A long, long, time ago… in a galaxy far away… okay, so it wasn’t so long ago—circa 1999, I made a discovery that changed my awkward teenage life. Some friends of mine introduced me to the crazy, the obnoxious, the brilliant, the weird, “Weird Al” Yankovic.
For those who may not know, Weird Al is a tall, skinny white guy of Yugoslavian descent who plays the accordion and performs parodies of popular songs. Some of his most well-known tunes are “Smells Like Nirvana,” “Amish Paradise,” and “Like a Surgeon.”
I still don’t exactly remember who first introduced me to Weird Al, but I was hooked. My goofy teenage-boy sense of humor found his songs absolutely hilarious, and it was just BONUS that Weird Al annoyed the daylights out of most of the girls I knew. Especially my older sister. She rolled her eyes and huffed when I played his CDs or quoted his lyrics. …and that was just… delightful.
But Weird Al was cool! He embraced nerdiness and made it funny. He was so awkward, with his huge glasses, long curly hair—which is not a wig!—and his accordion. Really, it was almost impossibly comedic that he actually knew how to play the accordion (the weirdest instrument in the world) and was good at it.
Now, I was a young teen, and a boy, and socially awkward, so I really dug Weird Al. Not just because of his silly songs, but also because I had multiple friends (all guys, of course) who were also into Weird Al, and that gave me something to talk about with them. It was a fun geeky club to belong to: I knew every word of many, many Weird Al songs, and I would recite them back as fast as I could to impress others. (Of course, as you can tell, only males my age were actually impressed by this feat.)
As it turned out, Weird Al was one of the winners (or victims, depending on how you look at it) of the dot-com boom, and especially the new phenomenon of the peer-to-peer file-sharing network, Napster. In fact, I’ll admit it now: I’m pretty sure most of the Weird Al CDs I borrowed from my friends were burned from Napster playlists. Just looking on a quick Napster search (on my friends’ computers (I didn’t own a computer at the time) showed hundreds of tracks credited to Weird Al.
So many, in fact, that, as I now know, almost any tune that was a parody of any song, recorded by any artist at all back in the early 2000s, was credited to Weird Al even if it was a woman singing. (Now that I think about it, that was pretty strange. I’m not sure why I didn’t figure that out sooner). Weird Al was synonymous with parodies of pop songs. Because we didn’t really have the internet back then like we do now. (And keep in mind, in 1999, Google barely existed—it was just one year old, and nobody used it). So here’s the thing: if you actually purchased Weird Al CDs, so the rumor goes, the liner notes in the album give you the details on every song. This means it will tell you which song it’s a spoof of. I never purchased any of his albums, and, also, as I’ve said, we didn’t have Google.
The funniest part of it all now looking back is the fact that I didn’t understand half of the parodies in the first place. Great example: there was a song some of my friends thought was hilarious that went “despite a measly raise, I am starving on minimum wage.” I thought it was a funny song. But did I have any idea that this was a parody of Smashing Pumpkins’ hit “Bullet with Butterfly Wings?” No way! I was a sheltered homeschooler. I had NO idea who the Smashing Pumpkins were, and there’s no way I had ever heard the song Bullet with Butterfly Wings. If I had, I might have thought the parody was really funny. But I was blissfully ignorant and somehow still chuckled with my fellow teen boys on Friday night sleepovers about parodies to songs I had never heard the originals for.
(Incidentally, this proves my earlier point: this Smashing Pumpkins spoof was actually not written or recorded by Weird Al at all. It is, in fact, a tune by some DJ in Seattle named Bob Rivers, who performed silly songs for a radio station called KJR-FM. But who did the kids from my generation credit? Weird Al, of course—because it was a parody, and it said Weird Al on Napster. So there. Parody equals Weird Al.)
I knew dozens of Weird Al songs by heart. Weird Al was there to comfort me in my awkward teenage glory. All of this was back in 1999. I was 14 at the time. I was an annoying teenage kid with an obnoxious sense of humor.
As you’d expect, of course, I eventually matured. I moved on. I grew out of my fondness for geek music with burping noises, glorifying all things immature and uncivilized. I got older. I moved out of my parents’ house. I got a real job. I had my own car.
In fact, I kind of forgot all about parody songs altogether. They were juvenile, and now, I was an adult. Silly songs by the Yugoslavian accordion player were just a distant memory. UNTIL…
One day, in 2011, my wife came home and told me… hold on, hold on, I’ve got to back up a bit. Let me set the stage for this. Context is important.
In 2011, I was 26. I was married. I had been married for over five years by that point, and I had four kids. I was a responsible husband, a hard worker, and an experienced father. I was juggling real-life issues like “trying to avoid going bankrupt in the aftermath of ‘the great recession’ and living on one income, with a mortgage and five extra mouths to feed.” I hadn’t thought about Weird Al or the silly parodies that made previously me giggle like a maniac in many years. Probably… 12 years.
So, now do you get the picture?
As I said, one day in 2011, my wife came home from grocery shopping and told me that the local radio station she was listening to was holding a “make your own parody song” contest. All you had to do was create some funny lyrics to parody just about any pop song that the station would normally play. The prize for winning? Two free tickets with backstage passes to a Weird Al Yankovic show at the Pikes Peak Center in Colorado Springs (where we lived at the time). It was that simple. You could just come up with some funny lyrics and email them into the station. You didn’t even have to sing or make a recording.
Now, of all the things I was expecting my wife to tell me after coming home from grocery shopping… this was definitely… not on the list. I even asked her, “What? You like Weird Al Yankovic? Huh?” — Apparently, somehow, she did. Or she had. Or she didn’t even really care, but, hey, there were two free tickets to a show, and we were desperate for a date.
Good. I’m on board. But really…
WHERE WERE YOU ALL MY LIFE? WHY COULDN’T I HAVE MET YOU WHEN I WAS 14?!!! GOLLY!!
I felt like this was cosmic injustice: I’d suffered much ostracism in my teens by girls I didn’t even like, only to find out that the beautiful, mature young woman who married me and bore me multiple children… was actually a fan of the same nerdy songs that I suffered for.
It was just so… unfair.
Okay. But here we were now.
In something like 15 minutes, she cranked out an entire spoof of Bonnie Tyler’s song “I Need a Hero” and mutilated it into “I Need a Gyro” (like the Greek food).
She asked me to read it. It was hilarious. I told her to submit it. She did. She won the contest.
We got free two tickets to see Weird Al Yankovic and meet him backstage before the show.
And my 26-year-old brain nearly had an aneurysm trying to comprehend what had just happened. The night of the concert, I sifted through my closet to find the weirdest outfit I could possibly think of. I chose the acetate nylon disco shirt my dad made in his home economics class in high school in the 1970s. This was a shirt I had always been proud of being in possession of. It is a fantastically gaudy, shimmering gold shirt covered in cheetahs. I was sure I would make Weird Al proud.
So we went to the Pikes Peak Center and awkwardly stood around the backstage area, waiting for our moment with the man of the evening. As I stood in line, I wondered: “what am I going to say to him? If my adolescent self was able to see this moment, what would I have wanted me to say, or ask?”
I’m not good at coming up with clever things to say when meeting people that I would never normally meet in real life. And when I say “not good,” I mean really, really bad. What would you say to a musician that you thought was awesome as a kid, but you hadn’t thought about in a decade?
Weird Al was sitting at a table with some sharpie markers, and when it was our turn, we gave him something to sign, I don’t know… the concert program or something insignificant. I ended up saying something dumb like, “Hi there… so, does your birth certificate say Weird Al on it? He he he.” He gave a courtesy chuckle and said something like, “Uhh, no.”
We posed awkwardly for a photographer while Weird Al gazed in a creepy fashion at my wife, and then, we moved on. That was it. I had done it. I met Weird Al Yankovic.
Afterward, we went to the auditorium and sat down in our surprisingly crappy seats (you’d think that a “backstage pass” would get you decent seats, but alas, it did not). We sat in the very unremarkable middle orchestra section on the floor.
The show started, and we listened to over an hour of normal Weird Al fare, and I have to admit—I was surprised at how many songs he played that I didn’t recognize. As I found out later, that’s because, while I had stopped listening to Weird Al in the previous decade-plus, he had not stopped making albums. At least three albums had been released since the last one I heard (Running with Scissors). So there were some songs where I recognized the tunes from recent radio hits, but not the parodies.
On a side note, I will say this: I was struck by the diversity of the crowd. These were not all formerly-geeky males in their mid-twenties. There were men and women, young people, and older people. That was pretty surprising to me.
His show had a lot of silly videos on the big screen behind the stage, where he played cleverly-manipulated video footage to make it look like he was interviewing famous people. Inserting himself into the conversation, it appeared like he was actually in the same room, asking ridiculous questions and getting even stranger answers back. It was, not surprisingly, very juvenile. I giggled along with the crowd.
Overall, it was a great show, and I had fun. It was a pretty tame evening, and despite the fact that we were watching a sort of musical-comedy show, it was really quite a normal concert. Nothing was really even that weird. UNTIL the show ended and…
Hold on, once again, let me set the stage for this. As I’ve said, context is important.
So, my wife and I had four kids at that time. Our first child was born in a hospital, but our three subsequent children were born at home with the help of a midwife.
You’re surely wondering: “why on earth is he bringing that up?” I’ll tell you.
Our midwife is, and was, a big fan of Star Wars. Such a big fan, it turns out, that in her spare time, she likes to dress up as a Star Wars character and go with friends and family to shows and conventions. This is called, I’ve been told, “cosplay,” and it’s something that some people do on a regular basis. I knew this about her, and I thought it was kind of cool.
But what I didn’t know, and didn’t expect, was what happened after the last song of the evening was played. Weird Al left the stage, waited for the applause, then came back out on stage to play an encore—one of his biggest hits, “The Saga Begins,” which is the Star War-themed spoof of Don McLean’s massive chart-topper “American Pie.”
And who walked onto the stage with him? Darth Vader, and a bunch of Storm Troopers, including… our midwife.
That’s right. The woman who helped deliver three of my kids was wearing a Storm Trooper costume, holding a blaster rifle, standing on stage next to Weird Al Yankovic, at a concert my wife invited me to.
I can’t find the right words to explain just how I felt and what this evening was like. The whole experience was surreal. I still look back on this evening sometimes and think: “was that real, or did I dream it?”
All I can say in conclusion is that Weird Al Yankovic truly is the king of weird. Who else could have made an evening like this happen?
Well, okay, technically, my wife is the one who made it happen by submitting her own parody song in the radio station contest… but… you know what I mean.
And that’s how I met Weird Al Yankovic.
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