Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Weird Al the Book by Nathan Rabin and Al Yankovic
On a message board dedicated to another music act we have a thread dedicated to the genius of Weird Al - yes, when you think about it, Al does more than switch out lyrics to popular songs. He writes funny original songs as well - some topical, some macabre (Al was singing about psycho Santas before it was cool), others sticking to the comfort zones of food and television. The amazing thing about Al, though, is that after 30+ years in the business he continues to dominate the comedy music genre. Singers come and go, and some stubbornly refuse to budge - we can argue that Lady Gaga replaces Madonna, and Taylor Swift replaces Shania Twain...but I can't think of one heir apparent to Al. He's got it locked.
When I saw Weird Al: The Book, I wondered if it was produced in similar vein to The Compleat Al, a parody documentary of Al's life which is (I think) out of print. It surprised me, therefore, to discover this is a serious (but not devoid of humor) biography of Yankovic presented in a pseudo-scrapbook format with Rabin's research interspersed with numerous pictures and input from Al - commentary and a selection of the singer's best Tweets. If you have seen the Behind the Music special on Al, you probably won't find anything new here aside from everything that's happened since the special first aired: marriage, family, and an untimely tragedy. As Al intimated at the beginning of the VH1 show, he was surprised anybody would want to profile him, given he hasn't lived a life of scandal and debauchery, which for many equates to interesting.
So, you won't find any crooked skeletons in Yankovic's closet - no dish from ex-girlfriends, no mug shots, no reports of squandering royalties on troll dolls. However, being Weird Al does not come free of headaches. I found his clashes with his record label interesting - you do come away learning a bit about how the industry works, and what some people will do to empty a consumer's wallet. You'll also learn that it doesn't always pay to be the biggest fish in certain ponds.
As it's written and presented, you get the impression Weird Al: The Book is for the fans, and if you're die-hard into Al you probably already own it and don't need me to review it for you. If you like Al's music, it's worth a read to gain more insight into the parody process - it's more involved than you think, and Al is more than just weird.
Kathryn Lively is a mystery author and book blogger.