Weird Al Yankovic, the only child of Nikolas Louis Yankovic
(a Serb-American) and Mary Elizabeth Vivalda (of Italian and
English descent), was born in Downey, California, but raised in
the nearby town of Lynwood. He first started playing the
accordion one day before his seventh birthday. When a door to
door salesman came around offering accordion and guitar lessons,
his father opted for accordion saying that there should be one
more accordion playing Yankovic in the world besides polka king
Frankie Yankovic (to whom he has no relation). He mastered the
instrument by age ten, after which he quit lessons to pursue it
on his own. He now uses a youth sized accordion, with which he
is able to jump around more vigorously.
After hearing Dr. Demento's radio show (a comedy radio program featuring humorous music), Yankovic sent the Doctor a tape of a song entitled "Belvedere Cruisin'", a song about his family's current vehicle, in 1976. Another song, included on the tape, which never received airtime, was entitled "Dr. D Superstar" and was a parody of "Jesus Christ Superstar". He was a senior at Lynwood High School at the time, but that tape was the start of his eventual career.
Three years later, Weird Al Yankovic was an architecture student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a disc jockey at the university's radio station (KCPR.) His air name was "Weird Al", and he has used it since. Although he has claimed that he had been referred to as "Weird Al" during high school, there is no confirming evidence of this. Since "My Sharona" by The Knack was on the charts and The Knack was scheduled to play at Cal Poly, he took his accordion into the bathroom across the hall from the radio station and recorded a parody entitled "My Bologna," with a B-side called "School Cafeteria." The Knack thought it was funny after meeting Yankovic after a show at his college, and arranged for the song to be released on their label, Capitol Records, which gave Yankovic a six-month contract. Dr. Demento's listeners put this track atop his "Funny Five" list.
In 1980, Weird Al Yankovic was working in the mail room at Westwood One, Dr. Demento's radio network at the time, when he developed another parody called "Another One Rides The Bus," a parody of Queen's hit, "Another One Bites The Dust." While practicing the song outside the sound booth, he ran into Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, who told him he was a drummer and agreed to bang on Yankovic's accordion case to keep a good steady beat to the song. They rehearsed the song just a few times before going live on The Doctor Demento Show. "Another One Rides The Bus" became so popular that it got Yankovic his first television appearance, The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. On the show, he played his accordion and again Jon banged on his accordion case as well as squeaking and blowing some horns and other musical gizmos. The rare 1981 Placebo EP release of this song has as its B-side the track "Happy Birthday", an unusually (for Yankovic) dark song about the world's problems and imminent destruction ("There's garbage in the water and poison in the sky, I guess it won't be long before we're all gonna die"), with the sarcastic suggestion that denial is the natural solution ("So if you think it's scary, if it's more than you can take, just blow out the candles, and have a piece of cake!") The Placebo EP recording of that song was recently remixed into stereo by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz for inclusion on the Hurricane Katrina charity compilation Laughter is a Powerful Weapon Volume 2: Funny Musicians for a Serious Cause.
The Dr. Demento Society, which issues yearly Christmas re-releases of material from Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes, often includes among these unreleased tracks from Yankovic's vaults, such as "Pacman", "It's Still Billy Joel To Me", or the demos for "I Love Rocky Road." The live version of "School Cafeteria" is also to be found on Dr. Demento's Basement Tapes.
1981 brought Weird Al Yankovic on tour for the first time as part of Dr. Demento's act. His performances were particularly interesting as few, if any, people at the time were doing parodies of rock and roll songs on accordion. His stage act caught the eye of manager Jay Levey, who loved it and became Yankovic's manager. Levey insisted that the act would sound better if he had a full band, so he held auditions. Steve Jay became Yankovic's bass player, and Jim West played guitar. With Schwartz on drums, the band was complete. In 1991, Rubén Valtierra joined the band on keyboards, to allow Yankovic to concentrate more on singing during concerts. Rick Derringer would produce all of his albums until the 1992 release Off the Deep End. After Derringer's departure, Yankovic began to produce his own albums. So far he has released eleven albums, with a twelfth upcoming in 2006.
Weird Al Yankovic's first show with his entire band
(excluding Rubén Valtierra who joined in 1991) was not
successful at all. The audience threw items at Yankovic and his
band and they were booed off the stage. After the show, a kid
approached Yankovic and asked if he was Weird Al. Yankovic
replied to the affirmative and the kid said, "You suck!"
In 1985, Yankovic co-wrote and starred in a mockumentary of his own life entitled The Compleat Al that intertwined fact and fiction of his life up to that point. The movie was co-directed by Jay Levey, who would direct UHF (see below) four years later.
In January 1998, Yankovic had LASIK eye surgery and shaved off his mustache, radically changing his trademark look. Yankovic, who was revealed to be rather handsome in his conventional look, commented that "Millions of girls actually found me hot for the first time!"
Yankovic married Suzanne Krajewski on February 10, 2001. Their daughter, Nina, was born February 11, 2003. He also has a pet poodle, Bela (the one sitting atop Yankovic's head on the cover of his album Poodle Hat), and a pet cockatiel named Bo Veaner.
On April 9, 2004, Yankovic's parents, Nick, 86, and Mary, 81, were found dead in their Fallbrook, California home, apparently the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning from a fire that had been burning. The night after their bodies were found, Yankovic went on with his concert in Mankato, Minnesota, saying that "since my music had helped many of my fans through tough times, maybe it would work for me as well" and that it would "at least ... give me a break from sobbing all the time."
A biographical booklet was released with the 1994 compilation Permanent Record: Al In The Box.
Yankovic is best known for his song parodies ("Eat It"), though he has actually recorded a greater number of original humorous songs ("You Don't Love Me Anymore" and "One More Minute"). His work depends largely on the satirizing of popular culture, including television (see The TV Album), movies ("The Saga Begins"), food (see The Food Album), popular music (the polkas), and sometimes issues in contemporary news ("Headline News"). Although many of his songs are parodies of contemporary radio hits, it is rare that the song's primary topic of lampooning is that artist (exceptions include "Smells Like Nirvana" and "Achy Breaky Song"). Yankovic's humor lies more in creating unexpected incongruity between an artist's image and the topic of the song, contrasting the style of the song with its content, or in pointing out trends or works which have become pop culture clichés.
In addition to his parodies, Weird Al Yankovic also includes a medley of various songs on most albums, each one reinterpreted as a polka, with the choruses of various songs juxtaposed for humorous effect ("Polka Your Eyes Out"). Yankovic has been known to say that converting these songs to polka was "...the way God intended".
Some of his original songs are pastiches or "style parodies,"
where he chooses a band's entire body of work to honor/parody
rather than any single hit by that band (for example, Devo with
"Dare To Be Stupid"). Sometimes, it is obvious as to which
band's style Yankovic is parodying, but often times it is
subjective. One person may hear influences from one band, while
another may hear influences from a different band. Some style
parodies are in the style of a genre of music, rather than a
Weird Al Yankovic has contributed songs to several films ("This Is The Life", from Johnny Dangerously; "Dare To Be Stupid" for Transformers: The Movie and a parody of the James Bond title sequence in Spy Hard), including his own UHF. Other songs of his have appeared in films or television series as well.
One of Weird Al Yankovic's most controversial parodies was "Amish Paradise", based on "Gangsta's Paradise" by hip-hop artist Coolio. (Coolio's work "Gangsta's Paradise" already samples heavily from a Stevie Wonder song, "Pastime Paradise," complicating the issue further.) Coolio's label gave Yankovic permission to parody his work and gave the impression that Coolio had as well, but he maintains that he never did. Coolio claimed he was upset, but legal action never materialized, and Coolio accepted royalty payments for the song. (Technically, under copyright law's "fair use" doctrine – affirmed by the United States Supreme Court — one does not need permission to record a parody, though one does need permission to record a satire. However, Yankovic has always requested permission before recording parodies, as a means of maintaining good relationships within the music community). After this happened, Yankovic always made sure to speak directly with the artist of every song he parodied. At the XM Satellite Radio booth at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show Yankovic and Coolio made amends. On his website, Yankovic wrote of this event, "I don’t remember what we said to each other exactly, but it was all very friendly… I doubt I’ll be invited to Coolio’s next birthday party, but at least I can stop wearing that bulletproof vest to the mall."
Weird Al Yankovic had gained James Blunt's permission to parody "You're Beautiful". However, after Yankovic recorded "You're Pitiful", Blunt's label, Atlantic Records objected to its release. The parody was pulled from Yankovic's upcoming album due to Yankovic's label not wanting to "go to war" with Atlantic. Yankovic released the track as a free download on his website, since Blunt himself was not objecting to the parody.
In 1989, Yankovic starred in a full length feature film, co-written by himself and manager Jay Levey, called UHF. A satire of the television and film industries, also starring Michael Richards, Fran Drescher and Victoria Jackson, it was unsuccessful in theaters, but has since become a cult classic. Yankovic occasionally shows clips from the film at his concerts (to which MGM, the film's current owner, initially objected). The Australian release of this film was titled The Vidiot From UHF.
"Weird Al" Yankovic has directed many of his own music videos, the first being "Bedrock Anthem" (a parody of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Give It Away" and "Under the Bridge") in 1993. He has directed all of his own videos since then. Additionally, he has directed several by such artists as Hanson, The Black Crowes, Ben Folds, Jeff Foxworthy and The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He also directed the title sequence to Spy Hard, in which he sang the title song.
Songs posted to file sharing networks are often misattributed to Weird Al Yankovic due to their humorous subject matter, including songs that are racist, s--ually explicit, or otherwise offensive. A young listener who had heard several of these offensive tracks by way of a file-sharing service confronted Yankovic online, threatening a boycott due to his supposedly explicit lyrics. Quite a few of the songs, such as "Star Wars Cantina," "Star Wars Gangsta Rap," "Yoda Smokes Weed," "Chewbacca, What a Wookie," and several more, have a Star Wars motif. Of all the songs misattributed to Yankovic, those with a Star Wars theme seem to be the most prevalent. In addition, some of these parodies seem to be much shorter than the original song parodied. Some of them are only a minute long in length.
A list of songs not by Weird Al Yankovic can be found at The Not Al List. Alternatively, a list of all songs recorded by Yankovic can be found on his website's Recording Dates Page.
The Weird Al Star Fund is a campaign started by Yankovic's fans to get him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Their mission is to "solicit, collect, and raise the necessary money, and to compile the information needed for the application to nominate "Weird Al" Yankovic for a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame." Fans worldwide have sent donations to raise the $15,000 needed for a nomination. In addition to the preferred method of cash donations, many methods were used to raise money for the cause, such as a live benefit Show held April 11, 2006, and selling merchandise on the official website and eBay, including t-shirts, calendars, and cookbooks.
On May 26, 2006, the campaign hit the $15,000 target -- just 5 days before the May 31, 2006 deadline to submit the necessary paperwork.
On June 23, 2006, according to eonline.com, Weird Al was not included in the list of inductees for 2007. His application will automatically be reconsidered in 2007 for the possibility of receiving his star in 2008.
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