(Guest post by Patrick Wolf)
For this year’s Al Copeland Award I nominate another amazing Al: Weird Al Yankovic. The “Al” is intended to honor an entrepreneur or activist who has significantly improved the human condition but has not been fully recognized for their contribution. Weird Al Yankovic fully satisfies all three criteria.
If you have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, or you pay absolutely no attention to pop music or comedy, you may not know Weird Al. Born Alfred Matthew Yankovic in 1959 in southern California, his parents chose accordion over guitar lessons for Al because, according to Yankovic, “My parents…were convinced that [the accordion] would revolutionize rock music.” While earning a degree in architecture at Cal Tech, Al began performing musical parodies in local coffee shops and got the famous Dr. Demento radio personality to play some of his demo tapes.
His first professionally recorded song was a 1979 parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona,” called “My Bologna.” The next year he recorded “Another One Rides the Bus,” a parody of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” live on the Dr. Demento radio show. “Another One Rides the Bus” went on to become the greatest-selling rock song of all time. (Okay, I just made that last part up but it WAS a hit.)
Weird Al–a childhood nickname given to him by school bullies that he embraced, thereby literally getting the last laugh (well, he embraced the nickname, not the bullies, but I digress)—proceeded to produce a string of parody hits with obvious targets including “Like a Surgeon,” “Eat It,” “I’m Fat”, and “Smells Like Nirvana.” His parodies of rap hits like “Amish Paradise” and “White and Nerdy” work especially well because, in the Weird Al tradition, his band reproduces the original music almost perfectly while contrasting the hard-edged hip-hop style with lyrics about the bland lifestyles of Amish people and suburban brainiacs. His Star Wars parodies – “The Saga Begins” (set to Don McClean’s“American Pie”) and “Yoda” (from The Kinks’ “Lola”) are nothing short of genius. Weird Al Yankovic is the pop music parody icon.
Yes but “What have the Romans ever done for us?” I mean, what has Weird Al done for humanity? Tons. If you want to see the impact that Weird Al has had on improving the human condition, just take your 13-year-old son and his best friend to a Weird Al concert (as I did on Saturday) and watch them smile, laugh, and sing the night away. Joy is only one of Weird Al’s many contributions to humanity. More importantly, Weird Al humbles the haughty and over-serious members of the entertainment industry through his gentle and creative jabs. For example, when I was young, there was a popular but sad rock ballad called, “Alone Again, Naturally.” After the movie Rocky V was released (and bombed), Weird Al artfully penned “Stallone Again, Naturally.” Weird Al literally aids humanity by humbling those who view themselves as superior beings, thereby reminding them and us we are all so very human. Finally, by mocking high-brow musical art, Weird Al also celebrates it. You have never really made it in the pop music world until Weird Al has parodied one of your songs.
Weird Al actually is an accomplished musician. Rock accordion solos are really hard to play. When people urge Weird Al to branch out into writing and performing serious pop songs, his stock response is: “There’s enough people that do unfunny music. I’ll leave the serious stuff to Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline.”
Weird Al has received some recognition for his accomplishments. He is rich and famous, which doesn’t disqualify him from receiving an “Al”, as Al Copeland was rich and famous, too. Those aren’t necessarily bad things. Weird Al has received three Grammy Awards, but those were in recognition of his contributions to music and not for his contributions to humanity.
I must say that actually attending a Weird Al concert prompted my brilliant idea (I am SOOOOO amazing) to nominate him for the “Al.” The epiphany came when I approached the snack bar at the theatre and noticed that the only food item available was spicy chicken, lathered in ranch dressing, served in a box that you can use as a roller bag, with the following statement on the cover: “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” And this year’s (Weird) Al goes to…