How about this as an ironic addition to the endless acrimonious dispute between the recording industry and music fans over illegal file sharing? An anthem titled "Don't Download This Song," which preaches against the perils of such behavior, that anyone can freely download from the Internet (http://www.dontdownloadthissong.com/).
Confused? Welcome to the world of pop's premier prince of parody, "Weird Al" Yankovic. Weird Al has established a successful career through humorously revisiting works by the likes of Eminem, Michael Jackson and Nirvana, while also penning his own songs that are often pastiches of musical styles.
In "Don't Download This Song," the first single from his upcoming "Straight Outta Lynwood" album, he cheerily riffs:
"Oh, you don't wanna mess with the RIAA
They'll sue you if you burn that CD-R
It doesn't matter if you're a grandma or a 7-year-old girl
They'll treat you like the evil, hard-bitten criminal scum you are."
Start out stealing songs and before you know it, you'll be robbing liquor stores and selling crack, he sings. The video accompanying the song is a cartoon by acclaimed animator Bill Plympton in which a child downloads a song and is immediately plunged into a nightmarish world of crime, courts and prison.
Weird Al was inspired to write the song after it occurred to him that illegal downloading was "a cause in need of an anthem," he said in an e-mail interview. "So I wrote some tongue-in-cheek lyrics and set them to a cheesy '80's benefit song-type melody inspired by tunes like "We Are The World," "Hands Across America" and "Do They Know It's Christmas".
Where does Weird Al stand on the file-sharing debate?
"I don't really take a firm stand on either side of the issue," he wrote." It's a grey area for me, and besides, only a Sith deals in absolutes." In the "Star Wars" movies, evil Sith like Darth Vader feed upon their negative emotions in the pursuit of power, devoting themselves to the dark side of the universe's lifeblood, the Force.
Weird Al does think that the record industry and in particular the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have been "a bit ham-fisted" in their approach to illegal music downloads. "Criminalizing kids who file-share is probably not the best solution, and it's certainly not the best PR," he wrote. It's clear that file-sharing is here to stay and the record industry is only now starting to "smell the coffee" and figure out that it can use file-sharing to positive effect.
He appreciates the positive promotional aspects of P-to-P (peer-to-peer) Web sites. However, Weird Al also feels that people who get their music exclusively from such channels instead of in ways that directly benefit artists "are not taking the moral high road, and I don't really condone or support that."
His real beef with P-to-P sites isn't their effect on his record sales; rather it's their inaccurate information.
"If you do a search for my name on any one of those sites, I guarantee you that about half of the songs that come up will be songs I had absolutely nothing to do with," he wrote. "That particularly bothers me, because I really try to do quality work, and I also try to maintain a more-or-less family-friendly image – and some of these songs that are supposedly by me are just … well, vulgar and awful. I truly think my reputation has suffered in a lot of people's minds because of all those fake Weird Al songs floating around the Internet."
The proliferation of fake Weird Als was also the reason he started his own MySpace page.
"These people were using my personal photos (that I had previously posted on weirdal.com), uploading my music and claiming to be me," he wrote. "It was really creepy, and pretty much outright identity theft. I figured the only way to really combat it would be to have a real, undeniably official presence on MySpace, so that people would know for sure who was authentic and who was fake."
Weird Al designed and maintains his MySpace page himself. "I'm pretty decent at Photoshop, and I know just enough HTML to be dangerous," he wrote. "And I did, in fact, personally add every single one of the 47,000+ friends on that site (although I'm sure there's a bot or something that could have done that just as well)."
The direct interaction with fans is very exciting, along with allowing artists to directly promote and sell their creations. "I've heard it said that the Internet is the new MTV, and I think there's a lot of truth to that," he wrote.
Since getting his first PC in 1992, Weird Al has become more and more computer-obsessed. He was a long-time PC user, but switched to a Mac a couple of years ago, using it for music demos and video editing.
His computer passion also emerges now and then in the subject matter of his songs. Take 1999's "It's All About The Pentiums," a clever techie retake on Puff Daddy's "It's All About The Benjamins," or "eBay," a 2003 parody of The Backstreet Boys "I Want It That Way."
"I don't think we ever heard anything officially from Intel, but eBay was actually thrilled with the parody – their CEO Meg Whitman flew me out to Florida so that I could perform the song at a major eBay corporate function," he wrote. "If I'd had my wits about me, I probably would have hit them up to finance a music video for the song!"
As to whether recent events in the computer industry such as batteries catching on fire are fodder for future songs, Weird Al isn't saying. "Oh, I'm sure there will be something else down the road – there always is," he wrote. "But I like to keep my ideas close to my vest, so sorry, I'm afraid I won't be giving out any secrets!"