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Michael Jackson Remembered: "Weird Al" Yankovic on Imitation as Flattery

July 9, 2009 1:13 PM ET

"Weird Al" Yankovic

The first time around I pursued Michael Jackson about a song parody, it was a shot in the dark. We're talking about the most popular and famous person in the known universe, and here I was, this goofy comedy songwriter. He not only returned our phone calls, but he approved it. He thought it was a funny idea. Then when we did the second parody, "Fat," he was nice enough to let us use his subway set for the video, so he's always been very supportive.

The first time I met him in person was long after I had gotten permission to do "Eat It" back in 1984. There's a contract somewhere that has his signature next to mine, proving that we are the co-writers of "Eat It," which is surrealistic in and of itself. The first time I actually ran into him was backstage at one of his concerts, this was maybe four years later, when Even Worse came out with my second parody, "Fat." I went backstage, and he was seeing a lot of people, but I brought along a gold record of Even Worse to present to him, and he was very gracious and thanked me for it and said some nice things. After the fact, I thought, "That's probably the last thing Michael Jackson needs, another gold record for his storage locker." Seeing him in person was amazing, it was otherworldly. He was and continues to be so iconic, it's hard to even conceive of him as a human being. He always was bigger than life.

Our second meeting was a TV show taping. He was performing "Black or White," and I remember Slash was onstage and I talked to [Michael] briefly afterwards. He told me he would play my movie, UHF, for his friends at Neverland Ranch, and he was very soft-spoken, very quiet, but always very friendly to me.

I considered parodying "Black or White" around that time. Michael wasn't quite so into it, because he thought "Black or White" was more of a message song, and he didn't feel as comfortable with a parody of that one, which I completely understood, and in a way, he did me a huge favor, because I was already getting pegged as the guy who did Michael Jackson parodies, and because he wasn't so into it, I decided to go with Nirvana, which wound up revitalizing my career. I don't know what kind of career I would have today if it hadn't been for Michael Jackson. In a very real sense, he jump-started my career. "Eat It" basically changed me from an unknown into a guy that got recognized at Burger King.

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

More Song Stories entries »
 
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