Lily E. Hirsch’s new book, “Weird Al Seriously,” gives a serious look to an artist whose work for past decades has been under appreciated. Weird Al is 60 years old (can you believe that?) and he’s still singing silly and twisted tunes. Artists like Yankovic are often dismissed as and not taken very seriously. As Dr. Demento writes in the book’s foreword, the music created by people who write and sing funny songs is “dismissed as ephemeral by serious music fans and as trivial by connoisseurs of spoken comedy.”
Hirsch writes “about the various aspects of Yankovic’s art that merit serious attention,” and encourages readers to listen with fresh ears to Yankovic’s classics. Many of you may be asking yourselves, “She’s joking, right? We’re talking about a goofy, long-haired, Hawaiian shirt wearing hippy.” Consider what are considered to be his “classics” - “I Love Rocky Road,” “Like a Surgeon” and “Another One Rides the Bus.”
Did you know that Yankovic has released 14 studio albums, has 5 Grammys, most recently was in 2014 for “Mandatory Fun,” which was not only the first comedy album ever to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart and is the first album to achieve that feat since parodist Allan Sherman’s “My Son, the Nut” in 1963.
“His songs,” Hirsch writes, “make us laugh, but also have a point of view, be it on society, popular culture, politics, race, gender, fame or words themselves.” Analyzing comedy is always a challenge but comedy junkies can’t help it because it’s just fun. Not so much when arrogant critics and haters do it. Hirsch gets that and includes an E.B. White’s quotes like “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” So, keep that mind when you read this book.
The book includes interesting insights like how his parents rented an accordion for their 7-year-old son from a door-to-door salesman; how he learned how to play rock-and-roll by listening to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”; how he was inspired to write funny songs by, of all things, the Johnny Cash song “Boa Constrictor,”; how Dr. Demento’s radio show introduced him to Sherman, Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones and other musical iconoclasts and encouraged him to submit his homemade recordings to Demento.
Hirsch writes that Yankovic’s intentions are always sincere as he always seeks permission to parody other people’s songs. Her interviews with Yankovic suggest her interactions suggest that he is that down to earth guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously.