Nearly a decade ago I wrote a book about Star Wars fan culture that did not get published. This PDF contains the story of that failure, some chunks of the original manuscript, a few new essays about our nutso ewok lifestyle, and original artwork by dear friends.
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Happy Hanukkah. Stay funky, you crazy jawa jockeys.
Here’s an interview I did with “Weird Al” Yankovic for Crawdaddy! in 2011. “You asked some very interesting questions,” he remarked when we were done, which for sanity’s sake I must interpret as a compliment. Photo by Casey Curry/Invision/AP.
For three decades, one name has reigned supreme in the field of parody-based musical comedy: “Weird Al” Yankovic. From “Eat It” to “Smells Like Nirvana” to “White and Nerdy,” Yankovic has won the hearts of millions churning out strange, funny twists on Top 40 hits, his appeal spanning various generations, genders, social strata, and pickle preference. Al was kind enough to grant us a few minutes on the eve of his thirteenth full-length release, Alpocalypse, so we could regale the Pride of Lynwood, CA, with queries about his rumored fight with Billy Joel’s relatives, his implied “Family Ties” obsession, and what he knew of Macho Man Randy Savage’s unexpected hamster aversion.
Okay, let’s clear something up right now—did you not release your early ’80s parody “It’s Still Billy Joel To Me” because Billy Joel’s family strongly disapproved and there was some kind of altercation on a red carpet somewhere?
[Laughs] No, no, no…I never put it out because by time I got a record deal the song seemed too dated. It wasn’t topical anymore, there were a lot of references in there I thought people wouldn’t get, and also, it was kinda mean spirited, you know, and that was a little out of character for me. I wrote it in college, never thinking that Billy Joel would actually ever hear it, but eventually some local TV show played the song for him…and he was clearly a little put off by. So, I felt bad.
You have a lot of quasi-legendary unreleased recordings from your early years like “Billy Joel,” such as “Belvedere Cruising” and “Pacman.” Would you ever consider releasing an Al rarities record?
No, because I think the people that would appreciate those songs have already managed to track them down. You can bit torrent all those early horrible tracks I did. [Laughs] I wouldn’t say I’m embarrassed by those songs, but I wouldn’t want to promote them now because they don’t represent my current level of work.
Not to harp on this angle, but everyone knows Prince has steadfastly refused to sign off on your parodies of his work, and it seems from time to time that there’s legitimate anger on your part about that. Was he rude to you about your ideas, or was there an incident?
Yeah, [Prince] has become my scapegoat over the years, but to be fair I haven’t asked him to parody anything in the last decade. Back in the 1980s, though, he obviously had a few hits that I thought leant themselves to parody. Every time I asked, he responded with a flat no, but he never gave a reason. [Sighs] It was frustrating, but there’s no hard feelings. I mean, he never personally threw a drink on me at a party or anything like that. Prince is just a very talented but ostensibly humorless artist.
Has anyone ever been on the fence about your ideas? Like, have you had to gently nudge anyone into agreeing?
Hmmm, my manager would be a better person to ask about that, as he’s the one who’s usually in contact with these people. As far as I know, everyone’s usually very receptive. What I can tell you is a lot of the time [the] management of the people I’m interested in parodying don’t return our calls, like in this recent Lady Gaga incident, so I’m sent on a quest to find original artist. That happened with Kurt Cobain, it happened with MC Hammer—and with the few known exceptions they’re always more than happy to agree to it.
How did you track down Hammer? Did you find out where he shot all those Pepsi commercials and just show up?
[Laughs] No, it was some kind of awards show, like the American Music Awards or something. I went there specifically because I knew he would be performing and I hung around back stage so I could “accidentally” bump into him. And, of course, he was totally cool and receptive to the [“U Can’t Watch This”] parody.
Have you ever had the perfect parody in mind for a song that wasn’t really popular enough to parody?
Well, generally, if a song isn’t popular enough it doesn’t make it on my radar. I’ll tell ya, when Nirvana came on the scene, I didn’t immediately have an idea but I thought, Wouldn’t be cool if they got popular enough to make fun of? Then the album went to number one, and that was that.
Did you have anything on deck in case Nirvana didn’t blow up?
No…if that didn’t happen, I would have just waited for the next cultural movement.
Did you get to hang out with all those celebs in Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” video, or was all that filmed at separate times?
I got to hang out with a lot of them, but not all of them. Dan Aykroyd was there, so was Steve Guttenburg. Michael Jackson wasn’t there, but I had met him previously.
Has any parody of yours ever been a hit that you personally felt was maybe a little subpar, or vice versa? Have you ever had something you thought was amazing that just didn’t go over?
I never really know how things are gonna go. “It’s All About the Pentiums,” I thought that was gonna be a much bigger hit than it was. We had a great high budget video, some hot video vixens, some great celebrity cameos…I thought it was going to be huge. But then it came out, and it wasn’t. Now, when I did “White and Nerdy” a few years later, I knew it was a great song but part of me thought, “This is the same basic subject as [‘Pentiums’],” and then “White and Nerdy” turned out to be my biggest hit ever.
Your new album Alpocalypse is scheduled for release on June 21, which is the joint birthday of “Family Ties” stars Meredith Baxter and Michael Gross. Did you do that on purpose? Is there some kind of hidden “Family Ties” subtext within the album that true fans have to decipher?
Well, everything happens for a reason. No, I can honestly say I didn’t plan that, but I’ll have to look into it, do some research.
Is it true that the late Macho Man Randy Savage almost backed out of his appearance on “The Weird Al Show” in 1997 when he found out he was supposed to lose his wrestling match with Harvey the Wonder Hamster?
Things were definitely touch and go with Randy Savage. He was not sure he should lose to a hamster, and we had to explain to him, you know, “That’s the joke,” that you wouldn’t expect this heavyweight world champion to lose to a hamster. So he said, “Well, alright…it’s not a girl hamster, is it?” [Laughs] And we said, “No, it’s a boy hamster, don’t worry.”
The following piece was originally published in a slightly rawer / clunkier form in 2008 via the Crawdaddy! website. Though the careers of both Van Halen and Weezer march on (inexplicably, almost vexingly) I believe the core truth here continues to ring true.
The biggest mistake my generation ever made, aside from dismissing funny man Norm MacDonald once he left “Saturday Night Live,” was believing from day one that Weezer was just kidding around about all those 1970s hard rock references. Oh, those jokers, we thought upon hearing “In The Garage.” No way do they have KISS posters on their walls. It’s probably all Frank Black collages. We were similarly tickled when the Weezer logo was unveiled, a giant W that aped the flashy symbol of party metal gods Van Halen. Finally, Gen X had taken a direct shot at those Dutch assholes, and it felt so good.
A decade later, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Weezer fan from way back who isn’t infuriated by the trajectory their career has taken. The quirky little bubble gum grunge band behind such heart-on-the-sleeve anthems as “Say It Ain’t So” and “Tired of Sex” has become an arena-filling Top 40 machine, authoring vapid hits like “Beverly Hills” (the video of which was filmed at the friggin’ Playboy Mansion!). Shame on them for selling out? No, shame on us for not realizing much sooner that Weezer’s prime directive was never to keep the Cobain flame burning. Unlike their Seattle contemporaries, this slick, L.A.-birthed group never openly declared war on David Lee Roth and the spandex nation he begat because their dream was always to conquer it.
After all, lead Weez Rivers Cuomo started out in a heavy metal band, Avant Garde (later called Zoom), decked out with requisite poofy hair, severe facial expressions, and six string wizardry. Had the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams not crushed the Sunset Strip’s skull with their Doc Martins and dropped D tuning, there’s a chance we’d know a very different Rivers C (whose “rocker” pseudonym was Peter Kitts). Luckily, Riv wasn’t just a flashy guitarist—he could also craft a heartbreaking melody. This would prove useful in the days of flannel and Luke Perry sideburns. Ultimately, it would make Rivers Cuomo the Clinton-era’s Eddie Van Halen (read: guitar genius with funny name).
At a time when Van Halen was floundering, wondering how they’d connect with the kids of the rabid fans they drew into football stadiums fifteen years earlier, Weezer burst forth with 1994’s Weezer; the album has its beautiful, introspective songs, but it also has plenty of rockin’ radio anthems teenagers loved to blast as they zoomed out of their high school’s parking lot on any given mid-nineties afternoon (“My Name Is Jonas,” “Surf Wax America”). It was definitely the record you threw on a party if you wanted to get people moving. Loud guitars, isolationist lyrics, earnest melodies, sitcom references—there was something for everybody. This broad appeal and demographic balance was something bands like Everclear and Silverchair couldn’t quite master. At a time when it was still slightly frowned upon, Weezer became America’s only bona fide rock stars.
The so-called “glory years” of Van Halen and Weezer were both relatively short. David Lee Roth exited VH after half a decade (give or take) and was replaced with Sammy Hagar. This was considered blasphemous to hardcore fans, many of whom disowned the band immediately and dubbed the new, mature Van Halen “Van Hagar.” The departure of Weezer bassist Matt Sharp after 1996’s cathartic Pinkerton didn’t illicit a comparable reaction, but it did close the book on Weezer’s “classic era.” What’s interesting is that while Van Hagar soldiered on making albums that bordered on adult contemporary and struggled for relevance, Weezer went on hiatus following Sharp’s take off, almost as if to say, “You know what? This might be it.”
Oddly, the disappearance of alterna-rock’s favorite sons allowed them to ascend to Van Halen-esque levels of reverence in the minds of anyone who was on the fence before. At the close of the nineties, lyrical couplets from Pinkerton were just as oohed and aahed over as any pentatonic explosion Eddie V. ever played. Emo bands proudly wore the Weezer influence on their sleeve in the same manner late eighties hair bands solemnly praised Roth and Co. in their prime. Would the now-legendary nerds ever return and grace us with their awkward pop laced with junk culture quips and wanky leads?
Yes, they would, at the exact moment the world was just bursting at the seams for more Weezer. In 2001, Rivers, rhythm guitarist Brian Bell, and drummer Patrick Wilson came out of hiding (with rookie bassist Mikey Welsh) and mounted the arena tour they probably always dreamed about. Fans made cross country treks and hung out in parking lots for hours in hopes of catching a glimpse of the sweater-wearing foursome in their giant Ecolounge bus. Sound like steaming heaps of rock n’ roll bullshit? It was.
Weezer could still put together a catchy tune or three, though, as evidenced on that year’s creatively titled Weezer (a.k.a. The Green Album) and 2002’s Maladroit. If those two were the Women And Children First and Fair Warning of the Weezer catalog, respectively, then 2005’s Make Believe was without question their 1984. The difference is, whereas Van Halen was praised for graduating to light, fun pop, Weezer was derided for not offering up more mopey opuses of regret and longing, the stuff many fell for in the first place.
Anyone who goes to see Van Halen or Weezer in this day and age is trying to recapture something from years past. With the former, it’s probably the beer-soaked nights of the Reagan eighties, when the sex was loose and pink mesh was not a crime. With the latter, it’s the self-conscious nineties, when the sex was a painful mystery and buttoning the top button was not a crime. Weezer as a nostalgia act stings for many people I know, people who were hoping the band’s 21 Century return would herald Pinkerton II. As much as we want Rivers Cuomo to be our Brian Wilson, that’s not the way he wanted it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have added those wings to the W in the first place.
Our shared frustration be summed up in a lyric Diamond Dave shouted on 1978’s Van Halen at the start of the ferocious “I’m the One”:
“We came here to entertain you, leaving here we aggravate you, don’t you know it means the same to me, honey?”
A: One of the top questions I get since the release of This Music Leaves Stains and most certainly a thing that makes many a person on Earth go, “Hmmmm.” Monica Byrne recently posted a succinct answer / explanation to this on her blog; click here to read it. I would only add a few bits:
– you don’t necessarily have to finish writing your book before making the steps toward publishing; I only had two or three chapters done for TMLS when I started reaching out (in late 2010) to agents and smaller publishers who accept submissions from authors and it was still far from fini when I signed the contracts with Rowman & Littlefield (in early 2012)
– however it plays out, at some point you’ll probably have to write a proposal for your book (so as to avoid having the same conversations with a thousand different industry people); a proposal consists of one or two sample chapters, an explanation of who you are / your relation to the subject, an explanation of the book’s intended audience, any ideas you have for marketing, descriptions of similar pre-existing books, and a bit on how long the book will be and if it’ll require any special kind of formatting
– dovetailing with the racism and sexism of the publishing world is its age, which is predominantly old; the only reason TMLS exists is because one of the younger editors behind the project (someone actually involved in punk) showed the ruling board a Misfits Facebook page and there were enough members to prove to them that this band has some kind of value; recently I began work on another book that will focus on punk rock history and Taylor, the R&L imprint that released the paperback of TMLS, turned it down because their agenda is heading toward Baby Boomer material
Of course, per that last point, Monica notes in her post that we have the power to alter everything. So don’t give up, let’s smash the system, write write write, feel free to ask me anything about my nascent experiences in publishing at any time.
A: Who knows. Pick any as I shuffle through my fifty-two deck of issues. Possibly the way I run away from conflict. Conflict isn’t always bad—there are many instances where it’s healthy and constructive and a stepping stone to the strengthening of a relationship—but my gut reaction no matter what is to hightail it in the other direction. That tends to give people the impression that I don’t care, which is rarely true and something I don’t like.
I’m trying to fix this. Trying to rope off my comfort zones, box myself out for the sake of growth. Isn’t that what life is all about? Growth? Striving to be a better person? That’s what my neighbor’s dog told me, anyway.
I used to have this killer “NBA Jam” shirt. Found it at Goodwill for a few bucks. At some point greed got the best of me and I flipped it on eBay for double digits. Yes, I have great taste and amazing business acumen.
A: Once, in the parking lot of an Albany area Chipotle. I was driving by, on my way to an event or meeting of some apparent importance, because I convinced myself not to stop. I’ll check it out on the way back, I reasoned.
Well guess what? That Wienermobile ghosted me. ‘Twas nowhere in sight upon my return. Just one of many defeats I suffered in the hands of New York’s capital city. Albany, I got a war with you.
They don’t serve wieners at Chipotle, do they? Seems like a ballsy move for the Wienermobile. Just showing up in some unaffiliated restaurant’s parking lot. Maybe the driver was simply picking up his lunch. A little south o’ the border nosh. Hey, I’ll never know. I thought I had to be somewhere.
A decade ago I wrote a book about Star Wars fandom. It didn’t get published. Now, a thrilling e-book will recount that non-publishing, with large portions of the original manuscript, plus brand new essays reflecting on where you and I and Chewbacca are in this frightening day and age. If you’ve ever wondered about the mechanics of the literary world and what it feels like when you get trapped in the gears, this is the e-book for you. Also, if you’re super into lightsaber construction and ewok mating rituals and junk like that.
Arriving Hanukkah 2015.
[EXT. A PIER ON MANHATTAN’S WEST SIDE, OVERLOOKING THE HUDSON RIVER – SUNSET]
HER: [NERVOUS] I have to tell you something.
HER: You know [GAME SHOW HOST]? I dated his son.
HIM: Really? That’s pretty cool. Honestly. Was he nice?
HER: I mean, I say “dated,” but it was really a one night stand.
HIM: Oh, okay. You know, that’s cool too.
HER: I don’t want you to think I’m crazy or weird because of it. Or a slut.
HIM: [LAUGHING] Why would I think that? That’s just…life.
HIM: It doesn’t change my opinion of you.
HIM: You wanna get some fried chicken?
If they made a “Freaks & Geeks” style television program about my high school years (1993-97) I’m certain this would be the theme song. It seems to capture whatever that time was about (confusion, apathy, Windows ’95). I’d also find Spacehog’s “In The Meantime” acceptable.
Potential plot lines for this program: getting my very first job at Taco Bell and nearly choking to death during my first shift after accidentally inhaling a straw wrapper; the hellish term I spent in summer school trying to pass algebra; all the bonkers stuff that happened during senior prank week (never-ending fire alarms, live mice dumped on our lunch table, a six foot cardboard cut-out of Gumby burned in effigy); various mortifications in attempted dating.
Oh, and there’s gotta be an episode that covers the shock, the grief, the utter despondence that hit my school the day Oasis cancelled the only show they were playing in the area that year. You would have thought another fucking space shuttle blew up. Oh, Noel!