CULTURE

Andy Warhol Hosts Frank Zappa on His Cable TV Show, and Later Recalls, “I Hated Him More Than Ever” After the Show


Had Andy Warhol lived to see the internet–especially social networking–he would have loved it, though it may not have loved him. Though Warhol did see the very begin­nings of the PC rev­o­lu­tion, and made com­put­er art near the end of his life on a Com­modore Ami­ga 1000, he was most­ly enam­ored, unsur­pris­ing­ly, of TV. “I love tele­vi­sion,” he once remarked, “It is the medi­um I’d most like to shine in. I’m real­ly jeal­ous of every­body who’s got their own show on tele­vi­sion. I want a show of my own.”

Warhol real­ized his dream in 1979, though in a venue that may not have lived up to his fan­tasies: a New York pub­lic-access chan­nel called Man­hat­tan Cable, “which showed local sports match­es and agreed to sell 30-minute slots to Warhol for around $75 a pop,” notes The Tele­graph. Warhol made a total of 42 episodes of his odd inter­view show. The pop art impre­sario “wasn’t exact­ly a nat­ur­al… when it came to the del­i­cate art of chat-show host­ing,” but “he didn’t let that stop him.” By 1983, one might have thought he’d have got­ten the hang of it, yet he seems espe­cial­ly awk­ward when cranky prog genius Frank Zap­pa appeared on his show that year.

Luck­i­ly for Warhol, he is joined by Zap­pa fan Richard Berlin, who serves as a buffer between the two super­stars. (Berlin is prob­a­bly the son of William Ran­dolph Hearst’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor, whose daugh­ter, Brigid, was one of Warhol’s film stars.) At least in the excerpt above, Berlin does all of the work while Warhol looks on, seem­ing­ly stu­pe­fied. But the truth is that Warhol hat­ed Zap­pa, and after the inter­view, he wrote in his Diaries, “I hat­ed Zap­pa even more than when it start­ed.” Part of what the show’s osten­si­ble host found so objec­tion­able was Zappa’s ego­ma­ni­a­cal per­son­al­i­ty. Though Warhol, like Zap­pa, con­trolled his own small inde­pen­dent empire, in tem­pera­ment, the two couldn’t have been more dif­fer­ent.

But there was also some per­son­al his­to­ry between them that went back to the ear­li­est days of the Vel­vet Under­ground. “I remem­ber,” Warhol goes on, “when he was so mean to us when the Moth­ers of Inven­tion played with the Vel­vet Underground—I think both at the trip, in L.A., and at the Fill­more in San Fran­cis­co. I hat­ed him then and I still don’t like him.” Zap­pa wasn’t sim­ply rude, how­ev­er; at a 1967 show in New York, he turned his tal­ent for ridicule into what Kalei­do­scope mag­a­zine writer Chris Dar­row called “one of the great­est pieces of rock’n roll the­ater that I have ever seen.”

The open­ing night was very crowd­ed and Zap­pa and mem­bers of the Moth­ers of Inven­tion showed up to show their sup­port. (…) Nico’s deliv­ery of her mate­r­i­al was very flat, dead­pan, and expres­sion­less, and she played as though all of her songs were dirges. She seemed as though she was try­ing to res­ur­rect the ennui and deca­dence of Weimar, pre-Hitler Ger­many. Her icy, Nordic image also added to the detach­ment of her deliv­ery. (…) The audi­ence was on her side, as she was in her ele­ment and the Warhol con­tin­gent was very promi­nent that night. How­ev­er, what hap­pened next is what sticks in my mind the most from that night. In between sets, Frank Zap­pa got up from his seat and walked up on the stage and sat behind the key­board of Nico’s B‑3 organ. He pro­ceed­ed to place his hands indis­crim­i­nate­ly on the key­board in a total, aton­al fash­ion and screamed at the top of his lungs, doing a car­i­ca­ture of Nico’s set, the one he had just seen. The words to his impromp­tu song were the names of veg­eta­bles like broc­coli, cab­bage, aspara­gus… This “song” kept going for about a minute or so and then sud­den­ly stopped. He walked off the stage and the show moved on.

What Warhol took per­son­al­ly may have just been the irre­press­ible out­growth of Zappa’s dis­dain for vir­tu­al­ly every­thing, which he express­es to Berlin in the inter­view. Orig­i­nal Moth­ers of Inven­tion drum­mer Jim­my Carl Black spec­u­lat­ed that he may have hat­ed the Vel­vet Under­ground because “they were junkies and Frank just couldn’t tol­er­ate any kind of drugs.” The two bands were also, briefly, com­peti­tors at MGM.

But per­haps Zap­pa just couldn’t tol­er­ate any­one else tak­ing the spot­light, espe­cial­ly a tal­ent­ed female per­former. Warhol remem­bers Zap­pa’s response to a com­pli­ment about his daugh­ter, Moon. “Lis­ten,” he sup­pos­ed­ly told Warhol, “I cre­at­ed her. I invent­ed her.… She’s noth­ing. It’s all me.” In con­trast to the “pecu­liar” reply, Warhol writes “if it were my daugh­ter I would be say­ing ‘Gee, she’s so smart,’ but he’s tak­ing all the cred­it.” Zap­pa may have been a musi­cal genius with a spe­cial entre­pre­neur­ial flair and inci­sive crit­i­cal wit, but the “sex­ist auto­crat… with a scabrous atti­tude,” as Car­lo Wolff describes him, “was not a like­able man.” Cer­tain­ly the mild-man­nered Warhol didn’t think so.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol Dig­i­tal­ly Paints Deb­bie Har­ry with the Ami­ga 1000 Com­put­er (1985)

Frank Zappa’s 1980s Appear­ances on The David Let­ter­man Show

When Andy Warhol Guest-Starred on The Love Boat (1985)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness





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