Nov 23, 2012
Today on Mr. Media, I’ll reach back into the vaults to 1978 for one of the first celebrity interviews I ever did: the incomparable Mother himself, Frank Zappa.
I was barely a month into my freshman year at the University of Miami, working at the student radio station, WVUM 90.5 FM, when I found myself in the right place at the right time. Although you may soon think I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The station manager, Bob “Bear” Mordente, was looking for someone willing to go out to the Royal Biscayne Hotel in Key Biscayne to interview musician and pop culture legend Frank Zappa. I said I’d do it if no one else volunteered.
FRANK ZAPPA audio excerpt: "Americans are so stupid. They think it's impossible to do anything creative without (being on drugs)... You don't need to be ripped to do something creative. Don't be wasted. Just do it."
Then, as now, I wasn’t afraid of interviewing anyone. Then it was foolish; I had no on-air experience and even less experience interviewing anyone for broadcast. Oh, and I knew absolutely zero – ZERO! – about Mr. Zappa. A time was set for the next day and I went back to my dorm to see if anybody had any idea what I should ask the man. Lucky for me (not really) the drug dealers – I mean students – in the room next to me had piles of Zappa and the Mothers of Invention albums and purported to be experts on the man.
Experts on the myth, as it turned out, but “urban legends” as a buzzphrase was still a good 20 years off. Anyway, these two knuckleheads filled me up with wide-eyed stories of ridiculous things that Zappa allegedly had done on stage over the years and I took copious notes. The next day, Mordente and I drove out to the Royal Biscayne Hotel and our moment with destiny. Mordente handled recording the sound on a reel-to-reel machine so I could focus on Zappa and my litany of ludicrous questions. I asked the most idiotic, moronic things of this brilliant American master and I must say that he treated me with great kindness in return, encouraging me to see him as a person, not some bizarre cartoon, and to just engage him in conversation. It was advice I remember and follow to this day, whether I’m talking to musicians, authors, politicians, athletes or entrepreneurs. My unvarnished, unedited interview with Frank Zappa aired immediately on WVUM, was repeated often, and became a legend in awfulness.
Despite this, I had a blast working on the college radio station, mostly handling Friday and Saturday overnights, spinning deep album cuts, taking requests from my pals in the dorms and meeting some really bizarre stoner listeners in the greater Coral Gables community. What survives from my day with Frank Zappa – we were together a couple of hours – is the edited, 30-minute recording you’re about to hear. Ladies and gentlemen, my day with Frank Zappa, September 14, 1978.