The Sunday Read: Weird Al Yankovics Weirdly Enduring Appeal
Hey My name is Sam Anderson. I'm a staff writer for the New York Times magazine and today I would like to tell you about a story I wrote about someone I think is one of the great defining geniuses of our time. And that is weird. Al Yankovic then. I'm not joking the narrative for anyone who doesn't know who weird AL is. He is the most celebrated comedy musician of all time. He is a quote unquote novelty artist. Who MAKES RIDICULOUS PARODY SONGS OF POPULAR MUSIC? He has been around since the late seventies and I hit it big with song. Parodies of super hits by Michael Jackson and Madonna determined. Michael Jackson's beat it into a song. Called edit like this food to eat and and for me certainly as a child in the nineteen eighties. You know I grew up like a lot of kids do feeling insecure anxious about various things and weird. Al leaped out of the radio to me. In a way that Michael Jackson and Nirvana and Madonna never did and he touched something deeper. Something that made that insecure lonely little kid feel like he had a friend feel like had company in the world but even as an adult I keep I keep listening and I find that when I'm really really stressed out I can put on Weird Al. Very loud in my house and it instantly makes me feel better. I think part of that is like these hearkening back to childhood is kind of nostalgic soothing but I think a bigger part of it is In some ways comedy represents our moment better than any kind of serious art. Could we live in absurd times and so we need an absurd artist so I have always wanted to write a profile of weird Al my entire writing career and I was finally able to do it and I hope that it makes you feel a little bit better today in this crazy world won't place and hobbled though here's my story it's a weird weird weird world read by Eduardo Ballerini? That's Real New York Times podcast stuff on me party and the the daily is supported by td Ameritrade with td Ameritrade. You get everything you need to become a smarter investor get help. For knowledgeable professionals get customizable tools. Get Investing Education designed just for you get no hidden fees and no trade minimums get smarter with Td Ameritrade where smart investors get smarter last summer in the middle of what struck me as an otherwise very full life. I went to my first weird Al Yankovic concert weird Al for anyone. Reading the through Golden Monocle is the most renowned comedy musician in the history of the multi-diverse a force of irrepressible wacky nece who back in the nineteen eighties built a preposterous career out of song parodies and then somehow never went away. After forty years. Yankovic is now no longer a novelty but an institution a garish. Bright Patch in the middle of America's pop cultural wallpaper completely ridiculous national treasure and absurd living legend. I've spent much of my life chortling alone in tiny rooms to weird AL's music. I churned butter once or twice living in an amish paradise. Lol and yet somehow it had never occurred to me to go out and see him live. I think this is for roughly the same reason that it has never occurred to me to make morning commute in a hot air balloon or brush my teeth Niagara Falls. Harry is not the kind of music you go out to see in person. It's the joke version of that music. A parody concert felt like a category error by confusing a mirror for window to me. Weird Al always been a fundamentally private pleasure. I was perfectly content to have him living in my headphones on Youtube and very occasionally when I wanted to aggravate my family out loud on my home speakers the show was in New York at Forest Hills. Stadium a storied outdoors arena that one's hosted the US Open as well as concerts by the Beatles. Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. It was late July. The hottest weekend of punishingly hot summer and the humidity was so thick it felt as if gravity had doubled. The backs of my knees were sweating onto the fronts of my knees up. Performance in this context struck me as a heavy lift even for normal Rockstar for parody rockstar. It seems basically impossible deepened. My brain a blasphemous. Little wrinkle kept wondering secretly if the concert might even be sad weird. Al Was on the brink of turning sixty and his defining early hits eat it like a surgeon or several decades old which meant they were made for a version of the culture that is now essentially. Paleolithic down in my sweaty palm. Every ten seconds by phone dosed out new shots of racism and bullying and disaster and alarm. I felt exhausted on every possible level and I assumed everyone else did to what anyone even show up. The answer to that at least was yes long before showtime the Weird Al Fans started streaming in. The VIBE was lighthearted reverence. It was a benevolent weird. Al Qasr play cult. There were so many Hawaiian shirts that it felt like an elaborate code. Some secret language composed entirely of loud patterns parrots hot dogs palm trees. Flowers Cars Accordions Pineapples Wales Bananas Sunsets. Everyone was so Florida mismatched that they seemed paradoxically to be matching a great harmony of clashing. I saw weird. Al T shirts from ten tors ago weird. Al Hats covered with weird. Al Pins every possible. Color way of checkerboard vans down towards the stage hardcore fans greeted one. Another like relatives reunited at a wedding. Ages seem to range from eighty to four. When weird AL appeared waggling his arms Ainley Longhair flapping in the hot wind? The crowd greeted him with a surge of joy. Yankovic Hawaiian shirt was black. And Gold traced with a pattern of tropical Franz. He's still looked oddly. Young as if his face had been locked into place for copyright reasons in nineteen eighty nine although he no longer sports a mustache or wears glasses he shaved and got Lisa Surgery. More than twenty years ago. To the dismay of some fans the other essentials remain. We are now has a face designed for making faces large nostrils wide forehead Bendy Mouth Chin like a crescent moon. Eyeballs seem somehow double jointed able to bulge wide or disappear into a squint. His cheekbones pop like crab apples. He uses that face to mimic music world cliches Rockstar sneer boy band. Smolder teen pop grin gangster rap. Glower onstage weird. Al Sat on a wooden stool and start to snap like a lounge singer with an orchestra swelling behind him. The tour was called strings attached. He kicked into a soulful medley of nineteen eighties parodies. If that does not sound great to you if it in fact sounds like a very particular flavor of Sonic Hill. I'm here to tell you something weird. Al was absolutely belting. He was singing the bejesus out of this ridiculous music. I leaned back in my chair. Reassessing core assumptions. I made about life. Was this somehow part of the joke. That weird Al was an amazing singer. His voice was ethnic and precise it was rippling through intricate trills and runs by the time he reached the medleys climax like a surgeon is nineteen eighty-five parody of. Madonna's like a Virgin Yankovic was stretching for high notes and holding them over his head for the crowd to admire like an Olympic weightlifter which just snatched five hundred pounds. The show went on for too hot hours. The concrete theater was a convection oven powered by body heat and Weird. Al stomped and stranded and danced through the crowd occasionally kicking his straight up like actually vertical. One hundred and eighty degrees. Sometimes he disappeared for thirty seconds and then came bursting back onstage in costume. Kurt Cobaine Amish Rapper. Devaux during white and nerdy. He did donuts all over the stage. On a segway before long the masses of Weird Al's famous curls were stuck to his face. And if you look closely you could see sweat. Pouring off his elbows. The parody songs live were tight and hard and urgent supplemented occasionally by video clips projected onto a giant screen of Weird Al Cameos on Thirty Rock and the simpsons and the old naked gun movies. It felt less like traditional concert than a Broadway. Musical crossed with a comedy film festival crossed with a tent revival. The crowd was rolling through tantric. Nerd Gazprom's sustained explosions of belonging enjoy. It felt religious near the end of the show during the chorus of Amish Paradise as the entire stadium started swinging its arms and rhythm I unexpectedly found myself near tears weird. Al was dressed in a ridiculous black suit with a top hat and a long fake beard. And he was rapping about churning butter and raising barnes and everyone was singing along. I could feel deep pools of solitary childhood emotion loneliness affection vulnerability joy beginning to stir inside. Beginning to trickle out and flow into this huge common reservoir. All the private love I had ever had for this music for not only weird. Al's parodies but the originals now. It was here outside vibrating through the whole crowd. Weird Al at pulled off a strange emotional trick. He had brought the isolated energy of all our tiny rooms into this one big public in space when he left the stage we stamps for more and he came back out and played. Yoda IS CLASSIC. Revision of the kinks. Lola and then he left again and I decided that this was the single best performance of any kind that I'd ever seen in my life. Weird Al Yankovic was a full on Rockstar. A legitimate performance monster. He was not just a parasite of cultural power. But somehow improbably a source of it himself. Once upon a time there was a boy who wet his bed. He went every kind of bed available. Bunk beds waterbeds blow up beds. Fold out beds at sleepovers. He went sleeping bags if he didn't have a bed handy. Sometimes he just wet his pants. He was fluent in that terrible. Feeling warm relief at the wrong time in the wrong place turning into cold. Shame so many mornings were so shameful. This was not the boys only problem. He also threw up in. Cars sometimes. Such pungent floods that it would ruin the upholstery forever. Occasionally he would cry at school for no obvious. Reason baffling his teachers and classmates. The boy's family moved a lot which meant that. He went beds and many different houses through up and many different cars and cried in many different school districts. When kids played kiss tag at recess the boy would not be kissed if a girl accidentally cornered him she would realize would was then turn and run away and so. The boys spent many recesses alone on the edge of the playground. Picking up trash earned the whole class bonus points so the teacher would allow them to watch a special movie together at the end of the year. Sometimes he would stand near the play structure hiding his une cool shoes behind a metal pole watching the other kids play and he would a mantra in his head. I wish I could just be normal. The idea of normalcy to the boy came mostly from television. It was some vague. Constellation of money crowds hair gel brand named jackets and confidence the kind of glittering ease that animated the great American mainstream visible in its sitcoms and movies and slow motion basketball highlights and perhaps most of all in its music videos weirdness by contrast and everything in his own life chubbiness loneliness boredom clunky glasses off brand clothing frozen bananas dipped in Carib Lawn Darts in his grandmother's backyard. The bed wedding boy dear reader was me and I tell you the story not just for sympathy although there is that a because it was in this era that I first encountered the music of Weird Al Yankovic Weird Al. It seemed to me had a perfect sense of humor. He shrieked on. Mtv squeaked rubber chickens and punctuated his songs with percocet belching but he was more than just funny even as a child. I understood on some intuitive level. That weird Al was not merely the Shakespeare of terrible food. Puns might as well face it. You're addicted to spuds or an icon of anti style poodle fro enormous glasses questionable mustache. Hawaiian shirts but a spiritual technician. Doing important work down in the engine room of the American soul. I could not have said why I felt it as his name suggested. Weird Al's comedy operated right. The hotspot of my childhood Agni's weirdness versus normalcy insider versus outsider. What a Weird. Al Parody did was enact a tiny revolution. It took the whole glamorous architecture of American mainstream cool Michael Jackson's other-worldly Moves Madonna's sexual taboos and extracted all of the coolness into that void weird al inserted the least cool person in the world himself and by proxy all the rest of US Weirdos. Along with our uncool lives beat it. The ubiquitous super hit about avoiding street violence became eat it. A nasal monologue about picky eating. Have Banana have a whole bunch? It doesn't matter what you had for lunch. Just eat it. I love rock and roll a churning anthem of hard living. In the Devil's music became I love. Rocky road a squawking Paean to stuffing your face with ice cream. It is no accident much of Yankovic. Music was about food. Everyone ate food every day. Celebrities and nerds like it was the great equalizer. Switcheroo was for me thrilling. I would sit there with my brother and our unglamorous living in a town where Michael Jackson would never even consider performing and I would feel Dorky. Empowered Weird Al. It flipped the polarities of weirdness normalcy. We had made it into the TV. We were normal. We are now has now been releasing song parodies for seven presidential administrations. He has outlasted to popes and five Supreme Court justices. He is one of only five artists along with his early. Muses Michael Jackson and Madonna had a top forty single in each of the last four decades. Yankovic has turned out to be one of America's greatest renewable resources. He has a timeless force that expresses itself through hyper specific cultural moments. The way heat from the center of the Earth manifests on the surface through the particularity of geysers then in nineteen ninety-six after coolio gangster's paradise became a national earworm. Weird Al took. It's thumping beat in. Its heavenly choir and turned it into. Amish Paradise a ridiculous banger about rural chores when Commissioners Ryden hit number. One in two thousand six weird. Al Took a rap about driving in a car loaded with drugs and translated it into a monologue about the glories of being a nerd whatever's popular at the moment. Yankovic can hack into its source code and Reprogram it. His work is inspired waves of creative nerds. Andy Sandberg the actor and a member of the comedy group. The lonely island told me that he grew up having weird Al dance parties with his family. Each new generation of younger kids is like wait. This can exist San Brexit Lin. Manuel Miranda Weird Al obsessive credits. Yankovic has an influence on Hamilton. Miranda was lip sync Taco `grande a Mexican food themed parody of the Nineteen Ninety. Hit Rico Swazi in front of his sixth grade class. He told me that he prefers many weird al songs to the originals weird. Al is a perfectionist. Miranda said every bit as much as Michael Jackson or Kurt cobain or Madonna or any artist. He has ever spoofed. So you get the musical power of the original along with this incredible twist to Weird. Al's voice and Weird Al's brain. The original songs lose none of their power even when they're on a POLKA with burping sound effects in the background. In fact it accelerates their power. It's both Ernest and a parody. Michael sure the creator of the good place and co-creator Parks and recreation remembers the force of Weird Al's nineteen ninety-two parody of Nirvana smells. Like Teen Spirit comes out and it's like the perfect voice for all the simmering anger of an entire generation of kids shirt said that song is vicious and angry and aggressive but also Laconic Khun disaffected and scary and it was immediately a gigantic thing in American culture. Then Weird Al does smells like Nirvana and completely deflates. The importance and seriousness angst. That's a service always provided for mind. People that rock is about readiness and authenticity and finding your voice and relating to an audience. But it's also fundamentally absurd being rockstar. Is Stupid we as a culture of genuflecting at the altar of these rockstars and weird al comes out with this crazy curly hair and accordion and he just blows it all into smithereens by singing about spam. It's wonderful sure paused. He said there were heated debates sometimes in comedy writing rooms about the merits of weird. Al's work some cynics argue that his jokes aren't actually great that people overrate them because they're nostalgic for their childhoods but sure insisted that regardless of what you think about this lyric or that lyric weird Al represented the deep egalitarian spirit of our culture. It's a truly American thing to be like get over yourself. Sure said everybody get over yourselves. Madonna get over yourself. Kurt Cobaine get over yourself. Eminem get over yourself. No one gets to be that important. In America we are now lives in Los Angeles up in the Hollywood hills and a house that he was told once belonged to the rapper. Heavy d. The House is clean minimalist sophisticated the opposite of weird AL's public persona. There are no twinkie. Shapes LOUNGE CHAIRS OR FLORID. Shag carpets. It is high ceilinged full of gliding California light and beautiful furniture. Imagine a house where successful La rappers would have partied in. Nineteen Ninety one. This is literally that House. It is so quintessentially. La that it has been used for film shoots which means that. Sometimes the ENKA vics weird al his wife Suzanne and their daughter Nina will be watching TV and out of nowhere. They'll see their house. Onscreen Andy Garcia will be standing in their living room or easy e be floating in their pool. Yankovic friend Joe Miller insists that he has seen pornography said in the living room to which weird AL response with polite embarrassment. I'll take his word for it. The Yankovic family is wonderfully wholesome Allen. Suzanne met fairly late in life when both were established in their careers. Suzanne was a high powered marketing executive at Twentieth Century Fox and she was skeptical at first when a friend tried to set them up. She worry that we would be loud. Shrill insufferable exhausting always on. He turned out to be the opposite off stage in his civilian life. Yankovic is shy introverted. Extremely private and unfailingly polite among the big personalities of the Los Angeles comedy world is quiet decencies legendary. He is so so incredibly. Nice sambuc among many others told me he's the nicest person you'll ever meet exactly what you're dreaming. He'll be like no one has ever heard weird. Al Raises Voice in Anger. He doesn't swear when a script comes to him with a bad word in it he politely asks for Revisions Sometimes. Experimentally Suzanne will try to get him to say a curse word at home. Come on honey. It's just US. She'll say but he refuses on a bright Saturday morning. The Yankees fix invited me to join them for a family hike weird. Al Wore jeans a large floppy hat and a muted Lacoste Polo. He Avoids Hawaiian shirts in Everyday Settings. Not Wanting to draw attention to himself. Suzanne an avid photographer seem to notice every plant and bird. We passed she. And Al are classic opposites. He is internal and UNOBSERVANT and can disappear into his head for days at a time. Suzanne is chatty and social hyper present their daughter. Nina is a precocious sixteen year old. Who LOOKS UNCANNILY? Like the actress. Ellen page she and her Father Sheriff. Talent for math sometimes invents trigonometry problems for her and she also has his sense of humor. Once school had an eighties. Themed Dance Nina. Showed up in. A pilgrim dress like someone from the eighty s at one point on our hike. Nina scampered off. The trail disappeared behind a tree and returned with a time capsule that she had been stalking and reburying since she was little inside was a feather dried. Leaves old polaroid's a Swiss army knife and a handwritten note from her dad. It's a beautiful day. I'm going for a walk with my wonderful family and our little poodle. Sandy if you find this note we hope you're having a lovely day to the added Iraq and closed it back up and reburied after the hike. The family took me to their favorite Vegan Mexican restaurant and then drove me around. La We passed a man who is trying to attract instagram followers. Bhai Playing Guitar. Solos on top of parked car when we stopped at a red light film crew went ruling by hauling vintage car. Shooting driving seen it occurred to me that we are now might be comfortable in Los Angeles because the place is already a self parody. He is off duty liberated back. The House Yankovic showed me his accordion collection to large piles of cases. And some old costumes including the original edit jacket red leather zippers everywhere. It's still fit in perfectly. He showed me a walk-in closet. That contained more Hawaiian shirts than I've ever seen in one place. This represents a very small percentage of them and Kavak said he showed me the corner where he composes music and asked of keyboards and computer equipment. Underneath a wall of gold and platinum records and the middle of it. All flopped like a beached jellyfish. Set an old. Kurt cobain week. When I asked about his writing process Yankovic took out. His laptop sat down at a big wooden table and told me to pick a song I chose white and Nerdy. It is archetypical. Yankovic a parody rap the captures all the musical energy of the original while notifying its lyrics. I in my class here at. Mit got skills. I'm a champion at DND. M C Escher. That's my favorite. Mc White and Nerdy went viral in two thousand six in the early days of Youtube and drove the album. Straight out of Lynnwood into the top. Ten rekindling weird AL's popularity for the new millennium at his dining room table. Yankovic clicked around on. His laptop has filed for every song and each file is many levels deep at the top. Stand the finish lyric below that like archaeological layers beneath the surface of an ancient city. Descend all the stages of writing. It took to get there. Perhaps you've always imagined that weird Al tosses off his lyrics while juggling rubber chickens on a UNICYCLE. I mean this is a man who wants recorded a parody of Huey Lewis and the news. I WANNA drug called. I want a new duck. The first verse. Which goes I want a new duck on. That won't try to bite on. That won't chew a hole in my socks on won't quack all night. He also converted. She drives me crazy into she drives like crazy and addicted to love into addicted to spuds. And I think we're alone now into I think I'm a clone now and zoot suit riot into grapefruit diet and girls just WanNa have fun into girls just want to have lunch and honestly the list could go on forever but it turns out that weird. Al Approaches the composition of his music for something like the Holy Passion of Michelangelo Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Looking through the white and nerdy file felt like watching a supercomputer crunch through possible. Chess moves every single. Variable to be considered in every single line. Song begins with a simple sentence. They see me mowing my front lawn. And even here. Jankovic agonized over lawn versus yard and my versus the he sifted through phrases in gradations so small. Almost invisible as Shire's really still my favorite MC. Tell Ya Ashes. Still my favorite emcee. Esher is my favorite emcee. Esher still my favorite. Mc MCI Shire's still my favorite MC MCI Scher is my favorite Mc you know my favorite MC still my favorite MC for weeks at a time. Yankovic told me he goes into a creative trance. What he calls the Zombie Phase. I walk around the House with thousand Mile Stare. He said my wife asks if I'm OK. He's fine in fact in some ways he's in his favourite place. Three Leagues deepen his head building an alternative universe entirely out of jokes. He lines up phrases next to one another fragments and couplets nerd brags and white jokes most of which will never reach the final lyric sheet in snowstorms. It ain't easy to be seen. I know attention from a vector. I love mayonnaise that sweet nectar. I ate an enormous amount of dairy while. I watch little house on the prairie. I know all the radio shack employees by name. Got An Ethernet Jack inside my shower I can calculate how much water is fear displaces. I know the molecular weight of Magnesium. I know the proper names of all the smurfs. He reads these options again and again agonizing putting his current preference in bold and then changing his mind and putting something else in bold to see how it feels. He spent a long time. For instance deciding what book would be funniest for his nerd narrator to Brag about having in his library. Jk rollings Douglas Adams Stephen Hawking or hard bound comics he chose Hawking he composed whole standalone Quad Trains. That were later thrown out. I'm so white. Almost translucent check out the SPF amusing in my Hoop Tiago. Crews and I find Jay Leno amusing. I written a whole second white and nerdy based on the outlines Arabic said. I figure I'm going to be living with this song for a long time. We'll probably be doing it on stage for the rest of my life. It's got to be right after ten minutes of staring at this verbal barbed wire my brain felt as if it were starting to cramp. I told him I didn't know how much longer I could take it or not. Even halfway through Yankovic said we had yet to reach. For instance his encyclopedic lists of possible rhymes or categorized by syllable count running on for page. After page like homers list of ships in the ILIAD polar bear voltaire. My back is peeling darjeeling. At one point he lined up thirty five potential rhymes for the word Geek. Then cubic has done a version of this process. For just about every song he has ever written parody and original from edit today and the years before computers he would do everything by hand sifting and sorting a binder with color coded tabs. He used to spend weeks roaming through the West Hollywood library compiling facts and keywords about cloning for I think I'm a clone now or hospitals for like a surgeon songs. That may seem dashed off are in fact. The product of months of self imposed hard labor lonely silent obsessive world building the Alfred Matthew Yankovic grew up not in Los Angeles proper but outside of it near competent and the working class suburb of Lynwood. He was an only child. A miracle. Baby born Leighton. His parents live near the tail end of the baby. Boom in Nineteen fifty-nine his father. Nick was beefy goofy man who served as a medic during World War Two where his heroism earned him not only two Purple Hearts but also an appearance in the syndicated newspaper Comic Combat Spotlight. No one dared go for a wounded man left on the field. Hell said Yank. I'll get him and he did weird AL's mother. Mary was a stenographer from Kentucky. She was quiet shy and guarded. She made casseroles had an iron sense of propriety and loved her son. Nearly to the point of suffocation she would devote her life to protecting him from all the many dangers of the world real and imaginary. Although the Yankee Vicks didn't collect art they kept a single oil painting hanging in their living room right above the mantel like a shrine. A framed portrait of their son. Alfred was a blend of his parents. It was eccentric like his dad. The two of them used to dig tunnels around the foundation of the House together. Just for fun but he was also painfully shy. He started kindergarten a year early and at the beginning of second grade. His teacher decided he was overqualified and sent him up to third grade. This meant that for most of his life. He was two years younger than the rest of his classmates. Although Alfred's grades were perfect and he could solve any math problem through Adam. His social life was agonizing imagine every nerd cliche. He was scrawny. Pale athletic nearsighted awkward with girls and his name was Alfred. And that's all before you even factor in the accordion. It came from door to door salesman. The man was offering the gift of music and he gave the Yankees fix a simple choice accordion or guitar. This was nineteen sixty six the golden age of rock at the Year of the Beatles revolver and the beach boys pet. Sounds and Bob. Dylan'S BLONDE ON BLONDE. Guitar was like a magic. Amulet spraying sexual psychedelic magic. All over the world so Yankovic smother chose the accordion. This was at least partly because of a coincidence and Frankie Yankovic a world famous polka player happened to share the family's last name no relation. And just a wonderful coincidence that would help to define. Alfred's entire life. He took his first accordion lesson the day before his seventh birthday and progressed quickly. He had plenty of time to practice Mary. Yankovic was so overprotective that our son spent much of his life alone in his room. He never played at friends. Houses never had sleepovers never explored his neighborhood on his bike. The farthest he was allowed to ride was half a block to his aunt dots house and his mother would stand on the lawn and watch for. Alfred's protection should censor the male sifting through catalogs page by page with a black marker in hand scribbling out anything inappropriate. Bra Ads pictures of women in Bikinis. Alfred's bedroom was his own little kingdom devoted entirely to his enthusiasms if he wanted to collect an organized dozens of license plates from all over the country. Which absolutely did there was nothing stopping. If he wanted to Riga contraption involving police and strings we could flip on the light switch without leaving his bed. He could do that to the years past. Alfred sat in his room wheezing away on his accordion. Did it's buttons dutifully memorizing pokers and Waltzes and marches and the Mexican hat dance. All of his classmates hit puberty before heated. He never had a girlfriend. Never went to a party or a dance. His parents never taught him about sex. Stay away from women. His father once told him they have diseases and stuff lynnwood. High school was directly across the street from the end. Covic home and Alfred went there. His mom would sometimes watch him during gym class through binoculars. Just to make sure. He wasn't being bullied as a teenager. Yankovic enthusiasms began to widen. He became obsessed with Elton John. He would grab his accordion and play along with goodbye. Yellow brick road the whole double album start to finish memorizing it. He watched monty python and amassed stacks of magazines in which he would read parodies of movies. He was not allowed to see comedy for smart sheltered. Kid was a cheat code away to use his intelligence to rearrange the world to build pleasure out of drudgery he loved George Carlin's Album FM and am so much that he transcribed it on a manual typewriter one nine. Alfred's passion for music in comedy came together in the form of a radio. Dj named Doctor Demento every Sunday demento played four hours of novelty music. Both from absolute comedy legends. Spike Jones. Allan Sherman Stan Freberg and from. Nobody's who sent in unsolicited cassette tapes. Alfred Yankovic wanted desperately to escape his room and live in this world. He started writing his own comedy songs. One night his mother overheard the show decided. It was inappropriate and said he couldn't listen anymore of this tide was rising too fast for even her to stop every week. Alfred would huddle unders blankets and listened to doctor demento and it would not be long before he hurt his own voice coming back at him out of the speakers in nineteen seventy six DEMENTO picked out. Belvedere cruising a song. Yankovic wrote about his family's Jalopy of a car and played it on the air. At Sixteen Alfred Yankovic graduated high school. He was Valedictorian and his speech at the ceremony was dutiful serious informal except for one passage in which he described future destruction of the world. How the polar ice caps would melt and civilization would be drowned as he described this hypothetical apocalypse. His voice rose to a grating shriek until he was suddenly screaming about. Humanity's imminent Duma. The crowd roared with laughter interrupting his speech with a round of applause and Yankovic finally escaped his lonely bedroom. He packed up his things. Loaded up the Junky old family car and drove off alone to start a new life. He would study architecture. California Polytechnic State University about four hours north of home as he drove off. Alford's parents got in their new car and followed directly behind him. Alfred watched in his rear view mirror as soon as they hit the freeway. It guns the engine and lost them. The nickname weird. Al started as an insult and happened during his first year of college. This was a fresh start for Alfred. A chance to reinvent himself for a whole new set of people he had reputation to live down no epoch humiliations and so we decided to implement a rebrand introduced himself to everyone not as Alfred but his out. Alfred sounded like the kind of kid who might invent his own math problems for fun. Al sounded like the opposite of that a guy would hang out with the dudes aiding Pete's casually noodling on an electric guitar tossing off jokes unexpectedly hilarious. They would send streams of light beer rocketing out of everyone's noses. The problem was that even at college even under the alias of Al Yankovic was still himself he was still fundamentally and Alfred. He was an all kinds of excruciating ways. Not your average freshman. He was sixteen. He wore thick glasses and had a regrettable moustache. He was skinny and pathologically shy. He had the social skills of a ceramic frog. He didn't drink smoke party date or swear he still felt most comfortable alone and his tiny room. The other guys in his dorm floor New Al Yankovic only as this mysterious ball haunting place like Boo Radley. They would all be hanging out. Sprawled around in someone's room door open laughter spilling into the Hallway. When suddenly this Pale kid would come slumping by off to class to the library saying nothing casting a shy glance in the door. He often wore a variation on the same outfit. A striped shirt a floppy bucket. Hat like Gilligan Gilligan's island and flip flops. Even when it was raining outside the guys would watch him. Pass only very slightly interested like a pack of lions watching a distant ibis. An Owl would look in through the open door and there would be this monument of mutual regard the in group and the outcast staring each other down over time. The silent encounter became a ritual awkward but familiar. Eventually Yankovic started to play variations as he walked by. He would stare inside and make a face screw is is up lowers eyebrows serio comic lower. It was the weird guy. Being Weird silently acknowledging his weirdness performing to entertain himself wants in the fateful silence followed. A guy in the room spoke up. Hey he said it's expletive weird al. This was not meant as a compliment. It was an attempt to return in words to strange energy. Yankovitch was pouring into the room through his is. The nickname got repeated every time he went shuffling past. Hey we are now and so it stuck and slowly. Al began to embrace it to reclaim the insult as a badge of honor. It took him a long time to make a real friend one day. Joel Miller one of the normal guys in the dorm room. Yankovic stared into walked into the communal bathroom to find a group of kids laughing. He asked him what was up. Turns out they had just pulled a prank on. We are now knowing. How cringingly awkwardly was? They'd sneaked in while he was showering and stolen his clothes and his panic. Weird Al had ripped down the shower curtain wrapped himself in it and sprinted off to his room soaking wet Miller threatened to bash the guys over the head with a chair. God Weird Al's close and return them then. This was the beginning of the longest close friendship of Al Yankovic life a friendship. That still endures Miller. Notice the accordion in Yankovic storm and asked if he actually knew how to play. Anka Vick said yes he could play any song anyone wanted to hear Miller trying to stump him said how about Elton. John's funeral for a friend. Love lies bleeding. An eleven minute piano rock dirge AL strapped on his accordion and played the song note for note all the way through. This earned. Weird AL invitation to hang out in the dorm room where he played his accordion for everyone else. Miller grabbed his bongos and the two of them jammed for hours. If in the superhero narrative. Weird Al Yankovic. There is a radioactive spider. Bite moment it has to be open mic night at cal poly in nineteen seventy seven. Imagine the scene. A bunch of longhaired idealists with Banjos and acoustic guitars ready to shock the world the beauty of their finger picking and then weird Al Steps onstage. He brought with him not only as accordion and his large glasses and his little mustache. But his whole Awkward Chaotic Energy Miller set up his bongos and together. The pair launched into the exact opposite of Ernest folk music. Yankovic played wipeout. And also spunk is our strength and a ten minute medley. That he claimed covered every song ever written in the history of the world before that night. Yankovic public performance is included childhood accordion competitions and a cousin's wedding. Now he was sharing his own music. The essence of himself with a room full of strangers. The odds were high that he would bomb then disappear back into his tiny room forever. Instead the opposite happened the crowd went crazy. Weird Al's ridiculous music on a standing ovation. The applause would not stop people hollered for more for a kid who spent his whole childhood being either ignore bullied. At sudden validation was transformative Miller remembers looking over his shy friend and seeing Yankovitch face lit with total joy. It was glowing. He wants said like Chernobyl melting down. I think it was the first time I'd ever had that kind of positive reinforcement. Jankovic told me it probably did flip a switch somewhere in my head that tra- noble moment changed everything. Bank vicks school work began to recede. He was on fire with dumb music. Weird Al wrote new songs constantly and play them at every venue that would have him. He and Miller was heckled at a fraternity barn dance but success was coming in nineteen seventy nine during his junior year. We are now stood in a men's bathroom at cal. Poly like the acoustics of the tile and recorded a parody of the number one song in America knacks my Sharona. A lusty humpty cringe code to seducing a teenage girl. Weird Al's version was two-minute Romp about lunch. Meat called my Bologna. Had A crazy. Diy nerd punk energy you could hear. Yankovic committing every fiber of his lonely soul to the bit crooning and grunting like a man driven insane with desire. It didn't matter that the PUN was bad that the singing was raw. All of that was exactly the point. Doctor demento listeners went crazy for it and radio stations picked it up nationwide and the lead singer of the neck urged capitol records to release the song as a forty-five and suddenly weird out had his first recording contract to this day. Cal Poly marks that bathroom with a plaque as the birthplace of weird Al Yankovic career. An underground comedy circles. The Legend of Weird Al began to grow. He became a stapler doctor. Demento show answering phone lines and playing according in studio and generally hamming it up. He turned queen's another one bites the dust into another one rides. The bus by the time. Yankovic graduated from College Joke. Music was all he cared about. He hardly had time for anything else he moved to Los Angeles slept on a couch. Briefly lived in his car. He got a minimum wage job in the mailroom. He moved into a tiny apartment with a murphy bed and a view of the Hollywood sign. He sat there by himself recording music building his over joke by joke. Sometimes he taped silverware all over the walls just to be weird on April Fools Day. Nineteen eighty-four MTV. Did something preposterous the network back then was influential but also desperate for content and Yankovic outsider. Weirdo shtick killed with its audience. So the network gave Yankovic four hours to fill with whatever he wanted. He created al-tv a parody of MTV. The conceit was that weird. Al Had taken over the station with a pirate transmitter hour. After hour. He made fun of music videos. Read fake fan letters announced fake contests and spliced together footage of celebrities into preposterous fake interviews. We are now Mr George if you are on an Arctic expedition and you got stranded who would be the first people you'd eat boy. George housewives young kids. This made Weird Al. A brand name on the network. A sort of standing for the audience itself Jankovic used Al TV to promote the video for eat it a nearly shot for shot parody of Michael Jackson's original the song would make him a true international star. The single reached number twelve on the billboard. Top One hundred and one Yankovic a grammy. It's album weird. Al Yankovic in Three D. went flat on the first video. Aired Yankovic was out on a very modest tour. He and the band travelled together in a blue station wagon pulling a trailer and in Virginia. They stopped at a fast food. Restaurant for lunch and suddenly Yankovic was mobbed. You're the edict guy everyone shot. It happened just like that overnight. We are now had discovered some secret wormhole in pop cultural space time. That sent a portion of Jackson's mega fame dumping onto his own Dorky head. After the success of eat it Madonna wondered aloud to a friend when weird AL would turn like virgin into like a surgeon and word got back to weird Al and he did in nineteen eighty eight. He turned Michael Jackson's Mega. Hit bad into fat last year after more. Public allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Against Michael Jackson emerged. Yankovic announced that he would temporarily stop performing. His Jackson parodies weird. Al Likes to say that every one of his albums is a comeback album that's because a parody career is not like a normal career. It has no internal momentum. Everyone expects you to go away. Yanks. Lowest Point came in the early nineteen nineties. It had been years since his last big song and his attempted a movie nineteen eighty-nine. Uhf had bombed and his phone had stopped ringing out of desperation. He decided to settle back into his old stick. Writing a food based parody of Michael Jackson's latest hit the racial harmony anthem. Black or white Yankovic version was going to be called. I would prefer not to tell you this but this is actually what it was going to be called snack all night and it was about well. It was about snacking all night. The only thing that saved him was the Jackson for the first time said no technically apparent is does not need permission but it is a legal grey area and weird. Al prefers to have every artist in on the joke. This reprieve because it set up. The success of smells like Nirvana. We are now actually loved. Ivana The music hidden deep in his soul and before the band performed. Smells like Teen Spirit on Saturday. Night live in January nineteen ninety-two weird. Al called the set and managed to get Kurt. Cobaine on the phone to ask his permission to parody. Is it going to be about food? Cobaine asked no ANC mix said it was going to be about how no one could understand. Nirvana's lyrics cobaine thought that was hilarious. Once more we are now had caught the wind of a new phenomenon and so his career took back off has been around ever since and two thousand fourteen thirty years after eat it his album. Mandatory Fun debuted at number one on the billboard charts national economies collapse species go extinct political movements rise and fizzle. But somehow for some reason we are now and doers. I'm writing this profile and you are reading it in an impossible world comedy. A disembodied spark between distant people seems more crucial than ever over the last several weeks from his house. Weird Al has been posting jobs online. A video of his increasingly agitated face being assaulted by tiny hands. A photo urging people to resist hoarding accordions. He recently performed a song on the tonight show in his robe. These virtual appearances are funny and sweet. Little notes is solace a wide landscape of devastation. But I keep returning and my mind to the before times to the summer when I not only saw Weird Allen. Concert joined him on tour for a couple of days I hung around empty. Arenas as crew lugged equipment up ramps and tested lighting rigs in stock the MERCH TABLES WEIRD. Al LUNCHBOXES WEIRD AL stickers. An old we are t shirt that was suddenly popular again because it had been warned by a character on stranger things. Sometimes I watched the actual shows from backstage where I could see spit mists blowing from weird. Al's mouth when he hit the high notes. Other Times I watched from so deep in the venue that weird. Al Looked like a small particle in a sea of waving arms late one night on the tour bus. I drank from a bottle of crown royal that had been signed by the members of Leonard. Skinner long story and got into deep debate with the backup singer about the plausibility of Kim trails. When I finally fell asleep it was inside the bus and what everyone refers to as a coffin bunk and all night long I could feel the bumps and swells of I ninety four is it unspoiled a section of the Great Plains beneath us. I woke up in a whole new place. Under a whole different sky and watch the crew set up the fresh stage during all of this I saw almost nothing weird. How he was like a ghost haunting his own tour there but not there on the road. Yankovic is reclusive obsessed with saving his voice and Life Force for his fans. He spent all his free time holed up in his own small room at the back of the bus keeping strange private hours falling asleep at seven. Am Waking Up mid afternoon. Seeing him anywhere before showtime felt like seeing panda out in the wild he moved in a bubble of hushed exotic respectful excitement. The only real exception to weird AL's self-isolation came late at night after the shows when he would interact with fans in elaborate. Vip sessions photos autographs chats. Yankovic would do basically anything fans wanted. He would mug for the camera or flex like a body builder or signed people's arms. He signed posters cassette tapes action figures accordions spatulas glow in the dark snorkels. I saw him sign a package of Baloney. And an exact replica of a star. Wars stormtrooper helmet is we're not autograph hounds but true devotees exactly. The kinds of people gang placed at the center of his songs nerds misfits Weirdos. Many fans seem to have just emerged for the first time in forever from tiny rooms of their own they were less interested in a photo op than in sort of spiritual transfer. Most of all. The fans thanked weird. How they thanked him for his music for not dying of heat stroke onstage for voicing the character banana man on the cartoon adventure time for helping them survive cancer for helping them survive their mothers cancer. I got introduced to your music when I was going through. Struggles in my life said a young balding man wearing a brown suit and the words struggles was surrounded on all sides by unfathomable Gulf of feeling. You helped me pull through. We are now listened with deep eye. Contact thank you. He said that means a lot to me. Thank you for all the joy you bring to. The World said a woman in Minnesota. Thank you for making my best times brighter with songs. Said a young man in North Dakota. Thank you for letting us be ourselves. Thank you for being you. Weird AL's bond with his fans is atomic. He will stop and speak with them anywhere at airports outside the tour bus for so long that it becomes a logistical problem. The fans approach him like a guru and weird. Al Response was sweet open. Validating Energy Joel Miller the friend who defended Yankovic from college bullies said. The relationship between Weird Allen is hardcore fans is deeply personal. He's giving them validation. He told me they feel a kindred spirit when they're at his concerts there in a safe space they're able to be stupid or outlandish or whatever exactly's they want a nobody judges them in fact it's the opposite. People appreciate them for what they are not for. What they aren't. The connection is so deep that it is more like emerging and after a while it struck me that weird. Al Has spent basically his whole life making his music for exactly these people which is to say his childhood self for many decades. He's been trying to delight. Alfred Yankovic bright painfully shy kid who grew up alone in his tiny bedroom for the benefit of that lonely. Boy He reshaped the whole world of Pop. Culture is ridiculous music. Sent out a pulse signal. These were the people that drew. The art left out a crowd of friends for that lonely kid as I watched him with his fans. Sometimes I felt as if weird Al was multiplying all around me multiplying inside of me. We were one crowd united in isolation together and a great collective loneliness. Once you recognized it accepted it. Felt right on the brink of being recorded by autumn autumn as an APP. You can download to listen to lots of audio stories from publishers such as the New York Times Anyone who loves books knows there's never enough time for all the titles they wanna read and that's where audible comes in. Audible has the world's largest selection of audiobooks from bestselling mysteries thrillers and memoirs to Science sci-fi in motivation audible also includes audible originals stories scripted shows and documentaries created exclusively for audio that you can't hear anywhere else try it free for thirty days. You'll get one audiobook of your choice. Plus to select audible originals. Absolutely free get started at audible dot com slash the daily.