‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Looks Back at 20 Years of ‘Smells Like Nirvana’

From Spin Magazine:

In April of 1992, Nirvana had topped Billboard, scored a platinum record, appeared on the cover of SPIN, and were being held without bail for instigating some sorta slouchy, shruggy, shouty sea-change in American popular culture. But, as legend has it, frontman Kurt Cobain didn’t actually realize he’d “made it” until Yankovic lovingly satirized their biggest hit. In Yankovic’s hands, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became “Smells Like Nirvana,” a song about the hilarious reality that the supposed voice of a generation was actually impossible to understand beyond a groaned bargle nawdle zouss. Yankovic seizing the moment was not only fortuitous for Nirvana, but Weird Al experienced one of the biggest of many “comebacks,” scoring his biggest chart hit since “Eat It,” and ultimately retaining his jester’s throne for another 20 years and counting (all recently documented in the coffee table tome Weird Al: The Book). The whole “Nirvana” ordeal was even dramatized in the 19th season of The Simpsons, when Homer’s grunge band Sadgasm got a Weird Al parody of their own.

“Weird Al” Yankovic: It was hard on my vocal chords. In the studio, oftentimes I’ll be singing for eight to 12 hours a day. And when you’re doing a song like “Smells Like Nirvana,” that’s a lot of screaming. Try screaming for 12 hours and see where that gets you. It’s tough on the vocal chords. I do have a memory of there actually being cookies in my mouth when I did the “bargle nawdle zouss,” unintelligible-mumble thing. I wish I could remember the brand. Some kind of Hawaiian Fig Newton, some kind of weird, off-brand exotic cookie.

Jay Levey, manager and video director: With the “Nirvana” video, all the stars aligned. We were able to track down and book the same soundstage. The soundstage, in essence, is four bare walls, so you could be in any soundstage and not know it was the one. But from a karmic standpoint, it was pretty heavy to be in the exact same place where they shot theirs. The vast majority of the fans in the bleachers were from the original Nirvana video. And the janitor, of course, was also the original janitor. I don’t know that he even knew a thing about Nirvana. I believe he was a real janitor.

Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, drums: Skating legend Tony Hawk was one of the kids in there.

Levey: Who knew at the time, right?

Yankovic: We got a couple of the same cheerleaders.

Levey: [Securing those details] was nothing more than talking to the folks who produced the Nirvana video. They were totally helpful because they knew that Kurt was on board. I will say with the extras, it was really quite poignant and moving in a way because those kids had a deep, deep connection with Kurt and with Nirvana. The seismic waves that Kurt and that band had created in pop culture, and in music, can’t begin to be understated. Their vulnerability and their hesitation was palpable in the room, but they knew that Kurt was on board with this.

Yankovic: Dick Van Patten was an 11th-hour addition. We wanted a random celebrity, and on the day of the shoot, we were like, “Does anyone know a random celebrity?” And someone knew Dick Van Patten.

Read the read of the story at Spin Magazine