it's not easy being Weird Al. Just because he's sold more comedy
albums than anyone else on the planet doesn't mean George Lucas
would automatically want him to parody Star Wars: The Phantom
Menace. But he went ahead and wrote "The Saga Begins" to the tune
of "American Pie," set a release date for his album (June 29,
1999), booked the tour, and then sent the filmmaker a copy of
the song. "I crossed my fingers," says "Weird Al" Yankovic.
The Star Wars creator loved it, of course, but the situation was
typical of Running With Scissors (Volcano Records), perhaps the
sharpest and edgiest album of Yankovic's career. "I guess it's
a metaphor for not wanting to play it safe, for taking chances
and pushing whatever envelopes I can," explains Al. From taking
on the cyber community in "It's All About The Pentiums" to the
unmitigated chutzpah of "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi," from Jerry Springer
to Eddie Vedder, from swing to zydeco, Running With Scissors,
his 10th studio album, pierces end-of-the-millennium pop culture
with humor and wit.
Yet what Yankovic did outside the recording studio was even more
provocative — he ditched his signature eyeglasses (after laser
surgery) and shaved his ever-present moustache. "Look," he reasons,
"If Madonna's allowed to reinvent herself every 15 minutes, I
figure I should be good for a change at least once every couple
And an impressive couple of decades it has been. Yankovic has
been honored with two Grammy Awards (eight nominations) and one
MTV Video Music Award nomination for "Smells Like Nirvana," which
was named among the "Top 100 Music Videos Of All Time" by Rolling
Stone; he wrote and starred in his own feature film, UHF (1989)
(for which he cast the then relatively unknown Michael Richards
and Fran Drescher as his co-stars); he has appeared in numerous
television specials including those for MTV ("AL-TV"), Showtime
and the Disney Channel; he has had three gold- or platinum-certified
home videos, a network series ("The Weird Al Show" on Saturday
mornings for the 1997-98 CBS season), a four-CD boxed set retrospective,
and more than 20 gold and platinum album certifications in the
U.S. and Canada.
The saga of Weird Al began in 1979 in the acoustically perfect
bathroom across the hall from the radio station at Cal Poly San
Luis Obispo where as a young college disc jockey he recorded "My
Bologna," a spoof of The Knack's "My Sharona." A devoted student
of musical satirists Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman and
Stan Freberg, Yankovic's budding career took off when the song
became a smash hit on radio's nationally syndicated "Dr. Demento"
show, where he subsequently recorded his live version of "Another
One Rides The Bus" (to Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust").
He landed his first recording contract a few years later and has
since created an extraordinary legacy of music and videos, including
"Ricky," "I Love Rocky Road," "Eat It," "I Lost On Jeopardy,"
"Like A Surgeon," "Yoda" (his first Star Wars parody), "Fat,"
"Smells Like Nirvana," "Jurassic Park" and "Bedrock Anthem."
In 1996 came Yankovic's highest-charting, best-selling album to
date, Bad Hair Day. Reaching No. 14, the album remained on the
Billboard Top 200 for 56 weeks, and sold almost 2 million copies.
Bad Hair Day included Al's "Amish Paradise," a send-up of Coolio's
"Gangsta's Paradise," and "Gump" (to the tune of "Lump" by the
Presidents of the United States of America). "There's always the
pressure and challenge of trying to top myself each time out,"
he says. "I feel like I'm making a comeback with every album I
He continues to meet that challenge head on with Running With
Scissors. The choice of "American Pie" for the music to "The Saga
Begins," he says, was simple: "I suppose I could've done 'Pretty
Fly For A Jedi,' but this movie is an instant classic and I just
felt it needed to be paired with a classic rock song. Besides,
both the song and the movie begin with 'a long, long time ago.'
It just seemed custom-made."
Applying rap braggadocio to the computer world, Al breaks new
ground with "It's All About The Pentiums" (spoofing Puff Daddy's
"It's All About The Benjamins"). He takes the Cherry Poppin' Daddies"
swing anthem "Zoot Suit Riot" and transforms it into "Grapefruit
Diet," the natural follow-up to such smash gastronomic hits as
"Fat" and "Eat It" and his first food-obsessed song in quite some
time. "I went cold turkey on food songs for a while," he says.
The album also contains a wide assortment of Al originals, including
"My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder," "Your Horoscope For Today,"
"Truck Drivin" Song," the Nine Inch Nails-inspired "Germs," and
the 11-minute stream-of-consciousness epic "Albuquerque." And,
of course, there's the all new accordion-led polka medley, "Polka
Power!," that brings together hit songs from Spice Girls, Harvey
Danger, Pras Michel, Backstreet Boys, Smash Mouth, Beastie Boys,
Chumbawamba, Madonna, Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Marilyn Manson,
Hanson, Marcy Playground and Semisonic, all performed polka-style,
"as God intended them to be heard."
And what would a new Weird Al release be without an eye-popping
video to go along with it? In this case, it's Al's "Star Wars
Unplugged" treatment for "The Saga Begins," which once again finds
the Jedi Comedy Master both in front of and behind the camera.
In addition to helming his own videos for most of the last decade,
Al has recently found the time to direct videos for such artists
as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hanson and The Black Crowes.
He also created the critically acclaimed opening title sequence
to the Leslie Nielsen-starring vehicle, Spy Hard.
"I don't really fit neatly into any one category," says the singer-songwriter-director-producer-comedian-musician.
"I'm just thrilled that I'm able to do exactly what I want to
do for a living. It never ceases to amaze me that I get to be
'Weird Al' full-time."
And the saga continues.