Gorgeous. Black & White & Weird All Over is a must have for Weird Al fans feeling nostalgic for the 80s. It is a thick tome that collects hundreds of never-before-seen photographs taken by Weird Al’s longtime drummer Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz. It is a deep dive into the early career of a legendary musician and his bandmates as they create some of the most iconic music videos of all time. And it is all presented in rich, glossy black and white imagery that truly captures a moment in time that once seemed lost forever.
This is the true definition of a coffee table book, one that should be displayed in any home expected to engage bored company. Once you pick it up and start flipping through the pages, you are instantly transported back to a moment in time, when ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic ruled MTV, and captured the imagination of an entire nation. Documented with several key photo shoots during various music videos and studio sessions, Bermuda shows the steady rise of an artist reaching his peak, and it crescendos with a behind-the-scenes look at one of Weird Al’s all-time greatest hits ‘Eat It’.
Coming towards the end of this book, the ‘Eat It’ chapter is a truly transportive collection of pages that instantly evoke feelings of nostalgia for a bygone era. And it makes it clear why Weird Al is still one of today’s most worshipped musicians. He is a true icon, and here, we get to see an intimate look at the artist at work. As he and his collaborators create one of the most profound artifacts of its time. A classic parody of Michael Jackson, not just in song but in full persona. We also get to see all the people who helped build this legacy and how it all came together with this one important moment in Weird Al’s career trajectory.
Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz lets us in on plenty of behind the scenes tomfoolery. He also explains some of the methods to his madness. While he loved shooting in black and white, certain restrictions in developing the black and white film kept him from taking his camera on the road and to various other events, where he had to shoot in color. So there are only a select few instances where he utilized his artistic talent in creating black and white photo sets, which provide a clear creative path into this strange and wonderful life seen here.
The book starts off with forwards from Bermuda and Weird Al himself, both of which provide some important insight into what lies ahead for consumers of this photography book. There aren’t many essays throughout. Schwartz provides just enough context into this world, allowing us to explore the photos at our own pace, studying and examining minute details, taking in the whole picture, engaging with the imagery as though it was hanging in a gallery. Each photo a tiny masterpiece in its own right.
The book cuts quick to the bone, kicking off with the video shoot for ‘Ricky’, which would become Weird Al’s first MTV staple and crown him the King of Parody. Bermuda also invites us onto the set of ‘I Love Rocky Road”, which is one of my personal favorite Weird Al videos of all time. Getting to see these photos from this day, taken out at an airfield with a bunch of extras who are clearly enjoying themselves, allows for an interesting pathway to a moment lost in time. There is an intimacy to the images that Bermuda captures that are at once captivating and then quite familiar, like looking back at old times with long forgotten friends.
The final music video covered by Bermuda as part of his Black & White & Weird All Over sessions is the set from ‘Living With a Hernia’, which would mark the beginning of a downward slope in Weird Al’s career. Though we all know he recovered quite well after the release of the album upon which this single appears, Polka Party, which rests as perhaps my favorite Weird Al record of all time for various reasons, even if records like In 3-D and Even Worse, his follow up to Polka Party, where better received by fans and the general public. Along with this invite into the world of a Weird Al music video shoot, Jon uses his imagery and art to invite fans into several studio sessions, which is extremely fun for anyone who grew up listening to Weird Al, wondering just how he pulled off such magic. It’s all here for us in black and white.
Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz is one of the greatest drummers alive, able to capture and carry any genre his boss Al decides to go in. As it turns out, the man is also quite proficient with a camera, as he proves with his new book. Though we get to see most of his black and white collection here, Bermuda notes that he has continued taken photos over the years, though in color and on digital. Flipping through what is sure to be a perennial mainstay in living rooms across the world, I remain hopeful that Jon will let us see some of his other photos in perhaps a sequel book. As it stands, Black & White & Weird All Over is well worth the admission price, and it has instantly become one of my most treasured art books to arrive in recent years.
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