When "Weird Al" Yankovic was growing up, he didn't dream of being a world-famous accordion player.
He knew better.
It wasn't that he was limited by his musical abilities, mind you. Though by no means a squeeze-box Paderewski, Yankovic could certainly get around on the instrument. It's just that the accordion has certain, well, artistic limitations.
Or, as Yankovic puts it, "When you play the accordion, everything that you play winds up sounding like a polka.
"My name has been associated with polka my whole life," he adds, over the phone from a tour stop in Peoria, Ill. "With a name like Yankovic, everybody assumes that I'm Frankie Yankovic's son. I'm not, actually. It's just what they've come to expect from somebody like me."
Maybe that's what they expected when Yankovic was younger, but these days what people expect are gags. Musical parodies, to be precise. For Yankovic -- in what must have been sweet revenge for polka-players everywhere -- has turned the essential silliness of accordion music into one of the most devastating satirical weapons in rock 'n' roll.
First he recorded "Another One Rides the Bus," a royal mockery of Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." Then there was "My Bologna," a smoked-meat send-up of the Knack's "My Sharona." But it wasn't until "Eat It," his shot-for-shot parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," that Yankovic truly found his medium (though in the video, it looked more like a large).
Yankovic worries a bit about the visual media. Although he admits to having "a couple TV shows in development," he seems a bit ambivalent about working full-time in the field. "I think if I were to do it a lot more frequently, the quality would start going down," he says. "I'd have to take on other writers, and I really like writing everything myself.
"I wouldn't rule it out, but I kind of like the set-up the way it is now."
Of course, it doesn't hurt that Yankovic is touring behind what he happily admits is the most successful album of his career. But even Yankovic admits that he never expected "Off the Deep End" to have produced a single as big as "Smells Like Nirvana."
"Generally I try to parody a mainstream artist, like Michael Jackson or Madonna or whatever," he says. "But Nirvana -- I mean, I like their music, but even though they've sold 3 million albums, their appeal isn't quite as mainstream as some of those others.
"In fact, when I told some of my friends that I was thinking about having the Nirvana parody be my first single, they kind of looked at me sideways. But I just really liked the song, and I thought I could have a lot of fun with the video, so we went with it. It wound up to be the right choice, I guess."
He adds the guys in Nirvana "seemed like they were flattered to hear from me" when he called for permission to record the parody (yes, original artists pre-approve all Yankovic's send-ups). But then, you'd be surprised how happy rock stars are to have Weird Al poke fun at them.
Just look at how happy Extreme was with his newest video, "You Don't Love Me Anymore." As Yankovic tells it, "I never wrote the song with Extreme in mind, but my record label said, 'All these radio stations are playing your new Extreme parody.'
"I said, 'What Extreme parody? That's not an Extreme parody.' They said, 'We want to put up the money for a video.' And I go, 'Oh, that Extreme parody.'
"Extreme was actually upset that they couldn't be in the video," he adds. "They're in Florida right now, finishing up their new album. We asked them if they wanted to make a cameo appearance, but their manager wouldn't let them, because they had to finish their album.
"So we dropped by the studio where they were recording, and played the video for them before it was on the air. They got a big kick out of it. In fact, I think their exact quote was, 'Thanks for mocking us, man. We really appreciate it.' "
Weird Al's show
When: Tonight at 8.
Call: (410) 659-7625 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets.