You can parody a song without permission — American law has a funny rule that you’re not quite stealing if you’re making fun of something. But it’s bad karma — and still a legal risk — so Weird Al Yankovic, undisputed king of the musical parody, always asks his victims/collaborators for their blessing first. Luckily for us, most people in show business have a sense of humor (they have to) and there’s also the fact that a Weird Al parody is a sort of honor now — you’ve got to be damn popular to earn one.
Howard Stern got Weird Al talking about some of his more unusual parody pursuits, and Yankovic told the story of how he won tragic rocker Kurt Cobain‘s permission to cook up his own version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” called “Smells Like Nirvana.” Cobain, Yankovic recounted, was delighted that Yankovic planned to make fun of how no one could understand the lyrics of the original. The rocker at first thought it might be about food. (Hey, Kurt must have been a fan — there was “My Bologna” as precedent.) Yankovic said that after his parody was released he heard that Cobain loved it.