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

by | Permalink | Comments (20) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (20)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • 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.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.