he is. It's a wonderful song, performed in faux-grandiose style by Al's excellent band, complete with wailing, falsetto voices at all the crucial moments of the narrative, like when Al arrives with his family at the twine ball, stares majestically up at it, and exclaims, "Kids, this here's what America's all about." The song is a dead-on parody of both the content and the form of pompous, overblown, melodramatic songs like "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and "Acadian Driftwood." It's also one of the most accurate spoofs of American culture I've ever heard.
Yes, "Weird Al" has made at least one great song. But "Twine" is only a starting point; there are lots of other songs that reveal the wit, intelligence, and sarcasm of the Southern California native who graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a BS in architecture. Though I said at the outset that Al's parody songs tend to get tiring, there are a few exceptions, including "Smells Like Nirvana" (parody of "Smells Like Teen Spirit"), "Yoda" (parody of The Kinks' "Lola" and the best Star Wars-themed song ever), and "I Love Rocky Road" (a parody of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll"). These are all clever songs performed exceptionally well. As good as those songs are, however, I still think his really great works fall into two non-parody categories: his originals and his polka medleys. Original compositions like "Twine," "One More Minute" (with the line "I'd rather clean all the toilets in Grand Central Station with my tongue than spend one more minute with you"), "Melanie," and "Generic Blues" all demonstrate that Al really can write good music. Likewise, his polka medleys of contemporary hits are not only funny but, often, far better than the originals (you haven't heard The Backstreet Boys until you've heard 'em polka-style). Almost all of Al's great songs (save the Nirvana cover) are available on his boxed-set, Permanent Record.
What's next for Al? Well, I hear he'll soon be a guest voice on The Simpsons. Apart from that, I'm not sure. No doubt, once he comes up with a few more parodies, he'll release another album and he'll show up on TRL. But that doesn't really interest me. The important thing to remember about Yankovic is simply that he's far smarter than those parodies and his cartoonish antics usually suggests. On occasion, we get a glimpse of that intelligence, but those moments are few and far between. No doubt he'll keep making music as long as he wants, as there's really no one else in music who does what he does (well, at least not intentionally). But will he release another "Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"? We'll have to wait and see.
Current Members: Al Yankovic (songwriter, vocals, accordion), Steve Jay (bass), Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz (drums), Ruben Valtierra (keyboards), and Jim West (guitar).
Location: Los Angeles, California
Labels Appeared On: Volcano, Scotti Bros.
Starting Point: UHF
Essential: Permanent Record: Al in a Box
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