Weird Al: Seriously

Rowman & Littlefield. Mar. 2020. 216p. ISBN 9781538124994. $28. MUSIC
With 40-plus years in the music industry and multiple Grammy wins, “Weird Al” Yankovic (b. 1959) has enjoyed remarkable success, especially given that his output has consisted almost entirely of song parodies. His hilariously bizarre hits have spoofed everything from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” (“Eat It”) to Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise” (“Amish Paradise”). Musicologist Hirsch (Anneliese Landau’s Life in Music) combines a close reading of Yankovic’s work with thorough research, explaining that his success is rooted in both his clever turn of phrase and his willingness to take on complex themes. The author searches for deeper meanings, asking probing questions: What is Yankovic saying about race, religion, and gender? What is really going on in “Angry White Boy Polka”? While this scholarly treatment may sound too serious for such entertaining fare, Hirsch keeps the tone energetic. She calls herself an “Al-cademic” (the subject matter makes it impossible to avoid wordplay) and livens the text with funny anecdotes and interviews with Yankovic and his band members.
VERDICT This engaging read skillfully documents the hard work that goes into being silly; readers will emerge with a newfound respect for Yankovic.
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