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Published: Thursday, 6/13/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

'Weird Al' Yankovic is a parody pioneer

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
'Weird Al' Yankovic poses by the Maumee River for Blade photographer Andy Morrison in 2008. 'Weird Al' Yankovic poses by the Maumee River for Blade photographer Andy Morrison in 2008.
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Long before YouTube made a 15-minute sensation of someone with a camera, Internet connection, and a lyrical pun, the sublime parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic was mocking popular music in bigger and better ways.

A minor phenomenon on MTV in the early 1980s, Yankovic’s witty music videos helped the fledging network lighten up its playlist of new wave, pop/rock, and hair metal bands and their pretentious visual extensions of their songs. Yankovic and his parodies were must-see videos, along with the MTV debuts of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Prince. And by the end of the decade and into the ’90s, his name was as recognizable as many of those artists he lovingly mocked.

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By the numbers, Yankovic has released 13 albums in 30 years, with six reaching platinum status (more than a million in sales) and four earning gold (more than 500,000 in sales). His latest album, 2011’s “Alpocalypse,” debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. He’s scored hits with “Another One Rides the Bus,” (“Another One Bites the Dust ) “Eat It” (“Beat It”), “Like a Surgeon” (“Like a Virgin”), “Smells Like Nirvana,” (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), “Amish Paradise,” (“Gangsta’s Paradise”), and “White & Nerdy” (“Ridin”).

Yankovic has been a road warrior as well, with a habit of including northwest Ohio in his tour itineraries. He performed at the Toledo Zoo in June, 2010, and two years prior to that, and now he returns for a show at 8 p.m. Friday at Centennial Terrace, 5773 Centennial Rd. in Sylvania. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 for general admission and $39.50 for reserved. Information: 419-381-8851 or etix.com.

Despite his success, Yankovic hinted in a recent interview that his next record would be his last — at least, as a standard release — and that he will go the digital-distribution model with his songs. The upside is that this method would allow him to release material almost as quickly as he writes and records it, thus staying ahead of — or at least even with — the growing number of “Weird Al” wannabes on YouTube.

In a recent phone interview with The Blade, the comedy-musician talked about the increased competition.

Q: If YouTube had been around when you first started, what kind of impact would that have had on your career?

A: It’s hard to say. YouTube opened up the gate for everybody. Now there are a thousand people doing song parodies. It’s just a different world now. People go to the Internet to watch music videos, and now there’s music video on demand. It just makes my job a little different.

Q: Having the competition of many parodies of popular songs and so quickly, how has that affected you?

A: What it does, it means never again doing a parody of any given pop song. There’s already so many variations on a theme, any ideas I come up somebody else has come up with. If YouTube existed in 1984, I guarantee there would have been a thousand parodies of “Eat It” before I ever put a foot in the door.

Q: With the increased competition, are you thinking about stopping?

A: I love what I do. I would like to continue to do it regardless of a response. I like a nice response. I like it when people enjoy it when I do, I like it when people buy my albums and watch me in concert.

Q: What makes the perfect parody song?

A: Basically I look for songs that are popular, songs that have topped Billboard charts, made zeitgeist on radio and social media. ... It’s a popular song that I can come up with a clever imitation of a theme.

Q: Has there been a song you tried to parody that didn’t work?

A: More often that not ... I’ll come up with a thousand ideas for a song but often not many of those are good ideas. A lot of times those songs will end up as a polka medley or I just have to let them go.

Q: You’ve maintained a dedicated fanbase, including audience members who travel from show to show.

A: It’s pretty crazy. There are some people who have been to over a hundred of my live shows. There will be stretches of my tour when I see the same people in the same circle of every mile as the shows travel. It’s like the Grateful Dead ... they’ll spend a big chunk of their lives to follow [the tour] around.

Q: Generation-X was really the first group to embrace you.

A: It feels like every time I put out a new album a new generation discovers me. Gen-X, whatever you want to call them, was very important to me and helped me get going. But I feel like every time I do anything, it’s a few years between albums, and it feels like a new crop of kids are saying, “Hey, have you heard of ‘Weird Al’?” and their parents say, “Yeah, we’ve heard of him.” In the 1980s I was appealing mostly to adolescent boys, now my live show is multigenerational. I challenge you to find a more diverse crowd age-wise at a rock show. It’s everyone from grandparents to parents to kids.

Q: You’re 53 and have been writing and performing music parodies for more than three decades. In that time would you say you’ve grown as a musician and parodist?

A: Not entirely. I’m still doing the same kinds of stuff, I’ve just gotten better at it. I still have the same idiotic sense of humor, [but] the quality has improved over the years.

“Weird Al” Yankovic will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at Centennial Terrace, 5773 Centennial Rd. in Sylvania. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and tickets are $25 for general admission and $39.50 for reserved. Information: 419-381-8851 or etix.com.

Contact Kirk Baird atkbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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