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.”
– 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
According to me, some guy.
Only the grit-streaked bark of ’87 Axl could sell lyrical bits like “space brain” and “west coast struttin'” and “rattlesnake suitcase.” This song boogies like a career drunk taking his final sobriety test. Accurately conveys whatever we believe about the “the rock n’ roll lifestyle.” Also, there’s cowbell.
Frosty nihilism thaws into an earnest ballad. The nakedly emotive second half is just Wagnerian enough to retain the dark thrust of the first. Features a slide guitar break so good it distracts you from competing sex noises. Who needs the Meatloafery of “November Rain” when “Rocket Queen?” exists?
Best exemplifies the Guns N’ Roses mission statement of “we are Aerosmith by way of the Dead Boys.” Also includes the more literal mantra: “come with me, don’t ask me where ’cause I don’t know.” If we’re to believe Appetite For Destruction killed hair metal this was the fatal stab.
The band’s star turn, wherein they drag sugary pop harmony through a greasy, rust-laden junkyard. Even the dubious moves work. “Jungle” is the “Search & Destroy” of whatever genre GNR were claiming. They sort of invented their own here. Chainsaw glam? Dive bar punk?
The best “message” song in the Guns catalog. Too bad civil war is exactly what tore this band apart (which makes Slash’s Snakepit the Reconstruction Era). Too bad this illustrative and anthemic display is forever in the shadows of the Use Your Illusion video trilogy MTV rammed down our dry throats.
Sincerity cloaked in gloom. Walks right up to the border of overblown ballad and flips the bird. It’s not hard to imagine Nirvana performing this one, which is why it managed to slip through the apex of grunge unscathed. Slash’s slow-burn solo is one of his absolute best.
Keeps you on the edge of your seat for six goddamn minutes. The most cinematic of GNR rockers; no wonder it ended up in Terminator 2. Closes with that fantastic breathless Axl rant, which includes one of my favorite non sequiturs—“don’t forget to call my lawyer with ridiculous demands!”
If a bar fight were a song…you can almost feel the pool chalk being shoved up your nose. The bass line sounds how I imagine cocaine tastes. So full of piss, vinegar, and acid it’s hard to believe they didn’t bang it out they night the band formed. Maybe they did?
Could be a parody of the Appetite aesthetic, could be a pure adrenalin shot. Either way, I’ll take it every time, if just to burn off paranoia/nervous energy. The sound effects almost turn the whole thing into a “Far Side” cartoon. That’s not a complaint.
More an experiment than a song, like a free form poem with chunks of heavy metal improv (and, of course, on-the-nose hospital reenactments). Maybe that makes “Coma” the precursor to the Lou Reed/Metallica album. I’m not even sure it works, but man do they commit. Boredom never arrives.
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, TheUndead.com. 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.
Punk rock may have started in the U.K. and the U.S. but it certainly didn’t stay there. The genre flew around the globe like a contagion, touching off movements in nearly every market imaginable (Japan, Yugoslavia, South Africa, Chile—you name it). Currently I’m in the beginning stages of a book that will immerse you in these foreign scenes, one that will examine punk’s development in other socio-economic climates and describe the art of hard-charging performers from all over Earth who are just as crucial as your Ramones, your Sex Pistols, your Iggy Pop.
Yes, this volume has a working title. No, I will not tell you what it is. No, it is not the same as the title of this entry (which, fyi, is how you say “the punk rock of other lands” in the beautiful language of Esperanto).
I’m consumed with this project in a way I’ve not experienced since I began work on This Music Leaves Stains in 2010. So it’s good that other long term plans unraveled (aside from Star Wars Ruined My Life, which I’m still gonna drop like ewok dung come December). The devotion to the subject matter wasn’t there. The world didn’t need a book about InnerSpace anyway.
No publisher for this one yet but I’m on the hunt.
Belgium’s X-Pulsion perform “Castration/Schmucks” during an appearance on their region’s public broadcasting showcase “Follies”; watch it here.
Thank you all for even the slightest drips of support. I am forever in debt.
Goodbye, Batgirl. Thank you for your strength and effervescence.
Has it really been twenty-two years?
If you watch this video enough times the shrill voice that’s booing closest to the microphones begins to sound like some kind of strange bird.