The Real Reason Weird Al Yankovic Started Playing The Accordion

"(S)ome have greatness thrust upon 'em," wrote Shakespeare. Or, in the case of Alfred Matthew Yankovic, an accordion. Which ended up being the same thing.

"Weird Al" Yankovic was born October 23, 1959, the only child of Nick and Mary, says The Washington Post. Al's seventh birthday was auspicious — or more precisely, the day before, because that's the day that a door-to-door salesman stopped by their house in Lynwood, California, just south of Los Angeles. He was shilling for a music school that offered lessons in guitar and accordion.

At the time, there was already a nationally prominent Yankovic in the accordion business: Frankie Yankovic, "America's Polka King," as Mental Floss tells us. They weren't related, despite rumors to the contrary, but the decision was made and Al learned the accordion. So instead of learning to shred on an electric guitar, like his contemporaries, he learned to play rock-and-roll on the squeezebox, first from trying to replicate Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and working from there.

He picked up the "Weird" nickname in college. He was the nerdy kid, skipping a grade in primary school, high school valedictorian, and playing just about anything you wanted to hear on the accordion. He's since become the most successful song parodist ever recorded. Whether turning Madonna's "Like a Virgin" into "Like a Surgeon" (he claims it was her idea, actually) or Michael Jackson's "Beat It" becoming "Eat It," Yankovic has a hard-and-fast rule: first ask permission of the artist.

There's no genre he won't tackle

He doesn't have to, at least not by law; parody is legally protected speech. Yankovic just seems to be a genuinely decent human being. "I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings," he told the Post. "I don't want to be embroiled in any nastiness. That's not how I live my life. I like everybody to be in on the joke and be happy for my success. I take pains not to burn bridges."

The jokes are important. Jack Black, actor and Yankovic fan, put it this way: "There's something really important about laughing at things that take themselves too seriously." And some artists do — take themselves seriously, that is. Prince famously refused to allow Al to parody any of his work, as The Guardian reports. Paul McCartney, a dedicated vegan, did a thumbs-down when Al wanted to remake "Live and Let Die" as "Chicken Pot Pie." Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame is another fan. "People ask me, Hamilton has a fairly diverse base in terms of the kind of music I'm writing for it. And I say, when you grow up with 'Weird Al,' you learn that genre is fluid."

And that accordions can, and do, rock.