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 goes 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 broc­col­li, 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)

Andy Warhol’s Lost Com­put­er Art Found on 30-Year-Old Flop­py Disks

Frank Zap­pa Explains the Decline of the Music Busi­ness (1987)

Ani­mat­ed: Frank Zap­pa on Why the Cul­tur­al­ly-Bereft Unit­ed States Is So Sus­cep­ti­ble to Fads (1971)

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

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Comments (20)
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  • Marky says:

    The artist vs the emper­ors new clothes. No respect due, none giv­en.

  • S. Hawke says:

    One of them was an extreme­ly tal­ent­ed musi­cian and the oth­er was a tal­ent­less copi­er called Warhol.

  • A. Lou Millenium says:

    They were a bunch of junkies

  • rico lebrun says:

    That Andy is quite the inter­view­er. BTW, Was that lump with the white tuft ANdy. I could­nt tell.

  • Chulo Mapuey says:

    If you say Warhol was a tal­ent­less copi­er… all who read you may think you are a genius, only a very tal­ent­ed per­son can say that so Where is your great job? Who talk about you? about your “tal­ent” ?

    No one knows the unknown S. Hawke, noth­ing but a tal­ent­less opin­ion

  • Petteri says:

    As for Vel­vet Under­ground, in an inter­view from sept 1967 Zap­pa said of their first album:
    “I like that album. I think that Tom Wil­son deserves a lot of cred­it for mak­ing that album, because it’s folk music. It’s elec­tric folk music, in the sense that what they’re say­ing comes right out of their envi­ron­ment.”
    Tom Wil­son was a pro­duc­er who pro­duced at least some of the album although Warhol was cred­it­ed as pro­duc­er which was a hype — he was more a man­ag­er and exec­u­tive pro­duc­er at most, I think. Hence Zap­pa’s com­ment on Wil­son.
    Also I think the live show was all Zap­pa knew of VU before the album came out — and VU’s live gigs could sound like not much else but a ter­ri­ble mass of loud noise at that point, no chance of mak­ing out any lyrics for instance.

  • Brian says:

    Zap­pa was an avid tee­to­taler. Just say­ing.

  • Todd says:

    I can’t for the life of me under­stand why any­one called either of these men genius­es. Who has actu­al­ly made it through Zap­pa’s insuf­fer­able cat­a­logue? Genius my arse…

  • Shoe says:

    I enjoy both bands , but am more of a Vel­vet Under­ground fan — for the sim­ple fact that they were street-wise artists . Yes , I’m a Warhol fan ; he made fun of con­sumerism , and he suc­ceed­ed in spades !
    The V.U. weren’t junkies , they were Methedrine freaks , and bik­ers , and wild­ly out-of-con­trol musi­cians .

    I only wish that I was “born a thou­sand years ago” , so that I could have ‘been there’ at The Trip in May 1966 .

  • Sideways E says:

    What a great video! I am a real, long­time fan of both Zap­pa’s music and Warhol’s art — they were both unde­ni­ably genius, but in com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent worlds. Try­ing to com­pare them, or make them ‘com­pete’ is sil­ly and point­less.

    On the one hand, Zap­pa’s reac­tion to hear­ing Nico sing seems remark­ably sim­i­lar to mine — a strong desire to laugh uncon­trol­lably. His mock­ery was entire­ly under­stand­able, and per­haps even jus­ti­fied. And I say this as some­one who rates VU as one of the most impor­tant rock bands of all time. As a fan, I’m SO thank­ful Nico only sings a cou­ple songs on that first album, and then went her sep­a­rate way. I nev­er under­stood her appeal.

    On the oth­er hand, Warhol’s com­ment at the end of the arti­cle rings very true. What a shit­ty thing for a father to say, whether it’s true or not. Zap­pa was, in fact, an ego­tis­ti­cal prick. And that’s OK, I guess, many great fig­ures were. But what Warhol finds repug­nant — as do I — is not run-of-the-mill ego­tism, but Zap­pa’s icky, dis­taste­ful side, which became more and more promi­nent in his work from the late 70’s through the 80’s. Zap­pa rose to great­ness as a bril­liant counter-(counter-)cultural rock par­o­dist with an avant-garde bent, but even­tu­al­ly his music mor­phed into a sopho­moric, misog­y­nis­tic, gui­tar-solo boys-club, whose appar­ent mis­sion was just to ‘shock the prudes.’ Watch­ing some of his lat­er con­cert videos and TV appear­ances, and see­ing the behav­ior of his fans is revolt­ing. It’s a major dis­ap­point­ment for me, who would oth­er­wise be proud to sing his prais­es as one of the great­est Amer­i­can com­posers in ANY genre. But I’ll always hold his ear­ly works high on my list of the great­est discs ever.

  • Bob Canning says:

    (Berlin is prob­a­bly the son of William Ran­dolph Hearst’s hand­picked suc­ces­sor, whose daugh­ter, Brigid, was one of Warhol’s film stars.)

    LOL! Or he could be Boston Musi­cian Rick Berlin of Orches­tra Luna, Luna, Berlin Air­lift fame.

  • karen marie says:

    “Water­mel­on in East­er Grass” is a gor­geous song. Zap­pa’s per­for­mance of it in Madrid in, I think, the late 1980s blew me away. Used to be on youtube but it went miss­ing some time ago. It put the album ver­sion to shame.

  • Richard Haynie says:

    It’s “Water­mel­on in East­er Hay”. You should be able to find it now…

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Zap­pa was­n’t “sim­ply rude.” Zap­pa was an indus­tri­al-strength ass­hole.

  • Jonnybutter says:

    This arti­cle is a load of crap. Berlin under­stands noth­ing about Zappa’s work — no real fan would say all that stuff, i.e. that Zap­pa is “com­ing after the Jews and the Blacks…etc”. Berlin is a ringer and a jack­ass — a lot like the peo­ple Zap­pa is com­plain­ing about in the clip.

    The sto­ry about Zap­pa and Nico is apoc­ryphal, and if you know the sto­ry of how “val­ley Girl” hap­pened, you can see that either this writer or some oth­er ass­hole this writer copied from, twist­ed it to make Zap­pa sound as bad as pos­si­ble. His daugh­ter impro­vised a bunch of val­ley speak and her dad wrote a song around it and edit­ed her parts in. If you head was not up your ass at the time, you’d know that Frank did every­thing he could to boost his daughter’s career, did tons of press for her, etc.

    This arti­cle is bor­der­line defam­a­to­ry. I don’t care for every­thing Zap­pa did, but par­a­sites like this site — para-sites — should be glad Zap­pa and his wife are safe­ly dead and can’t defend them­selves. I under­stand very well why FZ hat­ed rock jour­nal­ism — because so much of it was pure garbage and delib­er­ate­ly mean like this arti­cle. It’s appalling that ‘Open Cul­ture’ con­tin­ues to sling this garbage on Face­book and else­where. They will nev­er get a dime or a boost from me.

  • Kravin.Moorehead says:

    Frank’s musi­cians respect­ed him but not all of them liked him.

  • Patrick Quinn says:

    Loved ’em both… I always thought[*and still do] that they were work­ing togeth­er to stim­u­late a buzz, by cre­at­ing a love-hate worked quite well

  • Daniel says:

    And a chain smoker…which is what killed him at an ear­ly age

    I find great mer­it in the work of Zap­pa and The VU

    That they played a gig togeth­er is amaz­ing

  • Charlie says:

    The Vel­vet Under­ground were a bunch of tal­ent­less hacks with no dis­cernible tal­ent who artists (also with no dis­cernible tal­ent) think are cool because Warhol liked them. Yuck. Lou Reed induct­ing Frank Zap­pa into the Hall of Fame was a com­plete joke, as Zap­pa despised him. A hun­dred years from now, music majors in col­lege will be study­ing Frank’s music, and will not know (or care) about the Vel­vet Under­ground.

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