WEIRD AL YANKOVIC at Massey Hall (178 Victoria), Saturday (July 16), 3 and 8 pm. $39.50-$49.50. RTH, TM. See listing.
Usually I try not to get too personal with my interview subjects, but I can't help telling Weird Al Yankovic about the one time I saw him in concert, at a state fair in Ventura, California, when I was 11. He was ecstatic about performing next to the pig races.
Nowadays, as indicated by his same-day two-show stand at Massey Hall (to be filmed by director Wayne Isham for an upcoming TV special), he's more accustomed to playing bigger theatres.
"...and bigger pig races!" he interjects.
He's amused by the anecdote, but Yankovic has likely heard similar ones many times before. After all, he was not only my and so many other entertainment-obsessives' introduction to popular music, but to popular culture as a whole.
The influence he has on youth is not lost on him. In February, the comedy musician published his first children's book, a life-affirming tale called When I Grow Up (Harper-Collins). Written in his unmistakable voice, the story revolves around a kid named Billy and his inability to decide between a score of increasingly bizarre and whimsical adult occupations, among them tarantula shaver and gorilla masseuse.
"I think you need to follow your muse and your passions," instructs Yankovic over the phone from California. "Otherwise you'll wind up later in life bitter and resentful of the fact that you didn't try to do the thing that made you happy."
Yankovic's career is a testament to sticking to your dream, no matter how unlikely. While his subject matter, pop culture, is fleeting and ephemeral, Weird Al has been one of its few constants.
"That's the great irony of my life," he says. "Nobody wanted to sign me back when I was first starting up because they figured, ‘Oh, you do novelty music. You'll be lucky to be around six months from now.'"
Nearly three decades later, he's not only still around but in the midst of a career peak. His just-released 13th album, Alpocalypse (Sony), is his highest-charting ever, and his video for the Lady Gaga-skewering Perform This Way attracted over 6 million YouTube views in the span of a week.
He's even approaching something close to hipness. Last year, Montreal post-rockers Godspeed You! Black Emperor invited him to play the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in London.
"That festival has very hip, very alternative, very indie kinds of bands, so I thought it had to be some kind of hipster-like ironic booking," he admits. "The word I got back was, ‘It's for a very personal, beautiful reason but not at all ironic. We actually really, really like you.'"
If the accordion-wielding prince of parody performing alongside cooler-than-thou outfits like Deerhoof and Thee Oh Sees strikes you as strange, well, maybe it shouldn't.
Although Weird Al's approach hasn't changed much since he started out, a recent shift in the zeitgeist has rendered the fringes of culture cool. It's no coincidence that his biggest hit yet is called White And Nerdy.
"I've always flown my nerd flag high. That's who I am and that's the persona I've always put out there," says Yankovic. "But something happened in the last decade or so where all of a sudden it isn't so uncool or unhip to be a nerd any more. It's actually celebrated in pop culture. Now even the cool kids are saying, ‘No, really, I'm a nerd!'"