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Al Yank: The Pride Of Lynwood

Here’s an interview I did with “Weird Al” Yankovic for Crawdaddy! in 2011. “You asked some very interesting questions,” he remarked when we were done, which for sanity’s sake I must interpret as a compliment. Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP.

For three decades, one name has reigned supreme in the field of parody-based musical comedy: “Weird Al” Yankovic. From “Eat It” to “Smells Like Nirvana” to “White and Nerdy,” Yankovic has won the hearts of millions churning out strange, funny twists on Top 40 hits, his appeal spanning various generations, genders, social strata, and pickle preference. Al was kind enough to grant us a few minutes on the eve of his thirteenth full-length release, Alpocalypse, so we could regale the Pride of Lynwood, CA, with queries about his rumored fight with Billy Joel’s relatives, his implied “Family Ties” obsession, and what he knew of Macho Man Randy Savage’s unexpected hamster aversion.

Okay, let’s clear something up right now—did you not release your early ’80s parody “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me” because Billy Joel’s family strongly disapproved and there was some kind of altercation on a red carpet somewhere?

[Laughs] No, no, no…I never put it out because by time I got a record deal the song seemed too dated. It wasn’t topical anymore, there were a lot of references in there I thought people wouldn’t get, and also, it was kinda mean spirited, you know, and that was a little out of character for me. I wrote it in college, never thinking that Billy Joel would actually ever hear it, but eventually some local TV show played the song for him…and he was clearly a little put off by. So, I felt bad.

You have a lot of quasi-legendary unreleased recordings from your early years like “Billy Joel,” such as “Belvedere Cruising” and “Pacman.” Would you ever consider releasing an Al rarities record?

No, because I think the people that would appreciate those songs have already managed to track them down. You can bit torrent all those early horrible tracks I did. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed by those songs, but I wouldn’t want to promote them now because they don’t represent my current level of work.

Not to harp on this angle, but everyone knows Prince has steadfastly refused to sign off on your parodies of his work, and it seems from time to time that there’s legitimate anger on your part about that. Was he rude to you about your ideas, or was there an incident?

Yeah, [Prince] has become my scapegoat over the years, but to be fair I haven’t asked him to parody anything in the last decade. Back in the 1980s, though, he obviously had a few hits that I thought leant themselves to parody. Every time I asked, he responded with a flat no, but he never gave a reason. [Sighs] It was frustrating, but there’s no hard feelings. I mean, he never personally threw a drink on me at a party or anything like that. Prince is just a very talented but ostensibly humorless artist.

Has anyone ever been on fence about your ideas? Like, have you had to gently nudge anyone into agreeing?

Hmmm, my manager would be a better person to ask about that, as he’s the one who’s usually in contact with these people. As far as I know, everyone’s usually very receptive. What i can tell you is a lot of the time [the] management of the people I’m interested in parodying don’t return our calls, like in this recent Lady Gaga incident, so I’m sent on a quest to find original artist. That happened with Kurt Cobain, it happened with MC Hammer—and with the few known exceptions they’re always more than happy to agree to it.

How did you track down Hammer? Did you find out where he shot all those Pepsi commercials and just show up?

[Laughs] No, it was some kind of awards show, like the American Music Awards or something. I went there specifically because I knew he would be performing and I hung around back stage so I could “accidentally” bump into him. And, of course, he was totally cool and receptive to the [“U Can’t Watch This”] parody.

Have you ever had the perfect parody in mind for a song that wasn’t really popular enough to parody?

Well, generally, if a song isn’t popular enough it doesn’t make it on my radar. I’ll tell ya, when Nirvana came on the scene, I didn’t immediately have an idea but I thought, Wouldn’t be cool if they got popular enough to make fun of? Then the album went to number one, and that was that.

Did you have anything on deck in case Nirvana didn’t blow up?

No…if that didn’t happen, I would have just waited for the next cultural movement.

Did you get to hang out with all those celebs in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video, or was all that filmed at separate times?

I got to hang out with a lot of them, but not all of them. Dan Aykroyd was there, so was Steve Guttenburg. Michael Jackson wasn’t there, but I had met him previously.

Has any parody of yours ever been a hit that you personally felt was maybe a little subpar, or vice versa? Have you ever had something you thought was amazing that just didn’t go over?

I never really know how things are gonna go. “It’s All About the Pentiums,” I thought that was gonna be a much bigger hit than it was. We had a great high budget video, some hot video vixens, some great celebrity cameos…I thought it was going to be huge. But then it came out, and it wasn’t. Now, when I did “White and Nerdy” a few years later, I knew it was a great song but part of me thought, “This is the same basic subject as [‘Pentiums’],” and then “White and Nerdy” turned out to be my biggest hit ever.

Your new album Alpocalypse is scheduled for release on June 21, which is the joint birthday of “Family Ties” stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross. Did you do that on purpose? Is there some kind of hidden “Family Ties” subtext within the album that true fans have to decipher?

Well, everything happens for a reason. No, I can honestly say I didn’t plan that, but I’ll have to look into it, do some research.

Is it true that the late Macho Man Randy Savage almost backed out of his appearance on “The Weird Al Show” in 1997 when he found out he was supposed to lose his wrestling match with Harvey the Wonder Hamster?

Things were definitely touch and go with Randy Savage. He was not sure he should lose to a hamster, and we had to explain to him, you know, “That’s the joke,” that you wouldn’t expect this heavyweight world champion to lose to a hamster. So he said, “Well, alright…it’s not a girl hamster, is it?” [Laughs] And we said, “No, it’s a boy hamster, don’t worry.”

Don’t You Know It Means The Same To Me (Honey)

The following piece was originally published in a slightly rawer/clunkier form in 2008 via the Crawdaddy! website. Though the careers of both Van Halen and Weezer have continued (inexplicably, almost vexingly) I believe the core truth here continues to ring true.

The biggest mistake my generation ever made, aside from dismissing funny man Norm MacDonald once he left “Saturday Night Live,” was believing from day one that Weezer was just kidding around about all those 1970s hard rock references. Oh, those jokers, we thought upon hearing “In The Garage.” No way do they have KISS posters on their walls. It’s probably all Frank Black collages. We were similarly tickled when the Weezer logo was unveiled, a giant W that aped the flashy symbol of party metal gods Van Halen. Finally, Gen X had taken a direct shot at those Dutch assholes, and it felt so good.

A decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Weezer fan from way back who isn’t infuriated by the trajectory their career has taken. The quirky little bubble gum grunge band behind such heart-on-the-sleeve anthems as “Say It Ain’t So” and “Tired of Sex” has become an arena-filling Top 40 machine, authoring vapid hits like “Beverly Hills” (the video of which was filmed at the friggin’ Playboy Mansion!). Shame on them for selling out? No, shame on us for not realizing much sooner that Weezer’s prime directive was never to keep the Cobain flame burning. Unlike their Seattle contemporaries, this slick, L.A.-birthed group never openly declared war on David Lee Roth and the spandex nation he begat because their dream was always to conquer it.

After all, lead Weez Rivers Cuomo started out in a heavy metal band, Avant Garde (later called Zoom), decked out with requisite poofy hair, severe facial expressions, and six string wizardry. Had the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams not crushed the Sunset Strip’s skull with their Doc Martins and dropped D tuning, there’s a chance we’d know a very different Rivers C (whose “rocker” pseudonym was Peter Kitts). Luckily, Riv wasn’t just a flashy guitarist—he could also craft a heartbreaking melody. This would prove useful in the days of flannel and Luke Perry sideburns. Ultimately, it would make Rivers Cuomo the Clinton-era’s Eddie Van Halen (read: guitar genius with funny name).

At a time when Van Halen was floundering, wondering how they’d connect with the kids of the rabid fans they drew into football stadiums fifteen years earlier, Weezer burst forth with 1994’s Weezer; the album has its beautiful, introspective songs, but it also has plenty of rockin’ radio anthems teenagers loved to blast as they zoomed out of their high school’s parking lot on any given mid-nineties afternoon (“My Name Is Jonas,” “Surf Wax America”). It was definitely the record you threw on a party if you wanted to get people moving. Loud guitars, isolationist lyrics, earnest melodies, sitcom references—there was something for everybody. This broad appeal and demographic balance was something bands like Everclear and Silverchair couldn’t quite master. At a time when it was still slightly frowned upon, Weezer became America’s only bona fide rock stars.

The so-called “glory years” of Van Halen and Weezer were both relatively short. David Lee Roth exited VH after half a decade (give or take) and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. This was considered blasphemous to hardcore fans, many of whom disowned the band immediately and dubbed the new, mature Van Halen “Van Hagar.” The departure of Weezer bassist Matt Sharp after 1996’s cathartic Pinkerton didn’t illicit a comparable reaction, but it did close the book on Weezer’s “classic era.” What’s interesting is that while Van Hagar soldiered on making albums that bordered on adult contemporary and struggled for relevance, Weezer went on hiatus following Sharp’s take off, almost as if to say, “You know what? This might be it.”

Oddly, the disappearance of alterna-rock’s favorite sons allowed them to ascend to Van Halen-esque levels of reverence in the minds of anyone who was on the fence before. At the close of the nineties, lyrical couplets from Pinkerton were just as oohed and aahed over as any pentatonic explosion Eddie V. ever played. Emo bands proudly wore the Weezer influence on their sleeve in the same manner late eighties hair bands solemnly praised Roth and Co. in their prime. Would the now-legendary nerds ever return and grace us with their awkward pop laced with junk culture quips and wanky leads?

Yes, they would, at the exact moment the world was just bursting at the seams for more Weezer. In 2001, Rivers, rhythm guitarist Brian Bell, and drummer Patrick Wilson came out of hiding (with rookie bassist Mikey Welsh) and mounted the arena tour they probably always dreamed about. Fans made cross country treks and hung out in parking lots for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sweater-wearing foursome in their giant Ecolounge bus. Sound like steaming heaps of rock n’ roll bullshit? It was.

Weezer could still put together a catchy tune or three, though, as evidenced on that year’s creatively titled Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) and 2002’s Maladroit. If those two were the Women And Children First and Fair Warning of the Weezer catalog, respectively, then 2005’s Make Believe was without question their 1984. The difference is, whereas Van Halen was praised for graduating to light, fun pop, Weezer was derided for not offering up more mopey opuses of regret and longing, the stuff many fell for in the first place.

Anyone who goes to see Van Halen or Weezer in this day and age is trying to recapture something from years past. With the former, it’s probably the beer-soaked nights of the Reagan eighties, when the sex was loose and pink mesh was not a crime. With the latter, it’s the self-conscious nineties, when the sex was a painful mystery and buttoning the top button was not a crime. Weezer as a nostalgia act stings for many people I know, people who were hoping the band’s 21 Century return would herald Pinkerton II. As much as we want Rivers Cuomo to be our Brian Wilson, that’s not the way he wanted it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have added those wings to the W in the first place.

Our shared frustration be summed up in a lyric Diamond Dave shouted on 1978’s Van Halen at the start of the ferocious “I’m the One”:

“We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me, honey?”

Beam Me Sideways: Unsolicited Pon Farr On Star Treks I-V

– of course this writing only exists because I recently discovered Netflix has the first five original Star Trek films up for streaming; who knows why they’re omitting the series finale, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (perhaps Netflix has strong feelings about Lieutenant Valeris replacing Lt. Saavik)

– everyone dogs Star Trek: The Motion Picture for crawling along like cold molasses, but the extra time helps ramp up the suspense as Captain Kirk and his Get Fresh Crew unravel the mystery of V’ger; the only bit that really drags is when Scotty first delivers Kirk to the Enterprise via shuttle craft—they drift around and marvel at this ship, mouths agog, like they haven’t already spent five years toolin’ around the cosmos in the thing

– everyone dogs Star Trek: The Motion Picture for the uniforms, those pukey blue and tan outfits that make our heroes look like models for Space Sears, but those unis are more flattering than the thick red tops they adopt for Star Trek II on; the only person who looks like he has any kind of mobility in the conservative crimson wrap is Bones, because physically that’s all he is

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is celebrated by many as the best of this series and while it’s a humdinger I’m not sure it’s my fave; there’s greater complexity to the events of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home has so much fun turning these characters on their ear, forcing them to bumble and con their way through our so-called modern world; that said, the apex of the entire series comes in Khan when Ricardo Montalbán’s titular villain hears Kirk has made Admiral and keeps repeating it to himself like he’s savoring a fine steak sauce

– the decades of controversy over Ricardo Montalbán’s chest in Khan means that even as the film sucks you in you’re occasionally distracted by his shiny exposed torso, wondering if it really is pure Montalbán or some fleshy piece of Hollywood magic; all that swaggering and no nip slip, makes you wonder

– Kirstie Alley is a tough act to follow but history would probably be kinder to Robin Curtis had she played Saavik without the perm

– there’s so much going on in Search For Spock, so much to consider and weigh, you don’t even notice John Larroquette is playing a Klingon, or at least I never did until I saw the credits this time around; what fine a career Larroquette’s had, from Texas Chain Saw Massacre to “Night Court” to Search For Spock to Beethoven’s 5th

Star Trek, perhaps because it commits so unabashedly to optimism in the face of total insanity, is the only franchise I can think of that could get away with The Voyage Home, a movie about zapping whales into the future so they can try to communicate with an angry space log (and get away with it they do, beautifully, masterfully); if Keanu Reeves made a movie like this he’d be laughed onto the surface of Mars

– Kirk thinks that 1986 marine biologist in Voyage Home is falling for him, but then he brings her to the 23rd Century and she’s like, “Whatever, I’m a strong independent woman getting on her own spaceship, I’m not even going to kiss you on the lips!” You go, girl, you put that walking cologne ad in his place

– hard to believe over the course of five movies we only see a Tribble once, and just for a few seconds (in a bar, no less, getting something to drink?)

– hard to believe over the course of five movies we never see Gorn (but we do see a cat lady with three tits, predating Total Recall’s tri-breaster)

– hard to believe in the fifth movie Uhura distracts those weird marauder dudes with a sexy fan dance (not gonna lie, I was into it)

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is pretty sloppy, almost on a made-for-tv level; major bummer since this is the one that wants to play with the high concept of literally meeting God; you want to lay blame with rookie director William Shatner, but apparently his editor refused to take notes; to this day, Shat hasn’t been able to convince Paramount to release a director’s cut (c’mon, Paramount, think about the money this guy’s raked in for you screaming at Klingons and beaming up whales)

– if nothing else, Final Frontier will convince you William Shatner knows how to free climb a mountain and that Uhura wants to break off a piece of Scotty (there’s a sex scene our planet deserves)

– rumor has it Walter Koenig wrote a draft for either Star Trek V or VI where everyone on the Enterprise fails their military physical except for Spock and through some bizarre chain of events everyone dies except for Spock and McCoy; not sure who rejected this idea but they need to be jailed

– according to Shatner, on his death bed in 1999 DeForest Kelley pleaded with him, “Let’s do just one more Star Trek! I miss making those movies!”; didn’t think anything from this realm could tug at my heart harder than (SPOILER ALERT) Spock’s death and resurrection, but here we are

– Sulu does absolutely no shirtless fencing in these movies; what a crock

Can We Unearth The Successful Defiance Of The Crimson Skull?

We all know The Crimson Ghost, the 1940s serial from whence the Misfits took their mascot, but that wasn’t Hollywood’s first crimson-themed ghoul picture. Above is a still from 1922’s The Crimson Skull, produced by Norman Studios (a pioneering hub in Jacksonville, Florida that made films starring black casts for black audiences). When cattle rustlers invade his ranch, a cowhand tries to run them out by becoming a skeleton-suited avenger.

The Crimson Skull is currently lost to history. Until it’s uncovered, we won’t know if critics at the time were accurate in decrying the movie’s shocking depictions of gunplay, robbery, and (as one Pennsylvania censor put it) “successful defiance of authorities throughout.”

The Dingus In Other Dimensions

– a couple weeks ago I wrote this story for Orlando Weekly about a funky old mansion in the area; can’t tell you if it’s haunted but I know for sure it does not have air conditioning or a helipad (or a Starbucks)

– last week I was a guest on the the inaugural ep of “Newbridge Nights,” an unsanctioned wrap-up program for Tom Scharpling’s “Best Show”; believe it or not I spend most of my time talking about Glenn Danzig and his music

Too Much Misfits Business

Misfits news lying on a table of filth, Misfits news to which I’ve not yet replied.

Although an exact reason for his departure was not given when Dez Cadena left the current incarnation of the Misfits back in June, it turns out the guitarist is battling throat cancer. You may contribute to the “Help Dez Beat Cancer’s Ass” GoFundMe page here. Bassist and vocalist Jerry Only’s adult son Jerry Junior has been christened as Dez’s replacement; Jr.’s crazy if he doesn’t adopt the stage name Jerry Also (first suggested by Misfits Central message boarder “Mega Man”). In September the Misfits will embark on a U.S. tour wherein, at each stop, they will perform Static Age in its entirety. Why not? Gotta do something to commemorate the album’s 37th anniversary.

By the way, Dez Cadena played with the Misfits for fourteen years (2001-2015), approximately four times longer than his legendary stint in Black Flag. Does that mean he’ll go into the Punk Rock Hall of Fame with corpse paint? Can you even imagine a Punk Rock Hall of Fame? That’s what they should do with that abandoned Burger King on Governors Island in New York. Refurbish it as a shrine to everything Lou Reed wrought.

In July, Jerry Only told Metal Hammer he is in the midst of writing a book about his life. Now I don’t feel so bad about Jer never responding to any of my invitations to lend his voice to This Music Leaves Stains. Jerry’s book will include “a lot of the tragedies,” he says. You’re expecting me to make a Devil’s Rain joke here but I refuse to give you the satisfaction.

On the other side of the tomb: this Friday, Danzig (the band) will release single the first from their long-awaited covers EP Skeletons. Unfortunately, said single, a rousing rendition of the Devil’s Angels theme backed with a version of the Nightriders’ “Satan,” is confined to the European market via a limited edition vinyl run of 500 copies from AFM Records. If there’s a plan for digital release it remains secret for now. There is also no street date in place for the entirety of Skeletons, which shall find Danzig barreling through hits made famous by Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, and ZZ Top. Guys, we wanna buy your stuff. Why make it so challenging? Is that how Lucifer dictates it in the blood oath? I’d have your lawyer renegotiate that parchment.

Meanwhile, Danzig (the man) recently filmed a guest shot for the Peabody Award-winning comedy show “Portlandia.” Details are scarce, but somehow Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen convinced our Hellhound to unbutton his shirt and hit the beach. A vaguely iconic photo was produced, if only because it suggests Glenn has reached a new level of self-comfort.

Coincidentally, this pic popped up the same day “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” co-creator Dave Willis appeared on Tom Scharpling’s “The Best Show” to talk about the “Aqua Teen” series finale…and, at the behest of Scharpling, Danzig. Glenn voiced an animated version of himself on Willis’s cult cartoon in 2002 and famously caused a rigamarole before he could even step in the recording booth. Given final say on his two dimensional likeness, Danzig kept rejecting what the animators drew for not having the correct musculature.

“I’m way more cut than that,” was the Danzig money quote relayed from Willis to “Best Show” listeners. In order to circumvent any squabbling about the singer’s height (or lack thereof), “Aqua Teen” simply made him six feet tall from the start. Strategic move.

Now, on “Portlandia,” Danzig has no qualms about his physical definition (or lack thereof) and even told one news outlet he “had a blast.” Thirteen years can sure change a man. Who knows, maybe the people at “Portlandia” are just that much more charming and/or convincing.

And what of Joey Image? Over the Summer the percussionist who plays on the original storied “Horror Business” recorded a new version of that song—plus “Teenagers From Mars” and a couple originals—with Orlando-based punks Awesome & The Asskickers for their free release AAK. Download it here. Sounds like Joey can still rip it the hell up. Adrenalin O.D. drummer Dave Scott provides backup vox on the Misfits tracks (as well as drums on two A.O.D. revivals: “Nice Song” and “White Hassle”).

Speaking of the post-Static Age pre-Walk Among Us Misfits, Bobby Steele’s band the Undead continue to live up to their name: the group has scheduled an appearance at this year’s Chiller Theater convention in Parsippany, New Jersey. October 23-25 with a special performance on the 24th. For more info creep over to their website, Also appearing at Chiller 2015: Julie Newmar, Burt Ward, Adam West, and Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas!

Having authored a book about the Misfits you’d think I’d write about them here with more regularity. What stops me is concern over becoming trapped as “the Misfits guy” and also a perception that fiend-dom is shrinking as time goes on. Then I see viral stuff like the photo above, a Misfits t-shirt at Wal-Mart, coupled with endless “thumbs down” emojis from disillusioned ghouls of all stripes, and I realize the committed may actually be growing. So I rekindle my own flame. Once again, bonfire burnin’ bright.

Until the next batch of macabre happenings, consider this: the ex-Misfit Doyle is, as of last year, a vegan. No longer is the man who played on “Brain Eaters” a brain eater. Do they make soy brains? If so they must taste terrible.

Yvonne Craig: 1937-2015

Goodbye, Batgirl. Thank you for your strength and effervescence.


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