Weird Al Laughs All the Way to Red Bank

Source: The Star Ledger, newspaper
Author: Staff writer (unknown) Date: May 24, 1996

"Syyydarap shiiiimananinivil," a familiar voice sings over the telephone. It's "Weird Al" Yankovic demonstrating the backwards lip-synching that comes at the climax of his "Amish Paradise" video, a parody of Coolio's hit "Gangsta's Paradise" set among the plain people.

It must have taken a long time to get the line right, didn't it? "Oh!" he exclaims, "minutes!

"It's just a matter of time," he goes on. "I went into the studio and learned it phoneticallyand now I can't forget it. It's like riding a bicycle."

When the "Bad Hair Day" tour sets down in Redbank Saturday night, "Amish Paradise" is a safe bet to be on the set-list, along with the U2 parody "Cavity Search" ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me") and "Gump," taken from "Lump" by the Presidents of the United States of America.

Yankovic, a 36-year-old Californian, will be backed by his longtime rhythm section: Jim West on guitar and banjo; Steve Jay on Bass; drummer Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, and Ruben Valtierra on keyboards.

After years of parodying Michael Jackson, Madonna, Nirvana - all the biggest names in pop music - Yankovic still has a few artists he would like to tackle.

"Bruce Springsteen is someone I have always wanted to do," he says. "I wish I had done him in the mid-80's heyday. And Guns and Roses would be fun to do at some point."

The inevitable polka medly will also be heard Saturday night. On most of his albums Yankovic has included a long medley of current rock hits set to full-blown polka arrangements with accordion, oom-pah horns, and his own frantic singing.

Nothing so thoroughly punctures the pretensions of rock geniuses as to hear how easily any of their songs lend themselves to those speedy 2/4 rhythms.

The medley on his new album, Bad Hair Day, is called "The Alternative Polka" and lampoons in turn Beck, Stone Temple Pilots, Sheryl Crow, Nine Inch Nails, R.E.M., Alanis Morissette, Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden, and Green Day.

Despite his facility with the polka music, "Weird Al" is no relation to Polka King Frankie Yankovic, who, with his band the Polka Busters, was one of the biggest polka stars of the 1950s.

"When I first started, I would get older women in the front row thinking I was Frankie's boy," he says with a chuckle. "But at the first power chord they would head for the exit."

He describes the accordion as is "main ax. But when you take accordion lessons, they don't teach you Iron Butterfly songs. They teach you polka music."

This is true even of his first hit, a versin of the Knack's 1979 mega-smash "My Sharona."

Recorded the same year in a bathroom at Cal State San Luis Obispo, where he was a student, the voice-and-accordion "My Bologna" was picked up by syndicated DJ Doctor Demento and played to death almost in much the same way the original had been.

This was followed by another solo outing, almost as lo-fi and just as frantic: "Another One Rides the Bus," skewering the Queen arena-anthem "Another One Bites the Dust." Then came MTV, and big-budget Michael Jackson takeoffs like "Fat" and "Eat It," the hilarious Madonna parody "Like a Surgeon," and "Smells Like Nirvana" made Al the world's most unlikely big-ticket culture hero.

Parodies and polkas aside, Yankovic is also a sharp songwriter. The new album's "Everything You Know is Wrong" is even funnier than the parodies, starting with the classic opening, "I was driving on the freeway in the fast line/With a rabid wolverine in my underwear."

Original songs are nothing new to Yankovic, who has had hits in the past "Bedrock Anthem" from the movie "The Flintstones" and the theme for is own film "UHF."

"I'll be playing my theme from the movie 'Spy Hard' on an MTV special," he says before ringing off to supervise workmen loading props for the tour out of his garage. "I call it 'Al TV.' "