Copyright 1992 The Washington Post
June 26, 1992, Friday, Final Edition
Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was one of last year's most memorable hits, though an indeciperable one.
"Smells Like Nirvana" is one of this year's most wickedly hilarious videos, with lyrics that skewer the very obtuseness of its inspiration.
Now I'm mumblin' . . .and I'm screamin' and I don't know . . .what I'm singing Crank the volume . . .ears are bleedin' I still don't know . . .what I'm singing We're so loud and incoherent Boy, this ought to bug our parents.
One stanza is delivered with marbles dripping out the singer's mouth. Elsewhere, he delivers them while gargling.
Smells like Weird Al Yankovic.
"It's gotten great reaction," says Yankovic in the middle of a tour that brings him to Carter Barron Amphitheatre tonight. Like Michael Jackson - -sweetly savaged by Yankovic in "Eat It" and "Fat" - - he has waited five years between albums. And, pop's premiere parodist says, his recent "Off the Deep End" "is looking to be the biggest album of my career. One of the reasons I waited so long between albums is I wanted to come back with something strong, and it wasn't until Nirvana came out that I thought this was the next big thing."
Yankovic's first clue - - or inspiration - - came when "everybody I knew was going around saying, 'Boy, I love that Nirvana song but I can't understand a single word they're saying.' That sounded like the basis of a parody to me!
"As always I have my little idea notebook handy, and every time I came up with an idea that related to that, I'd write it down. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and writing 'bargle noddle zous,' thinking, 'This will be important someday.'"
Sure enough, it's one of the lyrics in "Smells Like Nirvana," which comes with its own phonetic subtitle on video.
Such indeciperability was as crucial as songwriter Kurt Cobain's approval of the parody. Yankovic called Nirvana's lead singer backstage during the group's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" last winter to ask his permission, telling him at the time that obtuseness would be a theme. Indeed, it was just a beginning, says Yankovic.
"If 'Nirvana' was going to be a single, I knew I'd have to make fun of the video, which was a problem because the videos I'm taking off on are usually high concept and have some kind of story line, and 'Teen Spirit' was basically a performance piece. I was concerned about being able to find gags, but once I started thinking about it, I just had pages and pages of gags. It was fun. I got to work with Dick Van Patten and barnyard animals -- now there's a treat!"
The video -- itself frame-for-frame parody -- was shot on the same Culver City, Calif., sound stage with the high school gym set Nirvana had used. It used many of the same kids, most of the cheerleaders and the seventy-ish janitor who appeared in "Teen Spirit" (Rudy Larosa, the real-life janitor in the original video director's apartment building).
"We're trying to make him into the pop icon of the '90's" Yankovic says of Larosa, who also guests in his brand new video, "You Don't Love Me Anymore." As for Nirvana, there's been no official reaction to "Nirvana" but, says Yankovic, "I heard that as soon as Kurt and Courtney [Love, Cobain's rock singer wife] got the video, they watched it 10 times in a row and just loved it and they wished me the best."
Perhaps Cobain will substitute Yankovic's lyrics for his own the next time Nirvana tours.
Who'll know the difference?
Alfred Yankovic, now 32, has been working his madcap makeovers since 1979, when "My Bologna," a clever send-up of the Knack's No. 1 hit, "My Sharona," brought him to the attention of syndicated radio maverick Dr. Demento. At the time, Yankovic was still an undergraduate at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, majoring in architecture until he figured out he could build a career deconstructing pop culture.
His debut album in 1983 included early favorites like "My Bologna," "Another One Rides the Bus" and "I Love Rocky Road." The next year, "Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D" went platinum on the strength of "Eat It," a food-based parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." It won Yankovic an American Music Award as best male performer -- over Bruce Springsteen and George Michael, then at the height of their popularity.
Yankovic has shown an uncanny knack for mimicry, not only mlusically but visually, and that has allowed him a wide range of targets: James Brown in "Living With a Hernia," Robert Palmer in "Addicted to Spuds." and Jackson, mined again for "Fat" (set to "Bad"), where a Pillsbury Doughboy-sized and leather-studded Yankovic waddles through the subway -- on a set that Jackson himself lent for the video. This one earned a Grammy; "Bad" didn't.
While Michael Jackson didn't approve a proposed parody of his recent "Black or White," feeling its message was too important, Yankovic has encountered few problems getting copyright owners' permission to lampoon their works -- with one exception.
"I don't want people to know what obnoxious jerks these people are," he says vehemently. " don't want to mention any names like PRINCE because then people would realize what an idiot he is. Let's just keep it between you and me."
Not that Yankovic is about to run out of material any time soon. The new album parodies Gerardo's "Rico Suave" (with "Taco Grande"), Milli Vanilli on "The Plumbing Song," New Kids on the Block's "The Right Stuff" (with "The White Stuff." a celebration of Oreo cookies) and Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" (with "I Can't Watch This." about television).
His latest video represents something of a breakthrough. For one thing, "You Don't Love Me Anymore" is an original song, about a somewhat clueless character who's just not picking up on his girlfriend's negative signals: "I guess I lost a little bit of self-esteem/ that time you made it with the whole hockey team/ you used to think I was nice/ Now you tell all your friends that I'm the antichrist. . ."
"Radio stations were saying , 'We love that Extreme parody,' and I was going, 'What Extreme parody?'" And so the video hilariously parodies Extreme's black-and-white video for "More Than Words," the quintessential hard rock love ballad of the '90s.
As for the polka medleys that have become a constant on wevery Weird Al Yankovic album, this year's model, "Polka My Eves Out," is typically inclusive. It somehow makes a medley, not a muddle, out of "Cradle of Love," "Tom's Diner," "Love Shack," "Pump Up the Jam," "Losing My Religion," "Do Me," "Enter Sandman," "Humpty Dance," "Miss You Much," " I Touch Myself," and "Dr. Feelgood."
Fans will probably hear some or all of those tunes tonight at Carter Barron, where Yankovic promises "a rock and comedy multimedia extravaganza" with lots of costumes, dancers, videos and the live band he's recorded all his albums with.
"It will be like a Prince concert," Yankovic says, "only intentionally funny."