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WILD 'WEIRD AL' YANKOVIC

How many musicians can say they got their start in the bathroom? "Weird Al" Yankovic can. The wildly popular parody songwriter has sold millions of records, made some way-funny videos and has a new Saturday morning TV show ("The Weird Al Show," on CBS). But it all started with a trip to the john.

It has been almost 20 years since Weird Al recorded his spoof of the Knack's "My Sharona." Al said in a recent interview that he was a junior at a California Polytechnic State University, working at the college radio station, when he got the inspiration to record his send-up, a version called "My Bologna."

"I couldn't afford to go into a real recording studio," Al recalled. "But the bathroom across the hall from (the station) had the perfect acoustic sound, with tiles all over the walls." So Al lugged his trusty accordion (he had been taking lessons since age 6), sang his lungs out and sent the tape into the Dr. Demento radio show.

Dr. Demento started playing "My Bologna," and the song became a huge hit. Al, who was just 20, was offered a six-month contract by Capitol Records -- the same record label as the Knack.

Al -- who is soft-spoken, even a little shy, in person -- said he had no previous plans to become a musician. "I decided when I was 12 that I was going to be an architect. I was a very serious, adult-minded kid. It wasn't until I put out 'My Bologna' that I thought, 'Wow, maybe I can have a career in music!' "

When it comes to writing parodies of the hits, "I'd like to say any artist or any song is fair game," Al said. "It's pretty obvious that some songs work better. Rap songs are good because there are a lot of lyrics to them."

One recent rappin' example is "Amish Paradise," a spoof on Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise." On stage, Al and his band don black suits, broad-brimmed hats and phony beards as Al chants, "If I finish all my chores and you finish thine/Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1699."

Al is also a pretty talented songwriter. "I probably feel a bit closer to the sick love ballads like 'You Don't Love Me Anymore' and 'One More Minute,' " Al said. In fact, he wrote "One More Minute" after breaking up with his girlfriend.

As for the new TV show: "It stars Harvey the Wonder Hamster, who is my best friend in the whole world, the world's only stunt hamster," Al said. "He's the star of the show. I'm just his sidekick."

Being so weird, what does Al do in his spare time?

"I just started to have free time again, which is an odd concept for me," Al replied. "This has been the busiest year of my life, really intense. My spare time is spent just catching up on sleep. I eat out with friends, watch movies, Krazy-Glue small animals to the wall and watch them scurry."
-- Chicago Tribune

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