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Weird Al keeps the hits coming - both in music and children's books

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It's rare to see a commercially successful rock band stick together for more than 30 years. It becomes more of a rarity when the Grammy-winning front man is not only a musician and a singer, but also a well-known TV personality, actor and author. Is there a possibility of overexposure? Not when that front man is 'Weird Al' Yankovic.

Music fans know Al best for his song parodies that have been comedy hits. His music has spanned more than three decades, and he has modified his sound to fit the styles that are relevant and popular over the course of time. From Madonna and Michael Jackson in the '80s, to Coolio and The Offspring in the '90s, to Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga today, Weird Al's music has crossed genre and generation, and continues to reinvent itself. Despite more than 30 years of making music, Al continues to attract new fans, and scored his greatest musical success on the Billboard chart with a parody of Chamillionaire's 'Ridin'' called 'White & Nerdy' in 2006. 

'When I first started doing this, it was just for grins and to amuse myself and my friends. Hey, maybe I could do a funny song, and maybe Dr. Demento would play it on the radio,'' Yankovic recalled. 'It just sort of accidentally became a career. I never really thought I'd be doing this for a living. I love it. Comedy and music are what I'm most passionate about, so I feel very fortunate that I get to do this for a living.'

Yankovic's live show has brought him and his band around the country, including several stops in Maine over their extensive touring career.

'I think the last time I was in Maine I remember that the cheese backstage on the deli tray was cut up into these really nice triangles. And I really appreciated that,' joked Yankovic. 'I think they were isosceles triangles, I'm not sure.'

Touring, music and cheese is not all that occupies Weird Al's time. In more recent years, he has taken to rhyming for different reasons through writing children's books. Yankovic's first book, 'When I Grow Up,' was released in February of 2011 and was a New York Times bestseller. Yankovic brings the book's main character, Billy, back with his second children's offering called 'My New Teacher and Me,' which was released last week. Yankovic says the book is a celebration of imagination and individuality. 

'It's the story of a kid named Billy he's in the third grade and his new teacher is Mr. Booth, who is this very by-the-book, rule-giving authoritarian,' said Yankovic. 'Billy is a very imaginative free-spirit, and they kind of clash a little because Mr. Booth doesn't want any nonsense in his classroom, and Billy is fond of telling all of these imaginative tall tales.''

Yankovic himself has a daughter, who is now 10. He says that while he has always wanted to write children's books through inspirations like Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, his daughter was also a motivating factor.

'When I first made the decision to start writing children's books, my daughter was maybe 4 or 5 years old, and I thought Well, this is great! I can read her the book at bedtime,'' said Yankovic. 'It takes a long time for these books to actually come out. By the time my first book came out, she was old enough that she was reading it to me for bedtime stories.' 

Yankovic says that while his book is aimed at kids, he wrote it in a way that will be something that a wide age-range can enjoy. 'My New Teacher and Me' is illustrated by Wes Hargis and ties together Yankovic's unique ability to use words and rhymes in a creative, meaningful fashion with images that are just as impressive as they are beautiful.

'It's great for kids who just want to sit on your lap and focus on the illustrations,' said Yankovic.

With the book being released and a tour winding up at the end of the year, could that mean that a new album from 'Weird Al' Yankovic is coming soon?

'Not soon, but eventually,' said Yankovic. 'I'm about halfway done with my next album and I'm very excited about it. It's turning out really really great so far, but no release date in sight. Maybe next year? I don't know. We'll have to see.'

Many of Yankovic's works, including his two children's books and more than a dozen studio albums, are in stores now.

Dan Cashman is the host of 'The Nite Show with Danny Cashman' seen Saturday nights at 11:30 on WABI TV 5 in Bangor and Saturday nights at 10 on WPXT TV 51 in Portland. He is also the owner and operator of Cashman Communications in Bangor and totally had to look up the spelling of the word 'isosceles' for this article.


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