Six Originals, Five Parodies, and a Polka

Talking with music legend Weird Al Yankovic

Weird Al Yankovic's new parody CD/DVD Straight out of Lynwood debuted last month at number 10—not just top 40, top 10. His single "White and Nerdy" debuted at 13 on the singles chart, his biggest hit in 22 years. Back then, "I Want a New Duck" and "Polkas on 45" made me giggle and chortle when I was sad. Times have changed for Weird Al. Like Bob Dylan, he now produces his own albums. And like hip-hoppers, he uses other people's songs as fodder for his own.

Al became a legend by living clean, staying humble, and working organized. Some 73,000 people have paid for this latest CD, instead of downloading pirated tracks, out of loyalty and love.

What's with the N.W.A business? I am in fact from Lynwood, California, and Lynwood is directly adjacent to Compton. I thought it would be fun to mess around with that theme. Obviously Straight Out of Compton is such an iconic album. I always felt like I should represent for my hometown and maybe I have more street cred then I used to. It's hard to have street cred when you play the accordion.

People pay hundreds for his dryer lint.
Courtesy: Zomba Label Group
People pay hundreds for his dryer lint.

Do you still live in Lynwood? No. And ergo, I am straight out of Lynwood. But I did live there for the first 16 years of my life and I graduated from Lynwood High School.

Valedictorian. So I am in fact white and nerdy. I think that's proof positive right there. I am going back to Lynwood in December to be Grand Marshal of the Lynwood Christmas parade. It involves riding in a car and waving.

"White and Nerdy" encapsulates nerdiness, but all that comic book and technology stuff applies to many black nerds, too. It does, I realize that certainly. It's just that "White and Nerdy" was so close to "Riding Dirty." When I was writing the song it was difficult because I was thinking, "Should this song be more about whiteness, meaning wearing the cardigan and listening to Pat Boone records, or about nerdiness and being obsessed with computers and things like that?" I tried to put a few sort of white references, if not in the lyrics, then certainly in the music video, but it does tend to veer more towards nerdiness than whiteness I suppose.

In the DVD, it looks like you composed and notated all the music before you recorded it. I like to be super-prepared, because being in the studio is an expensive proposition. I don't want to be making too many decisions on the spot. I'll have everything charted out, all the lyrics written, obviously, and the band rehearsed, so that when we go in we can pretty much knock it out and not spend a lot of time figuring out what it is that we're doing.

Would you say that it's about 50-50 originals to parodies on most albums? Yeah, that's sort of the ratio. Six originals, five parodies, and a polka medley. I hate to be predictable, but that's worked for me creatively and commercially as well. Why screw up a good formula?

I read an interview that said you auctioned off your glasses. AlCon. Al Conventions were put on by fans for fans. It's also a good way for me to clean out my drawers and garage and stuff that my wife doesn't want me to hang on to anymore so I give them memorabilia to auction off. Part of the money goes to charity and part goes toward helping defray the expenses of the convention. What amazes me is that the joke items seem to get higher bids and make more money than things which I think are actually pretty cool memorabilia. Somebody paid a couple of hundred bucks for an old pair of my glasses, which are the glasses that I wore all through the '80s in all the videos. A nice piece of memorabilia. And then somebody else paid 600 bucks for like a bag of my dryer lint. It was 300 bucks and then it was announced, "Oh, one of Al's hairs is in it," and it immediately went to 600 bucks now. It's just crazy.

Have you attended these things? I actually attended two of them. How often does somebody throw a convention in your honor? I just had to go there and see what it was all about.

 
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