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Weird Al’s Sci-Fi Roots Told by His Long Time Drummer and Photographer

Photos like this, from the “Eat It” video, fill a new Weird Al photography book by Jon Schwartz.

Photographs like this, from the “Eat It” video, fill a brand new Bizarre Al pictures ebook by Jon Schwartz.
Picture: Jon Schwartz/1984 Publishing

Everybody has a Bizarre Al reminiscence—whether it was listening to a track of his when you have been growing up, watching a video on MTV, or only a common information of his persona, Bizarre Al Yankovic is undoubtedly an icon. However if you happen to begin evaluating recollections, one man has greater than anybody…moreover perhaps Al himself. It’s Jon Schwartz, the musician’s longtime drummer and photographer, who carried out each duties for him for many years.

Schwartz is about to launch Black & White & Bizarre All Over, a 208-page, hardcover espresso desk ebook crammed with by no means earlier than seen pictures of Bizarre Al’s rise to fame, from 1983 via 1986. That features music video shoots for songs like “I Love Rocky Highway” and “Eat It,” in addition to glimpses into the recording studio on the album The Polka Social gathering.

None of that are sci-fi. However we at io9 figured there is perhaps some crossover between sci-fi fans and Weird Al fans so we did a bit of Q&A with Schwartz over e-mail about Al’s sci-fi roots. Test it out.

Schwartz and Yankovic.

Schwartz and Yankovic.
Picture: 1984 Publishing

Germain Lussier, io9: Al is type of a nerd god. Do you know he had that in him instantly, and what are some methods his geekiness has manifested itself over the course of your friendship?

Jon Schwartz: I feel most followers of the Dr. Demento Present, Monty Python, and The Three Stooges possess a excessive nerd issue. That described each of us and is undoubtedly why we get alongside so effectively. It helps that we’re nonetheless younger at coronary heart which additionally retains issues enjoyable, even after 40 years. Issues by no means get too severe.

io9: We’re operating a number of pictures out of your ebook of Al within the creepy eyes from the “Eat It” video shoot. What’s the story there?

Schwartz: These have been a nod to Michael Jackson’s demon eyes in the “Thriller” video, made with a bit of Hollywood magic. They’re ping pong balls sliced and painted yellow with a black cat’s eye pupil, “cemented” over Al’s eyes and touched-up with make-up for a seamless look. Besides there weren’t holes for him to see via! Al was led by the hand to the set for the ultimate shot the place he appears up into the digicam.

More of Al’s transformation.

Extra of Al’s transformation.
Picture: Jon Schwartz/1984 Publishing

io9: What’s the first particularly sci-fi reminiscence you might have of Al? Is it a track, you two watching a film, a selected dialogue?

Schwartz: Al had simply recorded “Yoda” shortly earlier than I met him, so I figured he was eager on sci-fi. It wasn’t a distinguished theme in his music, however there have been a number of songs that exposed that aspect of him together with “Slime Creatures From Outer House,” “Assault of the Radioactive Hamsters From a Planet Close to Mars,” “I Suppose I’m a Clone Now,” proper via the latest album’s conspiracy tinged “Foil.” You additionally see a bit of it in the videos, in “Dare To Be Silly” Al is working an interocitor.

io9: Two of essentially the most iconic Bizarre Al sci-fi songs are both Star Wars related: “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins.” Utilizing these two songs, how do you assume he modified, how did the music change, and do you might have any particular recollections or tales about these songs?

Schwartz: There’s a 20-year hole between these songs, with every being a parody of an older track. That speaks effectively of the unique songs, Star Wars, and Al’s potential to tie all of them collectively and make them related. They usually’ve remained related—each “Yoda” and “Saga” are fan favorites after 40 and 21 years respectively. Al manages to maintain them as contemporary as once they have been new. In that respect, he hasn’t actually modified a lot. He nonetheless appeals to youthful, nerdy followers, and on the similar time has stored a big share of followers from 30-plus years in the past. The age vary is sort of huge at a Bizarre Al present, from six to 60 and up. The older followers even deliver their youngsters and grandkids.

“Yoda” has been carried out at nearly each present Al has executed since recording it in 1980. That was an accordion-only model, and followers of the Dr. Demento present loved that till a full-band model was launched on the Dare To Be Silly album in 1985. What most followers don’t know is that we had additionally recorded the track for the primary album, however permission didn’t come via as deliberate, and the observe was scrapped earlier than Al might overdub his vocals. None of us have a replica and the tapes are buried deep in Sony’s vault, making it the rarest recording of all.

“Saga” was among the many first recordings made in a brand new studio after leaving our long-time dwelling at Santa Monica Sound Recorders. Al had an excellent thought of the plot of The Phantom Menace in advance of the film’s launch (because of web leaks!) and had just about written the entire track with out having seen the movie. However so as be 100% correct, he waited till he might attend an advance screening, and we recorded the track a number of days later. The “Saga” single and Working With Scissors album have been launched a few month after the film was launched, so the timing was excellent.

The unique “American Pie” was over eight and a half minutes, however with a view to be extra radio-friendly for the ‘90s, Al eliminated some verses and choruses to herald his parody at 5 and a half minutes. “Saga” can also be a live performance spotlight because of the looks onstage of members from native 501st Legion chapters. That started in 2003 on the Western Washington Truthful close to Seattle, and by 2007 had turn into a daily a part of the dwell present. The members are normally large Al followers, and love being a part of the present!

io9: Take me via what you realize of the Weird Al process. How does he hear a track and work out, “Oh that is gonna be a Star Wars parody” or “Oh that is gonna be a meals parody.” Or does he have the parody thought first after which match it to the track?

Schwartz: Like a variety of youngsters, or adults who’re youngsters at coronary heart, Al would hear a lyric and consider a distinct, foolish line that matches. “Complete Lotta Love” simply turned “Complete Lotta Lunch,” “Beat It” turned “Eat It” and so forth. Actually, meals was a typical theme for a number of of his early parodies. The identical lyric twists utilized to components of popular culture, and Star Wars’ Yoda character instantly introduced the Kinks’ “Lola” to thoughts for a parody.

In fact, it helped if the goal track was well-known in order that the listener might admire why Al’s new lyrics are humorous. If a track was over-played and other people have been type of sick of it, that additionally made it ripe for parody. It was a bonus if the goal track’s video had potential for parody, though Al generally took his video in a totally completely different course. For instance, “Ricky” was about as removed from Toni Basil’s “Mickey” as you could possibly get. As soon as Al had a full track’s value of lyrics, then it was time to hunt permission from the unique track’s writers. If Al acquired the go-ahead, the band was then anticipated to re-create the music as carefully as attainable, and that may very well be difficult. It took a eager ear and an open thoughts to discover new sounds and kinds, and I’m proud to say we by no means let Al down.

Within the occasion that Al solely had a number of fundamental lyrics, the partial parody was typically relegated to a medley as a “concert-only” track. In some instances the place the parody was full however permission was denied, resembling “Snack All Evening” and “Rooster Pot Pie,” a portion of the track may additionally find yourself within the medley. There’s an inventory of all live performance songs within the Archives part.

The book cover.

The ebook cowl.
Picture: 1984 Publishing

io9: Lastly, what are your high 5 Bizarre Al style songs (sci-fi, horror, and so on), and why?

Schwartz: Sci-fi: “Slime Creatures From Outer Space” is an Al unique that sounds a bit like Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive.” It’s uptempo, has some space-age synth sounds, I acquired to make use of my new Simmons digital drums on the observe, and there’s even a drum solo—what’s to not like? Particular point out for “Assault of the Radioactive Hamsters From a Planet Near Mars,” a enjoyable e-z rocker with spacey sounds, and in addition Al’s longest track title.

Horror: “Nature Trail To Hell In 3-D” is a rockin’ track with Cub Scouts getting hacked up, severed heads, you realize, the same old fare. A number of enjoyable to play dwell. Particular point out for “Jurassic Park” the place I acquired to play the elements of considered one of my favourite drummers, Hal Blaine, who performed on the unique “MacArthur Park.” I used to be acquainted with Hal, and after I performed him our track, he acquired kinda weepy. I hope it was as a result of I did job!

Illustration for article titled Weird Als Sci-Fi Roots as Told to Us by His Long Time Drummer and Photographer

Picture: Jon Schwartz/1984 Publishing

Catastrophes: Is that even a style? With Al it’s! “Christmas At Ground Zero” is a cheerful ditty in regards to the finish of the world, incongruously set to a traditional Phil Spector Christmas track vibe. I once more acquired to “be” Hal Blaine on that one and in addition performed sleigh bells (or as I name them, SLAY bells!).

Dance: “Word Crimes” has a few of Al’s greatest lyrics, a fantastic animated video, and can also be enjoyable to play dwell. It’s a enjoyable lesson spawned from the grammatical errors so prevalent on the ‘web, and I realized a number of issues as effectively. Many followers regard it because the lead observe from the Necessary Enjoyable album, and I must agree.

Rap: “Couch Potato” is a parody of Eminem’s “Lose Your self” and primarily based on considered one of Al’s recurring themes, pop culture. On this case, it’s about being a sofa potato in entrance of the TV, and the lyrics embody a plethora of TV exhibits, channels, and celeb names. There was no video for this one, Eminem okay’d the recording however wouldn’t grant the sync rights wanted for the video. However that didn’t hold the album out of Billboard’s high 10, which is testimony to the energy of the track alone.

Black & White & Bizarre All Over is out on November 17. Order a copy at this link.

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Germain Lussier on io9, shared by Kaitlyn Jakola to Gizmodo