Weird Al: The Book, by Nathan Rabin with Al Yankovic
I have long been a fan of Weird Al –who could not be a fan of an iconoclastic, nerdy, accordian playing person who has successfully mashed up polka, pop, rock, and rap music with seeming effortless ease, mastering covers as well as original songs. This is clearly a book written with the fan in mind. Coming in at 200 large and glossy pages, this is a book that is both easy to read and easy to appreciate. It gives backstage personal information at the rise of Weird Al, how it was that he conceived of his career, the importance of good connections, and the way that he long sought to obtain permission from the singers and labels he worked with in order to maintain good relationships with the artists he spoofed, most of whom (correctly) saw it as an honor that he would set their tunes to some sort of ridiculous but on point message. I think that for me and possibly many others it was the combination of seriousness and riotously funny elements in Weird Al songs that have kept me coming back again and again to his material for the almost past three decades since I became familiar with his songs.
This book has some major contributions, it should be noted, by Weird Al drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, whose obsessive collection of Weird Al arcana really makes this book even better. The singer and accordian player himself introduces the book with a humorous reflection of the author’s successful desire to have a coffee table book about him. After that there is a substantial amount of material about the parody artist as a young man, with family photos and a discussion of his early career as an artist seeking fame on the Dr. Demento show and how he got a degree in architecture as a fallback option he thankfully never had to use. The second chapter of the book explores his initial period of popularity in the 1980’s through his spoofs of Michael Jackson hits like “Eat It” and “Fat,” his failed “Polka Party” album and the unfortunate financial failure that was UHF. After this, the third chapter examines the success of Weird Al’s career in the 1990’s thanks to the rise of Kurt Kobain and Weird Al’s timely rap spoofs, a decade in which he had hits and good album sales but his label went bankrupt. The fourth chapter discusses his adoption of a new look and his marriage and albums of the 2000’s, while the book closes with a discussion of the Alpocalypse (and hints at Mandatory Fun, though it is not included here) as well as a discography, videography, and photo credits.
This book has the warmth of an official exploration of the life of a massively popular artist that would look good on any coffee table. And I say this as someone who has no coffee table but has a lot of books who would look good on it, I must say. Weird Al appears like someone who has managed to find a worthwhile niche as someone who uses the songs and adapts the styles of other artists in such a way as to pay homage while also poking gentle fun of the culture he is a part of. By urging listeners not to take everything in life so seriously, he serves as both a timely social critic of the problems of commercialism, the downsides of love and vacations, and the nature of pop culture and technology, and many other subjects. If Weird Al were not so good at what he does and had not acquired such a positive relationship with both other artists as well as a wide and appreciative listening audience, it is possible that he would be considered a parasite of culture rather than an immensely influential part of it. Here’s hoping that he is able to create timely and entertaining music for a long time to come.
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