LIANE HANSEN, host:
"Weird Al" Yankovic is a master satirist of popular culture and music. He hit it big in 1984 with his parody of Michael Jackson's song "Beat It" called "Eat It."
(Soundbite of song, "Eat It")
Mr. "WEIRD AL" JANKOVIC (Satirist): (Singing) Get yourself an egg and beat it. Have some more chicken, have some more pie. It doesn't matter if it's boiled or fried. Just eat it, just eat it...
HANSEN: Over the past 30 years, Yankovic has won Grammys for his comedy recordings. He's also parodied television shows and movies as well as written original songs. He still tours but he now has something new to offer. He's written a children's book called "When I Grow Up." "Weird Al" Yankovic is in our studio at NPR West. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JANKOVIC: Thank you so much.
HANSEN: This is the story of an eight-year-old boy, Billy, and he's asked by his teacher at show-and-tell day what he wants to be when he grows up, and he has plenty of answers. And I'd like you to read the little section where Billy says he wants to be a lathe operator.
Mr. JANKOVIC: Yes. One of the many options that Billy thinks of.
(Reading) Or else maybe I'll be the lathe operator who makes the hydraulic torque wrench calibrator, which fine-tunes the wrench that's specifically made to retighten the nuts on the lateral blade that's directly beneath the main radial sockets inside cooling systems on X-14 rockets. And since this profession's as cool as can be, well, who would be better to do it than me?
HANSEN: Was that one of the more difficult verses to write given, you know, having to use the words hydraulic and...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. JANKOVIC: It wasn't difficult for me. I was wondering how difficult it would be for parents to read that to their kids and have to explain some of those terms.
HANSEN: I wondered if you still need a rhyming dictionary. I mean, you've been doing this for so long.
Mr. JANKOVIC: Yeah, I'll go online for it. Now, there's online rhyming dictionaries.
Mr. JANKOVIC: My old Whitfield Third Edition Rhyming Dictionary paperback edition is very dog-eared and it doesn't get used too much anymore.
HANSEN: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about the illustrator, Wes Hargis.
Mr. JANKOVIC: When he was given the text, he wasn't told whose text it was. Harper Collins just gave him the text and said let's see some character designs based on this. He might have done a gorilla masseuse illustration for it and he thought, oh this is beautiful. And Harper Collins gave him the job after I'd signed off on it. And when he found out it was working for me, he was even more thrilled.
HANSEN: Well, the whole idea of the gorilla masseuse - I'll explain the picture - is this huge gorilla on a massage table and little Billy is up kind of working his shoulder blades. And there's also an illustration of him milking a giraffe, I believe?
Mr. JANKOVIC: Yes. Wes is really, really good at animal illustrations, portrait.
HANSEN: Yeah, yeah. And it's beautiful 'cause it's realistic yet impressionistic at the same time.
Mr. JANKOVIC: It is. And I love the detail in it. You know, it's the kind of illustration where a kid can stare at a two-page spread for an hour and just pick out little details and little funny gags here and there.
HANSEN: What did you want to be when you were eight years old?
Mr. JANKOVIC: When I was eight years old...you know, when I was 12 that's when I thought, OK, well, now I know I want to be a writer for Mad magazine. Which is very close to what I do now, but I was quickly talked out of that by my guidance counselor at the time who told me, you know, there's not much of a future in comedy. And why don't you grow up and get a real job? And, you know, you're good at math, you're good at drafting - why don't you be an architect? And I thought, well, yeah, OK, that sounds good.
About my third year in college, I had the epiphany that I did not want to be an architect for the rest of my life. I mean, it just wasn't my passion. I was OK at it - that's generous. I'd say I was mediocre at it frankly. And the reason was because, you know, everybody else at school was very exciting about it. You know, they had a fire in their belly about architecture and they'd look at a building and say, oh, look at the negative space and the positive space and the positive space and the form following the function. And I'd say, yeah, it's a building, great, you know?
HANSEN: That doesn't bode well for use of the degree. But when you were in college, did you sort of get seduced by the college radio station and then launched into the career that you do now?
Mr. JANKOVIC: Yeah, that's where I first kind of got my freak flag on. I was encouraged to be a little bit more outspoken and not be quite so shy. I've always been a fairly shy kind of kid. And when I was on the radio I got to be a little bit more aggressive and boisterous on the radio and come up with characters and do gags and developed a bit of a personality I'd have to say. And that's what got me thinking that, gosh, being on the radio and playing funny music and doing all that, this is a lot more fun than being an architect.
HANSEN: Looking past the funny rhymes that are in this book and the wordplay, is there a serious message behind all of this silliness?
Mr. JANKOVIC: Well, the subtext, as it were, I suppose. I mean, it's a funny book but I think the message that I'm trying to get across to kids is that there is in fact a universe of possibilities out there. And if I can quote my dad, which I've done often in the last few weeks, he always said that the only true sign of success is being able to make a living doing the thing that makes you truly happy. And that was the best gift and the best advice my dad could have possibly given me. And I would hope that that message is infused in this book.
HANSEN: I think it comes out particularly well in the scene where Billy is talking to his - is it his great-grandfather?
Mr. JANKOVIC: Yes.
HANSEN: He's 103...
Mr. JANKOVIC: Right.
HANSEN: ...years old and realizes that he's had a lot of jobs. And so you don't need to decide what you want to be when you're eight years old.
Mr. JANKOVIC: That's exactly right. You don't need to be defined by your job. You don't need to, you know, you can really kind of follow your muse.
HANSEN: What do you want to be when you grow up, Al?
Mr. JANKOVIC: I haven't decided yet. I'm still working on that one.
HANSEN: Al Yankovic's new children's book is called "When I Grow Up." He joined us in our studio at NPR West. So nice to meet you. Thanks a lot.
Mr. JANKOVIC: You're welcome. Thank you.
(Soundbite of song, "Eat It")
Mr. JANKOVIC: (Singing) Get yourself an egg and beat. Have some more chicken, have some more pie, it doesn't matter if it's boiled or fried. Just eat it, eat it. Don't you make me repeat it. Have a...
HANSEN: You can find a gallery of images from Al Yankovic's book at NPR.org.
You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
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