I have always been weird. Just a little…off. In trying to relate to others, it was clear that I always interpreted life through a different prism than my peers, finding humor in off-beat concepts and being attracted to comedy that was just a shade darker than most. As a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I didn’t admire ace Quarterback, John Elway or action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, instead I found myself idolizing a guy named Al, who sung silly songs and became my pop music icon.
So when the opportunity to review the Expanded Edition of Weird Al Seriously by Lily E. Hirsch for The Retro Network came up, I jumped at the chance. Mostly because it was the first that I was hearing of it. As much as Weird Al Yankovic has meant to me for the last 30 years, you’d think I would have been aware of this book in its first edition, but somehow that release escaped my notice. Luckily, that oversight has now been corrected.
A little bit more history of me and Al (Al & I?). I first discovered his brand of comedy through an airing of the “Fat” video on MTV around 1989. I begged my Mom to take me to the local record store, where I bought a copy of his Even Worse album and it became a permanent fixture in the family car radio. A few years later, when his Off The Deep End album was released, I played it endlessly on a boom box in my room and laughed along with the finely crafted audio nonsense.
Just like the album before it, I memorized all the lyrics and besides the occasional New Kids On The Block cassette, it was all I listened to. Soon the opportunity to perform at a talent show arrived, so of course I lip synced to the MC Hammer parody, “I Can’t Watch This” with my friends as back-up dancers and felt like a star.
When his Alapalooza album arrived 1993, I saw an address in the liner notes for a Weird Al Fan Club and sent in my request to join. After a few months I got a letter back, declaring that I was now a “Close Personal Friend of Al”, it was all I could have hoped for and I cherish it to this day.
Of course, I also saved up my allowance to buy his Permanent Record: Al In A Box 4-disc set, which featured his latest single “Headline News” and was fascinated by the insert booklet giving a biography of Weird Al, which included a photo from a tour with The Monkees, another childhood favorite musical act. Having been given a taste of all that Al had produced over the years, I could no longer be satisfied with a mere greatest hits collection.
No, I had to hunt down all the previous albums in Weird Al’s back catalog in order to consume every note produced by this genius. Finally owning his self-titled debut, his sophomore album In 3-D and the classic Dare To Be Stupid was a revelation, though for some reason I avoided the Polka Party album until many years later.
Famous for his video parodies as much as the songs alone, I bought the Weird Al Yankovic Video Library VHS, rented his mock-biography The Compleat Al from Blockbuster Video and even picked up a previously viewed copy of his movie, UHF on VHS, which brought me one step closer to understanding the mind of this musical madman. But there had to be more. He didn’t just exist on tape, right?
When my older brother surprised me with a trip to see Weird Al in concert at our local county fair, I couldn’t believe I would finally be seeing His Weirdness in person. I t was my first ever concert experience and I proudly sang along to every song with stars in my eyes, causing the lady next to us to remark, “Weird Al must be your hero”. She was right.
I began writing my own weird parody songs and performing them in honor of friends and family for special occasions. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Al would have been smooshed as flat as his UHF character, George Newman after being run over by an ominous boulder. For an assignment in my high school drama class I acted out every line of “Everything You Know Is Wrong” from the Bad Hair Day album in pantomime while playing the deep cut track on a CD player. Pretending I had “ a rabid wolverine in my underwear” was a great moment in the history of theater.
I looked forward to taping his annual AL TV events on MTV, as a reminder of where I first encountered this god of goofiness and continued to seeing him in concert multiple times into the 2000’s. I remember absorbing the “secrets” of his Behind The Music special on VH1 and even enjoying creatively compromised The Weird Al show on Saturday Mornings and read his children’s books to my kids.
Given my continued fandom, I thought I knew everything there was to know about the man called Weird Al, but it turns out I was wrong. A more in-depth analysis awaited me in the pages of Weird Al Seriously Expanded Edition by Lily E. Hirsch and the resulting appreciation for my musical hero was only amplified by the insight found within.
Weird Al Seriously Expanded Edition is much more than a year by year biography of Weird Al Yankovic, in fact it’s everything but that. Sure, there’s a short history of Al’s early life learning to play the accordion, writing parody songs that he sent into the Dr. Demento radio show and the origin of his nickname, but Hirsch goes far beyond providing a list of career highlights and instead provides what amounts to a thesis on why Weird Al Yankovic has made an impact in the volatile landscape of music over nearly 50 years.
What’s fascinating is the sheer amount of research that has gone into dissecting Al’s musical influence, as Hirsch seems to have read every single interview from print, to television to online outlets that ever referenced Al and arranges them with ease. Organized under various topic headings, these historical documents are used to explore all facets of the man, the myth, the mustache. The volume of media created by and spent on covering Al’s exploits is truly impressive for an entertainer who many might undercut as simply, “some guy who changes the words in songs”.
Hirsch even had the pleasure of conducting her own interview with Yankovic in his home, in which his nice guy status is more than confirmed. This allows for clarification on statements made in past interviews and even added perspective on how his songs have become more relevant over the years when viewed through a different lens. Additional interviews with Al’s collaborators, especially his bandmates who have been with him for over 4 decades, are fascinating for those who yearn for more insight into he Weird Al experience beyond his endlessly entertaining discography.
What I personally found most fascinating about Weird Al Seriously was the analysis of the last 20 years of Al’s career, which has arguably been his most celebrated in terms of industry awards and recognition on the music charts. For all of my focused obsession from 1989-1999, once the world survived Y2K, my life took a turn that prevented me from deep diving into his 21st century output. So it was great to be informed of the “hidden gems” I had overlooked in recent years.
If you were ever a Weird Al fan or just want to examine the evidence as to why he wasn’t left behind in the 80’s as a one-gimmick wonder, Weird Al Seriously Expanded Edition has everything you could ask for and then some. One thing that Hirsch omitted from the book however is my own personal, “Lame Claim To Fame” that I have been proudly sharing with anyone who will listen for years.
Ready? You may want to sit down. OK, here it goes…I’m related to Weird Al! So to be clear, I’m related by marriage and I’ve never bumped into him at a family reunion or anything, but here’s how it plays out: Weird Al Yankovic is my sister-in-law’s, brother-in-law’s, cousin. Sure, it’s not like I made his Christmas card list, but that’s way less than 7 degrees from Weird Al, which means that someday, some way, I may become a literal Close Personal Friend of Al…and that’s good enough for me.
I actually just got a little bit closer to that dream thanks to a trade with another nostalgia loving friend who gifted me his copy of Al’s 45 record single for This Is The Life, which was given to him personally by none other than Al’s drummer, John “Bermuda” Schwartz! With the tunnel vision confidence of one of Al’s stalker narrators in many of his best original tracks, I’m sure I’ll be sharing a delicious Twinkie Weiner Sandwich with my hero in no time (Yeah, right).
Add to all this the amazing fact that we now live in a world where a big budget Weird Al Yankovic biopic starring Daniel Radcliffe is on the horizon, it’s definitely a magical time to be a Weird Al fan (and not just because the movie stars a famous wizard school graduate). Hirsch’s book is just the icing on the cake in this world of weird in which we live.
Weird Al Seriously Expanded Edition is available from all major online book retailers and most importantly from your local book store. So go on out and get a copy. Tell ‘em, “Weird Adam” sent ya.