McGinnis: Yankovic discusses new retrospective bookWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“As much as I enjoy the music — and I truly do — it’s always gratifying for me to branch out creatively. Even when I’m doing something as ostensibly different as children’s literature, I like to think that my warped sensibilities are still in evidence,” said “Weird Al” Yankovic in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star.
The song satirist has made popular music his muse and target for more than 30 years. But lately, he’s been finding his way onto bookshelves. First came the acclaimed kids’ book “When I Grow Up,” and now a comprehensive retrospective titled “Weird Al: The Book.”
“My manager had been getting interest from a number of publishers for a Weird Al retrospective, and together we decided that, considering the length of my career and the amount of raw material available, that really wasn’t such a bad idea,” Yankovic said. “So we took meetings in New York with various publishing houses, and Abrams seemed the most enthusiastic about the project.”
The resulting tome isn’t the kind of soul-baring tell-all that celebs love to foist upon an unsuspecting public. Rather, it’s more like a trip down memory lane, a coffee table piece filled with photos and rarities collected by Al’s band mate and “historian,” Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz.
“This is the book that my drummer Bermuda Schwartz has been waiting 30 years for. He is the official band archivist — i.e. hoarder — and he has in his collection an entirely unhealthy amount of memorabilia and an absurd number of photographs. He was kind enough to sort through it and pick out some real gems for this book.”
The archival material comes accompanied by the work of The Onion A.V. Club writer Nathan Rabin, who wrote the vast majority of the book’s text. “As much as I liked the idea of a coffee-table book retrospective of my career, I really had no interest in writing an autobiography,” Yankovic said.
“As I explain in the book’s preface, I don’t have any particularly deep secrets to unearth, and I’ve told every amusing anecdote I can think of during the zillions of interviews and podcasts I’ve done over the years. So I directed [publisher] Abrams to hire Nathan Rabin to write my story, to give it a fresh perspective. I’ve always enjoyed Nathan’s work in The Onion, and I knew he was a big fan, so I correctly predicted that he would do a great job with the text.”
The end result is a fitting tribute to the most successful comic songwriter of his generation. From “Ricky” and “Eat It” to last year’s “Perform This Way,” Yankovic has crafted tons of parody hits that many fans would argue age better than the songs they send up — an idea that the artist himself finds flattering but debatable.
“I do attempt to write songs that will stand the test of time. A lot of comedy or novelty songs are extremely topical and don’t age well — I’ll admit I’ve done a few of those, but I try not to make a habit of it. Also, even though these songs are meant to be humorous, I’m very serious about my writing — I spend a lot of time and effort on my lyrics and production and I pay a lot of attention to detail.
“My No. 1 rule of parody writing is that the parody still needs to be funny even if you’re not familiar with the song on which it’s based.”
One of Yankovic’s other rules is his insistence on obtaining approval from the artists he satirizes, which is more of a personal guideline than a legal one. It’s one that has proven occasionally problematic, as there have been a few occasions — most famously with rapper Coolio and singer James Blunt — where an artist’s OK has been altered or rescinded after initial approval.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes wish that I was not beholden to the kindness and whims of strangers, but thankfully nearly every artist I’ve ever dealt with has had a pretty good sense of humor,” Yankovic said. “The exceptions are a drag, but thankfully they’re pretty darn rare. I still think it’s a good policy for me to get permission, whether or not it’s legally necessary. I try to take the high road, and I want to respect the wishes of other artists.”
Yankovic confirmed he has recorded three new songs for his yet-unscheduled next album. Right now, he hopes his fans get their money’s worth out of “Weird Al: The Book.”
“For the uninitiated, I think it’s a good overview of the Weird Al story, and I think Nathan dug deep enough that even longtime fans will learn a thing or two. Plus, it’s got a ton of cool pictures, a collection of my favorite tweets.
“The book is a fun read, and it’s certainly a much better use of your money than food or rent.”
Email Toledo Free Press Star Pop Culture Editor Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.