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Biographies: "Weird Al" Yankovic

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Reviewer: Greenway88

Sometimes 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 of decades."

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 do."

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.

SOURCE: WeirdAl.com

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