Weird Al Yankovic Looks Back on ‘Smells Like Nirvana’
After a string of successful parody singles in the ’80s, the career of Weird Al Yankovic hit a lull. However, he rebounded with ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ from 1992’s ‘Off the Deep End,’ and Yankovic recently spoke with Spin about the parody of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ near the 20th anniversary of its release.
The most difficult part of the process was tracking down Kurt Cobain to get permission to do the song. “A friend of mine was in the cast of ‘Saturday Night Live’ [Victoria Jackson],” Yankovic recalls. “I told her, if you ever get Kurt Cobain alone in a room, put him on the phone, because I’d love to talk to him — and she did! Directly! He was sweet and he got it in like five seconds and said, ‘Of course you can do a parody.'”
Yankovic continues, “The famous quote from him was, ‘Is it going to be a song about food?’ because at that point that’s primarily what I was known for. And I said, ‘Well, no, it’s going to be a song about how nobody can understand your lyrics.’ And he said, “Oh, sure, of course, that’s funny.”
The song was a massive success, and the video for ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ was shot on the same soundstage as ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and used many of the same props and even some of the same cheerleaders and audience members. It ended up being nominated for ‘Best Male Video’ at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
After ‘Smells Like Nirvana’ was released, Yankovic had a chance encounter with Cobain. “I only met Kurt in person once at a restaurant in Los Angeles. He just happened to be eating at an adjoining table with his friends. This was after the parody had come out, so I got to go over and thank him in person. I just profusely thanked him and said, “Anything I can do for you, let me know.” Kurt extended his hand to me and said, ‘Polish my nails.'”