“Weird Al” Yankovic was technically my first concert. At the time my mom, bless her heart, was worried that a lot of the culture I was consuming was parodying things I hadn’t seen the original of yet—this was the era (at least for me) of Animaniacs and Mystery Science Theater 3000. She had a point: I knew the words to "Smells Like Nirvana" way before I was even aware of who Nirvana was. But like a lot of kids, I loved the music and knew it was funny anyway, without ever having to see the source material.
The idea of parody itself has been bastardized in the past few years with things like “parody” Twitter accounts that are actually just generic jokes with the likeness of a funny celebrity or a character, and parody movies that are just barrages of random pop culture references. (Can I make myself the Bill O’Reilly of this cause and start going on about “the war on parody” to anyone who will listen? I wasn’t actually asking your permission.)
Many great icons of ‘80’s weirdness—Sam Kinison, ALF—are gone, but Yankovic is still at it—according to his conspicuously rudimentary website, he just finished a three-year tour in support of his most recent album, Alpocalypse. He’s also written his second children’s book, My New Teacher and Me, and if the Amazon preview of it is representative, it is extremely charming. He also recently collaborated with AV Club writer Nathan Rabin on a coffee table book about his life.
Yankovic endures not because his parodies keep up with pop culture—although that is essential to his shtick—but because the “Weird Al” character is timeless. He is an archetypal Southern California dork, even after his makeover (circa the Running With Scissors album, when I saw him live), often clad in stupid Hawaiian shirts, his voice a singularly zany honk.
He’s an institution, and while I don’t listen to his music the way I did when I was a kid—can you imagine walking around with parodies in your earbuds now?—the fact that he’s still doing it in a relevant way represents something still really right with the world.