Until recently, you may have considered Weird Al Yankovic to be that fading parody singer who turned “Beat It” into “Eat It” before sliding into relative obscurity in the 1990s.
His return to the spotlight follows the recent debut of his new album "Mandatory Fun" as number-one on the Billboard charts. It's the only comedy record to ever start off at the top and first one to rise to that level since 1963. (That year, Allan Sherman's "My Son, the Nut" ascended to the premiere spot.) Katie Borders, 33, of Webster Groves, is thrilled about Al's resurgence.
“He totally deserves his number-one album,” Borders said.
But Borders is no fair-weather fan. She’s followed Al since she was a high school senior in 1999, later driving as far as Los Angeles and Bethlehem, Penn. to see him perform — something she’s now done 26 times. She has the T-shirts, photos, signed banners and other souvenirs to prove it.
Weird Al’s proud waving of the nerd flag immediately made Borders feel she’d found a kindred spirit. His bio lists him as a straight-A student who graduated from high school as the class valedictorian at 16. Borders also made good grades in her years at Francis Howell North High, didn’t drink and was the “weird girl” who enjoyed “Star Trek.”
“Now, being a nerd is in vogue — but not then,” Borders said.
Growing Up ‘Weird’
The first time Borders saw Weird Al, it was by accident. Her mother, a Monkees fan, took her 6-year-old daughter to see her own favorite group.
“I had this vague memory of hearing a guy sing a song about food,” Borders said.
Now, Borders’ own children — Ben, 5, and Sam, 2, — are Weird Al fans. They met me at their front door wearing Weird Al T-shirts, like their mom. Hanging from the bunk beds of their shared bedroom were dozens more Al tees and trademark Hawaiian shirts. Ben got the one he wore at his first Weird Al concert in April 2013.
“We were standing in line where we got tickets and we got this shirt,” he said, pointing to the image of a big-mouthed Al with a magnifying glass over his lower face.
Weird Al songs like “Amish Paradise” and “My Bologna” have been as much a part of their lives as “Rock-a-Bye Baby” and “Bingo Was His Name-O.”
“I’ve been playing Weird Al in car ever since they were born,” Borders said.
With assistance from Sam, Ben sang a spot-on version of “Eat It.” He struggled to pick a favorite.
“I like all his songs,” Ben said.
Sam was more certain. “I like ‘White and Nerdy,’” he said.
“It’s very safe music for them,” Borders said. “And I just want them to learn to laugh about life.”
Wedding Anniversary on Al’s Birthday
When Borders and her husband Heath, her high-school sweetheart, were planning their wedding, she noticed that Al’s birthday, Oct. 23, fell on a Saturday. Naturally, it became their wedding date.
“I think we may have sent him an invitation but of course we didn’t hear anything,” she said.
So as they celebrate their anniversary on Weird Al’s birthday every year, what does Borders’ husband think about her obsession?
“There’s plenty of room in our relationship for Weird Al,” Heath Borders said.
Plus, he’s a fan too, to a point.
“I’ve probably gone to a few more Weird Al concerts than I would have, had I not been married to Katie,” he said.
The couple plans to take Ben to Weird Al’s next St. Louis appearance. No date has been set but a “Mandatory Fun” tour is in the works for next year.
Borders’ friend Sharon Whiteacre has been her most frequent companion in her quest to see Weird Al. Their road trips, mostly during college, have included treks to Bethlehem, Penn., Chicago and even Los Angeles: “Easily thousands of miles,” Whiteacre said.
“We would rotate driving eight-hour shifts,” Whiteacre said. “We were in it together, completely committed the whole way.”
Weird Al has a way of endearing his fans to him, Whiteacre said. She pointed to a concert in which he had a wardrobe malfunction.
“He was up on stage and split his pants,” Whiteacre remembered. “So everyone stopped taking pictures out of complete respect.”
Tragedy struck Weird Al in 2004 when both his parents accidentally died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. Still, he continued his tour. Borders saw him a few days after the deaths.
“I could tell he was sort of off of his game. We brought a big condolence card and had as many people in audience sign it as we could and took it back to him,” Borders said.
New Message from Al to His Biggest STL Fan
Over the years, Borders has given Al a number of other items, including a Hawaiian shirt embellished with images of accordions, a nod to his penchant for polka.
“When I saw him wearing it on TV, I screamed,” she said. “Another time, I found a clipping in an issue of Cosmo about what celebrity you’d like to sleep with, and someone answered ‘Weird Al’ so I clipped that out and gave that to him,” she said.
Al has also signed Borders’ leg and, at another concert, walked into the audience to sit in her lap while singing a love song. Her quick-thinking sister-in-law managed to snap a photo.
“It’s right up there on the mantle next to a picture of my son,” Borders said.
The encounter also apparently still lives in the mind of Weird Al, himself. We emailed his manager for a shoutout to Borders for this story, and received this wise-cracking reply:
“From Al: Hi, Katie! Thanks for letting me sit on your lap! Don’t worry, I’ve been de-loused.”
So what if Borders could sit down with Al for coffee and conversation? First of all, she’d want to ask him about being a parent to his 11-year-old daughter. Then, she’d like to express her gratitude.
“I would probably thank him for all the joy he’s brought me,” Borders said. “It’s just been a lot of fun.”
In this timeline, see where Katie Borders' life intersects with Weird Al's over the course of her 33 years.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL
Help inform our coverage
This report contains information gathered with the help of our Public Insight Network. To see more responses from other Weird Al fans, please click here. To learn more about the network and how you can become a source, please click here.