"Weird Al" Yankovic – a Master
By Kent Johnson
Did you know that "Weird
Al" Yankovic, the undisputed master of music parody, is an accomplished
accordion player, was valedictorian of his high school class, and graduated from
California Polytechnic State University with a degree in Architecture?
(Apparently they weren’t offering degree programs in music parody).
So how did "Weird Al"
Yankovic get his start?
Alfred Matthew Yankovic (aka
"Weird Al") was born October 23, 1959 in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood. He
was the only child of Nick and Mary Yankovic, and the young couple got their son
involved with music at an early age (with the accordion, of all things).
As a youth, Al reportedly
watched a lot of television, which would influence his later work and career. He
was also a big fan of the legendary music comedians Spike Jones and Allan
Sherman. His first exposure to these musicians was through the Dr. Demento radio
show, which ironically would become the launching pad for his own career.
In his teenage years, Al
Yankovic began recording his own accordion-powered music in his bedroom, on an
inexpensive cassette player. He had nerve, and confidence, and he sent some of
the recordings to Dr. Demento, who recognized some talent in young Al. Dr.
Demento even played some of the recordings on his radio show.
Al went on to attend
Lynwood High school, where he was a straight-A student, part time accordion
teacher, and eventually graduated as Valedictorian of his class at the age of
16. From there he went to the California Polytechnic State University at San
Luis Obispo, where he majored in Architecture.
While in college, Al
started moonlighting as a DJ on the campus radio station, KCRP. He gave himself
the on-air name of "Weird Al," (mainly due to his offbeat music selections) and
the nickname stuck. And throughout his college years, "Weird Al" kept recording
his own music, and Dr. Demento kept playing it on his radio show, and soon Al
had two nationally released singles: "Another One Rides The Bus," and "My
After graduating from
college, Al decided that architecture was not going to be his lifelong
profession. He got a job in the mailroom for a large radio syndication company
in Culver City, California, and eventually moved up to a desk job at the same
company. In 1982 he signed a deal with Scotti Bros. Records, who went on to
release all of his albums through Bad Hair Day, and "Weird Al" music career
became his full-time occupation.
"Weird Al" Yankovic became
a household name-—again thanks to Dr. Demento—-when "Eat It" became a smash hit
after debuting on the Good Doctor’s show. The Michael Jackson parody also won Al
his first Grammy award. To this day, "Weird Al" gives special thanks to Dr.
Demento on each of his albums, since the radio DJ was the first to give his
songs air time.
In the years since, Al has
gone on to have a phenomenal comedy music career. As of March, 2000, he had four
gold and four platinum records in the US, as well as five gold, two platinum,
and one double platinum record in Canada. He’s been nominated for eight Grammy’s
(and won three, the latest for his 2003 album "Poodle Hat"). He’s released 9
albums altogether, along with a series of compilations, a boxed set, videos,
movies, and he even had his own Saturday morning TV show in the late 1990’s on
"Weird Al" has directed
some of his music videos, and many celebrities have made guest appearances those
same videos (Pat Boone was in "Gump," and Florence Henderson had a role in
"Amish Paradise." He also assisted in the production of his movie "UHF," which
became a cult classic.
What most people forget
about Al Yankovic is that he does "serious" music as well as parodies. Roughly
half of the songs on Al's albums are originals, meaning he wrote the music as
well as the lyrics. Most of the albums also include polka-style tracks performed
by Al and his band. In these songs, Al is able to demonstrate his considerable
talents on the accordion.
In 1998, "Weird Al"
Yankovic changed his trademark look of a skinny white guy in a Hawaiian shirt,
glasses and a moustache. In January of that year, he had LASIK surgery to
correct his near-sightedness, and he shaved off his facial hair (much to the
chagrin of many of his fans). No one is quite sure what happened to the Hawaiian
shirts, but Al will occasionally don costume glasses and a fake mustache during
some of his shows.
Al was married on February
10, 2001, to his wife Suzanne. They have a daughter named Nina, born February
11, 2003, and they currently live in a home in Hollywood Hills, California.
Known Facts about "Weird Al"
Al does get permission from
the original writers of the songs he parodies. While this is not required by
law, Al has stated that he feels it’s important to maintain the relationships
that he's built with artists and writers over the years.
During the height of his
"Eat It" fame, Al did a spoof of Michael Jackson's Pepsi sponsorship when he
appeared in a Diet Coke commercial. The commercial showed a man from behind,
wearing a "Thriller"-style jacket, who then turned around to reveal it was Al.
Not every recording artist
has given Al permission to do a parody. Prince, for example, has repeatedly
refused Al's requests, as has Paul McCartney, and the rap star Coolio who
claimed that Yankovic's "Amish Paradise" (a parody of "Gangsta's Paradise") was
disrespectful of a song that felt was too serious to parody.
When asked about his
musical influences, Al credits Spike Jones, Stan Freberg, Tom Lehrer, Allan
Sherman, Shel Silverstein, Frank Zappa and all the other artists that he
discovered through the Dr. Demento Radio Show.
Click here to
visit Picklehead's "Weird Al" Yankovic page. We carry a number of Al's CD's,
available through our partner, Amazon.com.
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