Weird Al Interview

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reader Snedcat drew my attention to a good interview of Weird Al Yankovic at The Onion A/V Club (which, apparently, interviews him with some regularity). This followed his earlier recommendation of a Tom Lehrer interview I blogged some time ago, and from which I quoted Yankovic. I was a fan of Weird Al back in college, but hadn't listened to anything of his in quite some time. The interview piqued my curiosity, causing me to read about him in Wikipedia (which turned out, to my mild surprise, to be inspiring), and to learn that he's still going strong, churning out parodies twenty years later.

Regarding the interview, I found great value in the answer -- really about creative work and fitting such work in with family life -- he gave to a question about a brilliant Lady Gaga parody. (Later on in the interview, in the video titled, "Weird Al Yankovic Melts Down on Web Soup," is a cringe-inducingly good imitation of a poor performance that, in its own way, shows that what Yankovic makes look easy isn't.)

AVC: What's your writing process like when you're working on a new record? Does an idea like "Perform This Way" pop into your head randomly, or do you keep regular working hours?

AY: It's not like I punch a clock when writing songs. I sort of wait to get inspired, and that could happen at any point. It's hard to force creativity and humor.

My 8-year-old daughter doesn't understand when I'm sitting alone in a room ostensibly not doing something, and she'll want to play. I have to be like, "Nope, Daddy's working." Even though I'm staring into space like a zombie, I'm hard at work.

When I'm writing parodies, I immerse myself in pop culture. I listen to nothing but the top 40 station in the car and bombard myself with stimuli that may help the process. I have no way of knowing when an idea will come. Well, actually, I have plenty of ideas, just not that many good ones. [minor format edits, emphasis added]
Regarding the parody, there are lessons in working with others and standing up for oneself within the story behind its eventual commercial release on June 21...

Although Yankovic could legally produce his parodies without getting permission from the original artists, he has a longstanding policy of getting them on board before releasing the parodies, in order to foster their good will. In this case, however, Weird Al initially got yanked around:
As of this posting, I still don't know specifically what kind of problem [Lady Gaga] has with the song (obviously I take a few jabs at her, but y'know, it's satire -- that's how it's supposed to work). And I'm especially confused as to why she waited until I actually recorded the song (at her insistence!) before saying no. It's not like there were any surprises in the finished song that she couldn't have foreseen by, you know, READING THE LYRICS.


My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call "fair use," and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga's wishes. However, given the circumstances, I have no problem with allowing people to hear it online, because I also have a personal policy not to completely waste my stinking time.
(Read more to get an idea of what a hardship recording the song was to Yankovic.) Eventually, word of the negative publicity this generated among Yankovic's many fans got around to the artist herself, who eventually approved the parody:
Gaga's manager has now admitted that he never forwarded my parody to Gaga -- she had no idea at all. Even though we assumed that Gaga herself was the one making the decision (because, well, that's what we were TOLD), he apparently made the decision completely on his own.

He's sorry.

And Gaga loves the song.
It's good to hear that worked out well, and I look forward to eventually seeing the video, as well as catching up on many years of Weird Al parodies.

-- CAV


Snedcat said...

Yo, Gus, you write: "I look forward to eventually seeing the video, as well as catching up on many years of Weird Al parodies."

Coincidentally, three of the more recent CDs will be part of your next birthday present. Until then, I'll point you first to what is probably my favorite song on the three, one that I don't think is a parody of a particular song; it makes me laugh all the way through every time: "Hardware Store." Be sure to listen starting at about 2:25; that's practically superhuman patter.

And my favorite parodies? First might be "It's All About the Pentiums," which, given your madd Lizzinux programming skillz, should appeal to you too. I'm especially fond also of "Couch Potato," which also requires some acute memory and patter skills, and "Wanna B Ur Lovr" is one I like to play for my female friends, for several of them have said that if only the pick-up lines actually used on them were as funny as the ones in that song, going to bars wouldn't be something to dread.

And "White & Nerdy" is quite good too; oddly enough, I've actually heard it played in several coffee houses and pubs in Asia without ever hearing the original song it's parodying. However, my favorite song on that album is "Canadian Idiot," which manages to condense all the funny parts of Michael Moore's sad little Canuck-flattering comedy Canadian Bacon into less than four minutes--and makes them all funnier to boot. (I have a couple of Canadian friends who are very tired of Michael Moore in particular for white-washing Canada as some sort of peace-loving, problem-free paradise, even though they tend to agree with his politics in general.)

And finally, some frog-bashing and a parody combining ska and The Onion. Hope your homework assignment's not too onerous...

Gus Van Horn said...

Of the ones of these I've listened to, I like "It's All about the Pentiums the most." Looking forward to the rest, as well as the gifts. Thanks!