It’s hard to imagine the career of a comedy musician lasting more than a few chart-toppers since it has to exist in the vacuum of the recording industry, a business so humorless that it sees nothing wrong with filing billion-dollar lawsuits against grandmothers for downloading a couple of songs while practicing creative accounting against the very artists who crafted them. It’s even harder to imagine that industry would let an artist like “Weird Al” Yankovic carry on in the business after writing a “We Are the World”-esque ballad in 2006 called “Don’t Download This Song.” In fact, it’s unfathomable to imagine he would be able to physically walk after releasing it for free on the Internet.
Somehow Yankovic has not only kept his throne as the premiere musical comedian for almost three decades. He’s also lost it and fought back to regain it by reinventing what he does, somehow making it seem like he’s done it the same way throughout his entire career.
The Onion A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin chronicles the rises and falls in Weird Al: The Book, the first definitive literary attempt to chronicle Yankovic’s musical life from an accordion-playing teen to an accordion-playing pop-culture phenomenon. Yankovic wisely allows Rabin to take the reins for the bulk of the writing, providing an objective view of his career and parts of his personal life.
Rabin’s style makes for an entertaining read that meshes perfectly with Yankovic’s trademark sense of surreal and downright silly humor, whether it’s his description of a hard-playing accordionist who looks like “the Michelin man in the midst of an asthma attack,” the sudden halting of his James Blunt parody by industry suits or Eminem’s refusal to let Yankovic do a “Lose Yourself” parody because “Eminem could handle anything, apparently, besides gentle mockery.”
Serving more as a coffee-table book than official chronicle of the comedian’s work, it’s also filled with pictures and fan artwork compiled by drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, the official historian of Yankovic’s career. Yankovic jumps in by offering witty, personalized captions as well as some choice jokes from his Twitter feed. These might just feel like layout filler, but they showcase his often-underrated ability to satirize and skewer beyond the bounds of popular music in ways that are actually funnier, which is harder to do than it looks. (He’s got a killer Rupert Murdoch joke that could easily get big laughs on The Colbert Report.)
The limited space also means that Rabin has to move rather quickly, to the point where some diehard fans might find themselves asking why the book skips certain videos. Fortunately he knows where to mine for the choicest material and can deconstruct songs like “Frank’s 2000-Inch TV” and “Smells Like Nirvana” as if they are as deep and philosophical as Neil Young’s preachiest performance. He also knows that some songs like “The Night Santa Went Crazy” and “Party at the Leper Colony” were designed to do one thing: get intentional laughter out of its listeners. That accomplishment alone makes Yankovic a maverick in the unintentional ridiculousness of the recording industry.