It’s tempting to read between the lines of “Skipper Dan,” a Weezer-esque pop-rocker off “Weird Al” Yankovic’s latest album, Alpocalypse. Here, the veteran musical satirist sings from the perspective of an actor who starred in every high school play and graduated first in his class at Juilliard, only to end up as the tour guide on the Jungle Cruise ride at a Disney Park: “Now I’m laughing at my own jokes, but I’m crying inside … I should’ve listened when my grandfather said, ‘Why don’t you major in business instead?’” In light of Yankovic’s own academic creds (after scoring straight As throughout high school and graduating as valedictorian at age 16, he earned a degree in architecture at California Polytechnic State University), could this song be a veiled confession that he’s fed up with playing “My Balogna” and “Eat It” night after night?
Not a chance. “When I was 12 years old, I actually told my guidance counselor that I wanted to be a writer for MAD magazine,” the vocalist/accordionist recalls. “And he kind of patted me on the shoulder and said, ‘Mmm. Yeah. I don’t really think you have a future in comedy. Why don’t you be an architect? You’re good at drafting; you’re good at math; you have some design skills.’ And I thought, ‘You know, you’re right. I’ll do that.’” What Yankovic learned in college, however, was that his passion lay not in architecture, but in comedy and music. “I didn’t know what I’d be doing for a living at that point, but I just realized that I didn’t want to grow up for a while; I didn’t want to be an adult quite yet,” he notes.
Yankovic really did dare to be stupid, and his gamble paid off. Three decades on, his career is thriving: in 2009, Rolling Stone readers voted him top artist who should be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his children’s book “When I Grow Up” debuted at No. 4 on the New York Times chart this year, and Alpocalypse is his highest-charting release to date, debuting at No. 9 on the Billboard chart in June.
Yankovic’s enduring relevance can be partially attributed to his shrewd choice of parody material: along with the keystone track “Perform this Way” (a spoof of Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way”), Alpocalypse includes parodies of tunes by contemporary artists like Miley Cyrus, T.I., B.o.B and Taylor Swift. For the hoarier members of his audience, there are also nods to Queen (“Ringtone”), Jim Steinman (“Stop Forwarding that Crap to Me”), and The Doors (“Craigslist”), the last of which is made more authentic by a guest spot from real-life Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Yankovic says that having Manzarek in the studio “was like going to Rock Fantasy Camp for me. It kind of boggled my mind. A lot of people say, ‘You really captured that Doors sound in that song.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, well, it kind of helps to have Ray Manzarek playing on it!’”
With all the pop culture ground he covers, you have to wonder if Yankovic generally likes the songs he singles out for parody. “My personal feeling about a song theoretically shouldn’t have any impact on whether I do it or not; that should be more a factor of how popular the song is, and if I can come up with a clever idea,” he states. “But having said that, I tend to pick songs that I actually do enjoy, because in the back of my mind, I know I’m going to have to spend a lot of time on this in the studio, and I might have to do this onstage for years and years to come.”
Aside from the occasional ganja reference or sexual innuendo, the material on the new album is pretty wholesome stuff. Surely Yankovic sometimes gets song ideas that aren’t kid-friendly enough to pass the cut? “I don’t have a whole lot of ideas that are too blue to use,” he claims, adding with a laugh, “Mostly I have a lot of ideas that are just too stupid to use! But that’s part of the process: I throw out a hundred ideas, and if I’m lucky, maybe one of them will have potential.”
With the supposed 2012 cataclysm looming large in collective consciousness, Alpocalypse’s theme is as timely as its content. And bonus points are due for its epic cover art, in which Weird Al appears as the least fearsome of the fabled Four Horsemen. But which Horseman is he supposed to be? “I believe I’m Famine in the order [of Horsemen],” the musician notes congenially, “which a lot of fans have pointed out is ironic because of all my food songs from the ’80s.”
Suppose there really is an apocalypse coming next year. What does Yankovic hope to accomplish before we all eat it, as it were? “There’s a pizza place in L.A. that I haven’t been to yet,” he offers. “I forget the name of it, but it’s supposed to be really good, so I want to make sure I get a slice there.”
Did we even need to ask?
Weird Al plays at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $30.75-$51.75. For details, call 420-5260 or visit pulseproductions.net.