Every week I wonder if this is the week I stop. The week I stop this writing nonsense and get back to more practical things. But it’s not going to be this week, because of my hero, Weird Al.
I don’t pay much attention to Twitter, but Al got my attention this week with this tweet:
That’s right, Al’s still at it. It’s happening tonight at midnight, so tomorrow’s going to be a great day.
Preparation Meets Opportunity
Al should be a hero to all Manic Impressives. He started out in life a smart little nerd. Took his first accordion lesson at age 6, skipped second grade, finished high school at age 16 and made valedictorian of his class.
He got good at the accordion and loved musical comedy, so he combined the two into an unlikely art form. Inspired by his idol, legendary comedy radio host Dr. Demento, Al started writing and singing parodies of pop songs, accompanying himself on accordion.
In his senior year of high school, Al’s moment arrived. Dr. Demento came and spoke at his school, and Al gave him a tape of songs he had recorded at home. Dr. Demento aired one of the songs on his show immediately.
Yankovic continued to write and record parody songs and cultivated his relationship with Demento.
Rejection Of Practical Things
After high school, Al went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to pursue a career in Architecture. But as Manics are wont to do, he got distracted along the way. Though he did graduate with a BA in Architecture, he never worked in his field of study.
By his senior year in college, Al was a star on the Dr. Demento show. When he turned the song “My Sharona” into “My Bologna”, Dr. Demento put it on the air and Al had a bona fide hit on his hands.
It took hard work and persistence, but Al earned a recording contract, built a band around himself and headed out on the road.
Surprisingly, his parents were okay with Al’s career choice. His father believed that the key to success was doing for a living whatever made you happy. So they encouraged him to pursue his passion and forget about architecture. What cool parents.
The Weird Al Legacy
Al’s career success and longevity are amazing. 15 Grammy nominations, 4 Grammys, 4 Gold and 6 Platinum albums. All with clean language and parody that was never mean-spirited.
You’ve probably heard his Michael Jackson and Madonna songs, but even more brilliant are his parodies of artists like Lady Gaga, Coolio, Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and this one of Frank Zappa. His comedy is clean and timely and matched only by his uncanny ability to capture the sound and essence of another artist.
And though Al is known for parodies, his original songs like Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me and First World Problems are genius in their own right.
Weird Al Gets It, Gives It Away, And Gets Even More
After a successful 32-year run with RCA, Al’s career hit a snag. RCA didn’t want to continue paying for his elaborate video productions.
So Al reinvented the music business. He got companies like Nerdist, Yahoo, Funny Or Die, and College Humor to cover his production costs in exchange for exclusive launches on their websites.
Then he launched one video a day for eight straight days, all completely free to the public. He created a huge buzz but didn’t take any revenue from any of it. He worked for free in exchange for the production costs of his videos.
Why? Because Al gets it. He knew his generosity would come back to him. His album, Mandatory Fun, sold twice the number of his previous release. It also earned him the first number-one album of his career, made him just the third artist besides Michael Jackson and Madonna to have a Top-40 hit in four different decades and gave him more online exposure than Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Justin Timberlake combined.
That’s musical and marketing genius.
Why Weird Al Is My Hero
Yes, I love his musical comedy. And Al is a very skilled musician and marketer. But it’s his humanity that makes him my hero.
In 2014, his cool supportive parents, who purchased accordion lessons for him from a door-to-door salesman and encouraged his decision to go into show business, died in a tragic accident. They suffered carbon monoxide poisoning after lighting a fire in their fireplace.
Can you imagine the shock and horror Al must have suffered? He was on tour at the time, and hours after getting the news from his wife, he had to go out on stage and perform despite his grief.
“Since my music had helped many of my fans through tough times, maybe it would work for me as well,” he said, then added that it would “at least … give me a break from sobbing all the time.”
Al’s music has helped me through many tough times. He kept me from quitting today and turned my day of frustration and worry into an evening of fun and anticipation. He is my role model and my hero.
And he’s dropping a new parody video tonight, and I can’t wait.
It’s Happening Less Than Two Hours From Now
So get ready folks. Weird Al is about to bust out another parody polka tonight at midnight. And rumor has it, it’s going to rip the frock coats right off of Hamilton…