THE GREATEST INTERVIEW OF ALL-TIME: GRAND ROYAL TALKS TO WEIRD AL YANKOVIC (PART 1 of 5)

al banner1aThree months ago, I was looking for Moog Cookbook things to share for our long-running ABC’s of Rock series on Facebook.  I remembered that there was something on them in the third issue of Grand Royal Magazine circa 1996, known as the Moog issue.  I’ve gotten rid of just about every music magazine I’ve ever touched but I can’t part with my Grand Royals, even though I haven’t touched them in at least 15 years.  Each issue of the short-lived Beastie Boy family-centric publication was an absolutely incredible piece of pop-culture curating. This edition came with a free iron-on and it was still in tact, so I had it put on a shirt, likely making me the only person to do so in this century.

Thumbing through the pages, I saw that it also had my favorite interview of all-time.  Not only is Weird Al interviewed by members of two of my favorite bands (Michael Diamond from Beastie Boys and Russell Simins from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) but there’s a backstory and some major league shenanigans going on throughout the ten(!) page article.   It really has to be read to be believed.  It’s so amazing that I assumed that it had to already be online somewhere but I couldn’t find it anywhere (except for a Weird Al messageboard mentioning that it’s maybe the longest, best interview he’s ever done).  I kept the magazine near the stacks of things to scan and someday share until tonight when I found it in a now-aborted attempt at organization.

As many of you know, Al is having the week of his career.  Thanks to the internet, “White and Nerdy” became the biggest hit of his career in 2006 and, since then, he’s mostly focused on the internet to release new songs while the songs he’s parodying are still popular.  For the release of his new album, Mandatory Fun, he’s releasing one video a day for eight days and, so far, they’ve all been brilliant.  Eight years after his unreal second wind, social media is pushing these videos around the world like never before. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so much attention paid to a new record and it’s only three days in.

Despite a busy week (thanks to a friend’s wedding and my “grandpa’s” band, Geezer) and having to work early tomorrow, I’m staying up late to scan in the article and post it in parts over the next few days.  Thanks to OnlineOCR.net, you don’t have to strain your eyes reading the small font and I didn’t have to retype it (phew).  It took awhile to format and proofread it (talk about word crimes) but I’ll try to get it up online by the end of the eight day video week.  Check our Facebook page to see when updates get added.  Enjoy.al-banner2

Large enough to claim the title of best selling novelty record artist of all time, Al is not simply some guy in loud clothes and fucked up hair who abuses puns. His retooled versions of smash hits and incessant polka medleys have earned him folklore hero status, yet he’s pretty humble about it. Instead he chooses to use his clout and circulation to spread a simple message to all earth people: don’t take yourself too seriously.

So the decision to do a the Grand Royal Interview with Al was easy and unanimous. Our primary concern: what worthy opponent could we send in to face off with a legend like Al? Enter 6-foot-plus-while-slouching Russell Simins, indie rock beat-keeper and certified Yankovic superfan. Russell’s extensive knowledge of all things Al—which includes a library of Weird Al documents, recordings and videos—not to mention an unparalelled enthusiasm for this project, lured Mike D into the foray as co-interviewer. Mike even went so far as purchase a new Radio Shack tape recorder and shoulder holster for the event. Originally scheduled in late 1995, the first interview attempt was a fucking disaster due to an email snafu that had Mike and Russell cooling down after a session on the court, oblivious to the fact that clear across town, Al was glued to a booth in a Hawaiian restaurant, boiling over after waiting an hour for his no-show inquisitors (a scene recreated here by famed courtroom illustrator Ben Pjorn).

It took nearly five months of coaxing before Al’s keepers relented with our numerous requests to reschedule, finally agreeing to an interview to coincide with the onslaught of publicity generated by the release of Al’s 16th record, Bad Hair Day. We waited until Russell was in town with the Yoko Ono IMA tour, booked the Tea Room in the posh Beverly Hills Hotel as ground zero and added the final ingredient into the mix: Spike Jonze, in deep cover as an obsessed and seriously injured Weird Al fanatic.

al1-1fullRussell: I just saw your new video (“Amish Paradise”) for the first time. It’s pretty cool. It’s the shit, of course, again.

Al: (giggles) Thanks.

Russell: But, you had no mustache, so it kinda threw me off. You had no mustache for the ‘Ricky’ video, too.

AI: Yeah, but that was like, ’83. We did the shots of me as myself early in the morning when I’m playing with my band, then I shaved it off and I did all the stuff as me as Ricky Ricardo. It was a big decision. My manager, actually, was pretty dead set against me shaving my mustache because…

Russell: Its your identity.

Al: Yeah, I’m kinda like this walking cartoon—I’m like this icon, in a way—and, ahh, it would throw everybody’s view of the world off-balance if I appeared in public without a mustache. I was pretty dedicated to making this a realistic video, and, ah, the Amish don’t have mustaches.

Russell: That’s the thing. You seem to go waaay out, and just, every detail. I mean, it’s pretty impressive.

[in the background] Mike: I’ll have aaah…chamomile tea.

Russell: I’m a, we’re all, both huge fans, yeah I’ll just have mineral water, actually.

AI: Yeah. same.

Mike: Yeah. I’ll have a mineral water as well, in addition. Yeah [coughs. Long pause as they look over menu]. You hungry Russell?

Russell: Mmmnot really.

Mike: You ate already? I gotta eat.

Russell: Kinda.

Mike: Wonder what the vegetable gazpacho, I’ll find out if that has no, ah, no funky business. But angel hair pompadoro, (laughs), I think I could have that.

Russell: That angel hair pompadoro here is amazing. I had that last night.

Mike: The pompadoro was working?

Russell: Yeahyeahyeahyeah. It’s really good.

gr moogMike: The pimpo-doro?

Russell: Yeah, it came complete with a pompadour.

Al [to Mike]: You’re a vegetarian too. That’s (trails off…)

Mike: Yeah.

Russell: So yeah, you’re a vegetarian, so what’s up with the burger in “Like a Surgeon”?

Mike: Yeah, I was, see, I was wondering about that. Did you have to have a real burger?

Russell: You see burgers in a lot of things you do. There’s the—

Al: —Actually, I only went vegetarian like four or five years ago.

Russell: Okay, so it actually was a real burger…

Al: —Yeah, in fact, when I’m eating Twinkie-wiener sandwiches in my movie, UHF—

Russell: There you go—

Al: — those were actual, Twinkle-wieners there.

Russell: That’s a fine sandwich.

Al: (giggles).

Russell: Anyway, what’s always fascinating to me, is how detailed and how meticulous you are with everything you do. The moves in the Michael Jackson stuff. And the moves in the James Brown stuff. And the clothes and the makeup, for like, the Nirvana stuff. I mean, how long did it take you to get those moves down, the Michael Jackson moves?

Al: I’m a total non-dancer, so it took a while to even approximate anything resembling the original moves. And for some of those videos, like for the Michael Jackson and James Brown videos, I did work with a choreographer. But I had storyboarded everything fairly tightly in advance. I said I want to copy this shot exactly and this shot exactly.

Russell: You sorta get it down, but you also, like, don’t have it down. Which kinda makes it cool.

Al: Well, some of the humor also comes from that. I mean, I’m really trying hard to copy the moves, but because I’m like this “awkward white guy” trying to be cool…I mean, that’s…

Russell: So, would you consider yourself to be obsequious? (dramatic pause)

Al: (inhales sharply) Heeheeheehee.

Russell (laughing): Like, like like….

Mike: That’s the new learned, the new word we’ve learned.

Al: (laughing)

Russell: You know, obsequious?

Al: No. Kinda snooty?

Mike & Russell: No.

Mike: Kind of needy, pretentiously…nice.

Russell: A yes-man.

Mike: A yes-man is obsequious.

Russell: Like in The Compteat Al video, when you go to visit Michael Jackson…

Mike: That’s genius (Al laughs).

Russell: You go visit him, and you’re begging him. Do you do that with everybody?

Al: Beg and plead? I’m pretty good at groveling. But, ah, I don’t do that all the time. I mean. Most of the time when I approach an artist, or my manager approaches an artist, at this point, they usually take it as a compliment, like, as a sign that they’ve reached a certain level in the pop community.

Russell: Did you meet Michael Jackson before you did that, or did you just talk to him, or have someone talk to him?

AI: Not before, that was all done over the phone when we were getting permission. But I’ve met him a few times since then. And he’s been very nice, he, ah—

Russell: —He likes the videos?

AI: —He got the joke, yeah, and he likes the videos, and, ah, he’s been a fan, which has helped a lot.

Mike: Any plans to return to any of his material?

Al: I’ve kind of decided not to at this point. Just because, for one thing, I’ve done him twice already, and that’s becoming kind of an albatross around my neck that people think of me as the guy that does the Michael Jackson parody.

Mike: Exactly.

Al: Plus, I mean, it would be kind of difficult to do a Michael Jackson parody without making reference to, ahh, recent events in his life—

Mike: Yyy…(laughs)

Al: —and I really don’t want to do that.

Russell: So you like all the stuff you parody? I mean…

Al: Well…you know. I wouldn’t say that. I tend to pick songs I like to parody because I know that I’m gonna to be living with them for a long period of time. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of  Milli Vanilli, Tiffany, or New Kids On The Block, but, they just, I kinda just have to ride what’s currently popular.

Russell: Tiffany’s “I Think I’m a Clone Now”, right?

AI: Right.

Mike: But, you’re a big fan of music. I’ve talked to people who have seen you at shows fairly often, in the area and all.

Al: Sure.

Mike: Like, someone mentioned to me you were at the REM show?

Al: Yeah. Big REM fan.

Mike: Cool. And then also, I have a friend who’s friends with Liz Phair.

Al: Uh huh—I got to meet her at the show!

Mike: Yeah. you got to meet her. So how was that?

Al: That was great. I love Liz Phair too. That was really…that was a kick.

Mike: So, no big Liz Phair plans in the future?

Al: I don’t know. I was considering using her in the—

Russell:—Yo, we’re talking about marriage. (Mike and Russell crack up)

Al: Oh, that kind of plans. I don’t know. Is she available? I heard she was actually married.

Mike: Oh yeah, she did get married.

Al: So that kinda killed it for me. ‘Cause, you know….but let me know if things aren’t working out and I’ll look into it.

Russell: What do you think of Debbie Gibson teaming up with the Circle Jerks?

Al (guffaws): I didn’t hear about that. What’s she doing?

Russell: She did some show at CBGB’s with them—

Al:—That’s very cool.

Mike (to waitress): Can we order some food? I’ll have the angel hair with tomato. Ali, pompadoro, as you might like to call it.

Russell: —She stage dove and was in the Post. The picture—

Mike: —Al, do you want to angel hair?

Al: Yeah, please.

Mike: That has no meat. right?

Waitress: No.

Al: Oh, that’s very cool. My opinion of her just…

Mike: Russell?

Russell: Uhmm, I’m just gonna have…this is fine.

Mike: Do you have a small mixed salad?

Waitress: The musculin salad. It has balsamic vinaigrette on it.

Mike: Okay, yeah, I’ll have that as well.

al2fullRussell: We saw, I saw, the billboard for Bad Hair Day yesterday. You got the Coolio hair. Did you talk to Coolio at all?

l: Well, let me tell you the whole story there. This has been a very controversial thing and I haven’t really talked about this yet with anybody.

Mike: (coughs).

Russell: Okay, great.

Al: But what happened was, I was under the impression Coolio was fine with the song. I went to my record company late last year and said, ‘I want to do a parody of “Gangsta’s Paradise” and so, do you guys have any kind of connections with Coolio? And so it turns out, a couple of people from the record company were going to a party that Coolio was going to be at. They told me after the party, they had talked to him about it and he was one with the whole idea. So based on that I started recording a song. In the middle of production, I hear that Coolio’s management is not thrilled with the whole idea. But my record company is saying, “Well, Coolio’s one with it, so we’ll iron things out.”

Russell: They’re not thrilled about the actual idea or the fact that you’re just doing a parody of it all?

Al: Both. Well, I think mostly that I was doing a parody. But I was told that Coolio was still fine with it and that my record company would still iron it out and not to worry about it. And then I did the American Music Awards with him, I co-presented with him, me with the Coolio-type hair. And Coolio was great, he was a terrific sport and we got along great. And I figured, you know, everything’s going to work out. And then, the night of the Grammy® Awards, Coolio wins for Best Rap album. And…

Russell: Good choice. (Mike and Russell laugh).

Al: …and backstage, a reporter asks him, you know, “So, what do you think of this new Weird Al parody, ‘Amish Paradise’?” and Coolio just kinda goes off on him, and says, “I didn’t approve it, didn’t sanction that. I didn’t appreciate him desecrating my song like that. He…

Russell: Went off.

AI: And that was the first that I had heard of it, ’cause I was completely under the impression that Coolio was fine with it. I don’t mind that managers don’t like it. Because, you know—

Russell: They’re managers.

AI: I’m used to managers getting in the way and being over-protective and not really representing their client. I’ve had more than one occasion where a manager says “Oh, my client would never be interested in this” and then I talk to the artist and they go “Oh, I’d love it!” I’ve since written Coolio a very humble and sincere letter of apology and explained everything from my perspective.

Russell: And, did he respond?

Al: No, no and don’t really expect him to. But I hope he cools down a little bit ’cause that’s really sad that that happened.

Russell: So, is your life at risk?

Al: (laughs)

Mike: How about your relationship with LV, though? Now that’s a whole different matter. I heard you guys are pretty…

Al: I was trying to get him in the video but I guess that didn’t happen.

CLICK TO READ PART TWO WITH SPIKE JONZE !

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