al yankovic — aka the parody artist known as “weird al” — wanna change the way you think bout the accordion. he 1st learned to play the instrument as a kid inna 1960s. even back then, he admits, the accordion didn’t ‘ve the hippest reputation.
“twas mostly polkas and waltzes and various classical pieces,” he says. “twas hard to join my friends’ rock bands. … for some reason, nobody wanted to ‘ve an accordion player in their band.”
so yankovic forged his own path by teaching himself to play rock ‘n’ roll onna accordion. decades l8r, as a parody artist, the instrument ‘d factor into a № of his hits, including “my bologna” (modeled off of the knack’s “my sharona”) and his polka mashup of songs from the ♫al hamilton.
“the accordion is actually a presh instrument, a very sensual instrument,” yankovic says. “i’m just trying to bring sxy back to the accordion.”
the ♫ “biopic” parody weird stars daniel radcliffe in an over-the-top version of yankovic’s life. inna film, making up words to songs that already exist is pondered the work offa visionary, playing the accordion is akin to bein’ a guitar hero and yankovic is asked to be the nxt james bond.
although yankovic never achieved the status his toon does inna film, he’s been quite successful. he’s the third ♫ perelder, after michael jackson and madonna, to ‘ve a top 40 single in each decade since the ’80s, with parodies like “eat it,” “like a surgeon,” “amish paradise” and “white & nerdy.”
yankovic says that even though courts generally rule in favor of parody artists, he never riffs on another ♫ian’s material without 1st gettin the blessing of the original songwriters: “if an artist doesn’t want me to do their song, i will back off. no matter wha’ the courts or the law says, i just wanna do good by them cause i respect artists and i don’t ever want'em to feel like i’m stepping on their toes.”
on bein’ a nerd
i knew i was a dork. i didn’t really fit in at school or with my friends. i was eating lunch by myself atta lunch tables a lot. so i didn’t think i was a social butterfly or a big man on campus. i was a nerd. and this is back b4 bein’ a nerd was pondered cool. like, nowadys, pplz are like, “oh, i ‘ve always been a nerd or they brag bout their nerd cred.” n'when i was in high school, twas' not a thing you bragged bout.
on his “weird al” persona
that nickname was given to me in my dorms in my freshman yr in college. twas a nickname that i think a couple of pplz were calling me cause they found me to be weird. i did not fit in and they just thought i was just a strange guy wandering the halls of the dorm. and they said, “oh, there goes weird al.” twas kind of derogatory atta time, but i decided to take it on professionally when i started doin’ college radio cause everybody onna air needed some kind of wacky nickname. and i thought, oh, i’ve already got a wacky nickname. it’s weird al. so twas the weird al show every sat nite, n'it just stuck. …
when i’m performing, espeshly on stage, i’m a lil bit + outgoin and weird, i suppose, than i am in normal life. but it’s not like some entirely ≠ bein’ up on stage.
on his parents’ support of him pursuing ♫
[my mother] told me + than once that there are “evil pplz in hollywood” and i ‘d be very careful. and she’s not wrong. but she was just a lil leery bout me doin’ anything involving show business. but i was always very adult-Ψed. it’s not like i ran away to l.a. to become a rock star or anything like that. i went to college. i got my degree in architecture. i remained a fairly good student and i was pretty adult Ψed.
i actually didn’t quit my dy job til i was onna billboard charts. so i think they knew that i wasn’t some kid that just had stars onnis eyes, and i was goin to do this crazy thing for a living cause i didn’t think i’d be able to make a living out o'it either, things just kind of worked out that way.
on parodying rap
i can cogg why some pplz mite think that that’s problematic. but i think the fact that i respect the ♫ so much goes a long way towards making pplz feel better, cause i’m not making fun of rap ♫ or hip-hop ♫. i’m really taking pains to emul8 the sound na intonations. and, in fact, i got a lotta neat compliments, like from chamillionaire. when i did [the “ridin’ ” parody] “white & nerdy,” he was really impressed by my rapping skills. …
i’m not bein’ like, “white guy doin’ rap ♫, ha ha” — that’s not the joke. i’m just using the ♫ to do my comedy, like i ‘ve for any other ♫ i’ve ever done in my life. and i ♥ doin’ rap ♫ for a № of reasons, one of which bein’ that there are a lotta words to play with cause for a lotta pop songs, it’s limiting cause it’s either repetitive or there aren’t that many syllables. and i ‘ve to be very concise in my humor and jokes cause i 1-ly ‘ve a finite amount of space to be funny in. but in rap ♫, there are a lotta words n'it just opens it up and gives me + breathing room.
onna sudden death of his parents by carbon monoxide poisoning in 2004
as best as we can fig out, the flue inna fireplace was closed. there was a fire inna fireplace. and i guess they went to sleep not knowing that and they both passed from carbon monoxide poisoning. my wife called me. i was onna road atta time, so she called me. i was handed the phone on my tour bus and my wife was weeping and she told me, and twas the worst moment of my life. …
i was literally inna middle offa tour, and i certainly didn’t wanna be performing that nite or any time inna near future. but i realized that i had a lil army of pplz working for me. i had pplz that had bought tickets to all these seats, and i didn’t wanna disappoint anybody. so i kind of wanted to keep it under wraps. i wanted to grieve privately and quietly and not even let pplz know wha’ was goin on, cause i didn’t want pplz walking on eggshells round me. i didn’t want pplz who ‘d ostensibly come to a comedy show, watch a guy trying to suppress his grief on stage. so my initial thought was, ok, well, i’m goin to somehow get through these shows, but i just don’t want anybody to know wha”s goin on. but within an hr, twas like global news and everybody knew bout it.
i did a tribute to my parents … b4 the concert, and then got through it. and, you know, for two hrs every nite, i ‘d just try to put na' ☺ and pretend like my life wasn’t crumbling and do the show. … i just wanted to do my job and then just get back to the bus and grieve quietly and honestly. twas a bit therapeutic for me cause twas neat to ‘ve the outpouring of ♥ from the fans cause the fans know wha’ was goin on in my life. and twas just really neat to ‘ve them respond so supportively. n'it kind of helped me move na' bit from where i was.
n'how it felt becoming famous
twas a lil odd for me cause i’ve always had an outsider status, espeshly starting out cause i was just this weirdo kid from l.a. playing the accordion and making fun of all the pplz onna inside … like, all the big rock stars na pop stars and all these famous pplz. and here was this dorky kid, like, making fun o'em. and now all offa sudden, i was finding myself inside that bubble. i was atta same awards shows, sometimes the same pties, and rubbing elbows w'da pplz that i was making fun of. so twas' a lil bit of an adjustment. i’m still kind of gettin used to it. it’s kind of strange.
i’m by nature actually a very shy person. and bein’ somewha’ famous has helped me be + social and talk to pplz. i mean, i ‘d always be the person, like, hanging onna the wall at pties and w8in for somebody to come up and talk to me — which is neat, having some notoriety — cause now pplz do: pplz will come up and talk to me.
heidi saman and susan nyakundi produced and edited this interview for broadcast. bridget bentz, molly seavy-nesper and beth novey adapted it for the web.
original content at: www.npr.org…
authors: terry gross