I hear it all the time. “Wow, I wish I had your job — you get paid to have fun and hang out with famous people!” What folks don’t seem to understand is that first, just ’cause someone’s famous doesn’t mean they’re fun; and second, the job of writing about celebrities is exactly that: a job. It’s not “hanging out.” We earn those nosebleed seats, preview passes, screener videos, and stale backstage Boca Burgers, baby; it’s hard work getting publishable quotes outta your average creative type. There’s a mutual disdain and distrust between them, the “artists,” and us, the press. They’re tired of tabloid reporters and fielding the same old ill-informed questions; we’re tired of having to manufacture an interesting story from their self-serving PR spiel. Remember the scene in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous where even neophyte bottom feeders in the celebrity biosphere have already ascribed reporters “the enemy”?
Over the course of 15 years of writing biographies (some authorized by their subjects, others not) and scribbling for rags like the Reader, Starlog, FilmFax, Cult Movies, Rock ’N’ Roll Comics, and others, I’ve had plenty of celebrity interviews go horribly askew, caused by everything from stupidity (often not my own) to setting to circumstance to outright sabotage.
Worst beginning for an interview
“I know you, you’re the asshole who spelled my name wrong on the cover of your magazine.” Roger McGuinn (4-29-91, the Bacchanal, Clairemont Mesa). I’d written an article about the one-time Byrds guitarist for the now-defunct Soundwaves magazine, which misspelled his name “McGwinn” on the cover. I pled innocent to any part in the editorial snafu, and McGuinn-with-a-U agreed to talk to me, but only if I could spell his last name aloud (I could and did) and answer a trivia question — “Name one song I wrote, and if you say a Dylan song, I’m walking away” (my “Chestnut Mare” reply got me the interview).
There I was, backstage at a Bob Dylan concert (7-24-91), the lucky winner of a press pool draw. Not only that,but I was accompanied by a musician friend of mine, Rick Danko, who’d once been a member of Dylan’s former backing group, the Band. Score! Danko promised to get me exclusive access to the reclusive Dylan, who was keeping to himself in a well-guarded enclave of trailers. Over the course of about an hour, a guy kept coming out from Dylan’s trailer to tell us, “He’s almost ready for you two, just a few more minutes.”During that same hour, Danko managed to ingest, imbibe, inhale, or absorb various recreational substances of differing degrees of potency and consistency, from gases to powders to liquids, to the point where he was leaning against me and holding onto my shoulders just to keep from falling over, an effort that eventually proved fruitless.
When the trailer guy finally came over to say Dylan was ready to visit with his old friend and his friend’s reporter buddy, Danko was sound asleep and dead to the world, lying on the grass, his head propped up against a cement cinderblock. With only one of us ambulatory, I was refused admittance into the inner circle of trailers. Danko and I stayed friends for years after that, but he always insisted that we did go into the trailer and talk with Dylan, even bragging about getting me the interview and accusing me of ingratitude for not being more thankful, so vivid were his apparent hallucinations. I’ve often wondered if Rick also saw a Dylan concert in his head that night while somnambulant in Satori. If he did, I hope it was better than the half-assed show I caught over here on this side of the cosmic veil (after pouring Danko into the back seat of my editor’s car for a nightlong “nap”). I would have liked to at least ask the renowned poet/jester, “Dude, don’t you remember the lyrics to your own songs anymore?”
Worst locale for an interview
Tijuana bordello (1-8-94) — A few hours before the Mighty Mighty Bosstones were scheduled to play Iguanas in TJ, singer Dickey Barrett wanted to take a walk with me and find a good place to chat. We ended up at a Zona Norte whorehouse called the Chicago Club, where loud salsa music drowned out my taped interview. Most of the conversation ended up being with swarthy club prostitutes anyway, as the two of us took turns describing the most outrageous and deviant sex acts we could think of, asking each woman, “So, how much would that one cost me?”
Worst health hazard
After sitting for a lengthy interview (May 1990), Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman, offered me a tour of his L.A. home, a memorabilia-stuffed museum full of vintage toys and advertising, 3-D cameras and Viewmasters, and other pop-culture kitsch. Opening a small plastic garbage can full of snot-thick green goo, he suddenly became playful and held the stuff over my head, giggling, “Look out, the Green Slime is coming!” Goo dripped wetly from between his fingers, and suddenly the viscous fluid went kerplop onto my skull. Immediately apologetic, Reubens tried to assist pulling the gunk from my shoulder-length hair, but it just got more matted. Then I felt a burning sensation, and my eyes began watering as if exposed to ammonia — the green slime, I found out later, was nearly a decade old, and the chemical breakdown was having unpleasant interaction with my scalp, hair, and eyes. My photographer whisked me to a hospital, where I was attended by a middle-aged nurse who luckily remembered the alcohol-based concoction often called upon to treat green slime-related mishaps of the early ’80s. Reubens was still apologizing the next day when he phoned to make sure I’d lived to tell. He kindly picked up the tab for $975, which covered the cost of my hospital visit and the hairstylist later called upon to “fix” those spots where slime-encrusted hair had been excised from my shaggy ’do. The resultant haircut can only be described as a cross between a mullet and a bonsai tree, and my scalp still itches like hell anytime I see something green and gooey. (“Honey, how come you always pick your nose and scratch your head at the same time?”)
Worst timing for an interview
Kurt Cobain, shortly before or possibly during a heroin overdose (5-2-93) — When I called the Seattle phone number given to me by Nirvana’s publicist, I was expecting to reach Kurt Cobain to discuss a proposed Nirvana comic book. The person who answered the phone spoke only a few words — “Yeah, what do you want?”— before lapsing into fits of giggles and then long silences. I hung up and dialed back,but the line was busy all afternoon. The following day, I found out Cobain had overdosed on heroin the previous afternoon; no follow-up interview was ever arranged, and the “official Nirvana comic book” never happened.
Worst dueling diva dilemma
While editing an adult-oriented line of very graphic novels called Carnal Comics, I was scheduled to meet in L.A., at different times on the same day, with Aja and Pamela Des Barres — the former a legendary porn star, and the latter known as “the world’s most famous groupie,” whose book I’m with the Band famously detailed her liaisons with members of Led Zeppelin, the Who, and dozens more. It was to be my decision which starlet would be featured in her own mass-market comic book. First, there was lunch with lubricious Howard Stern Show fave Aja, during which I mentioned my upcoming meeting with Miss Des Barres. “My God,” Aja grimaced, “how can that woman do what she does? I mean, fucking guys just ’cause they play guitar? At least with me, it’s my job, my profession. I’m great at what I do, I get paid well for it, and then I go home feeling good about it all. She’s nothing but a screwedup slut with delusions of grandeur!” During dinner with Des Barres, I dropped Aja’s name and said I’d met with her that afternoon. “What a filthy little thing,” Des Barres frowned. “When I have sex with a guy, it’s because there’s something about him I’m already attracted to. I know and respect his music, I feel something from him, and I want to share some of myself with him in return. That girl’s nothing but a porn slut — hand her a few bucks, and she’ll do it with anybody. That’s just plain nasty.”Carnal Comics ended up publishing the Aja comic, which went into three additional printings but passed on doing a comic version of Pamela Des Barres’s I’m with the Band.
Worst question that got the best answer
Asked of Joey Ramone (11- 6-95), backstage at the Sports Arena:“So do giant mice still have to wear earplugs at your concerts to avoid exploding?” The obscure reference to a recurring gag in the film Rock ’n’ Roll High School elicited a chuckle and a quote much more sparkling than the query merited: “No, but the roaches do!”
Worst question ever, period
“When did you first realize you were a one-hit wonder?” Asked of Eric Denton (8- 99) of the San Diego-based Monroes, whose one and only hit record, “What Do All the People Know” (“All the people tell me so, but what do all the people know…”), came out in late 1981.Denton’s reply: “What kind of question is that? How am I supposed to answer? Nobody ever says to themselves,‘I’m a one-hit wonder…my life and career, it’s over.’”
Worst phone interview
Actress Traci Lords,former underage porn star and B-movie cult icon, was available for an interview, but only during my afternoon shift managing a music shop called Robert’s. I gave her publicist the store number for Lords to call.
“Robert’s, this is Jay, may I help you?”
“Uhhhhh, is Jay there?”
“This is Jay, can I help you?”
“I thought you said this was Robert.”
“This is Robert’s. I’m Jay. What can I do for you?”
“You’ve reached Robert’s. Can I help you?”
“Yes,can I speak to Jay?”
“This is Jay. Who’s calling?”
“You said you were Robert.”
“No, I said this is Robert’s. I’m Jay.”
“That’s who I’m looking for. Jay.”
“I’m Jay.You’re speaking to Jay.”
“Okay.Then why were you pretending to be Robert? I’m so confused.”
And indeed she was. Shortly after we figured out who each other was, Lords terminated the interview because I hadn’t signed the faxed agreement forbidding me from asking questions about her adult film career. It was fun for a moment anyway, playing Abbott to her Costello (or Cheech to her Chong — “Dave’s not here, man”).
Worst awkward meeting
Before I agreed to write the unauthorized biography of Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man and the Hulk, I should have thought about the fact that Lee and I would likely come across each other on the comic convention circuit, promoting our respective endeavors. My bio raised a lot of still-open questions about who really “created” Marvel’s best-known characters, scripter Lee or illustrators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, who dispute their former boss’s recollections as to who deserves the most credit — not to mention compensation — the bulk of both having long since been claimed by Stan Lee. This revisionist look at the foundation of Marvel’s eventual empire caused a lot of discussion and controversy in both the mainstream and comic industry trade press.
Stan Lee with the author
Sure enough, Lee and I ended up scheduled side by side,signing autographs at the San Diego Comic-Con. A small crowd gathered as I was introduced to him as the author of his unauthorized bio. Cameras flashed and onlookers seemed to be expecting (or at least hoping for) fisticuffs to erupt, such was the public animosity the book had stirred. Lee reached out, shook my hand…and told me, “I’m sorry.” I was mystified. Why was he apologizing to me? Was he sorry to have met me? Sorry the bio exists? I asked what he meant.“I’m sorry,” he said, “that I didn’t lead a more interesting life, because perhaps then your book about me would have been more interesting.” This gentlemanly way of telling me that he didn’t think much of my work came accompanied with a diplomatic smile that stayed plastered on his face the whole time we posed for photos together.
I’d come prepared with a copy of the bio in question, which I pulled from my briefcase and asked if he’d autograph. (Hey, it’s Stan “the Man”Lee, okay?) And I figured if his hands were busy signing my unauthorized biography, then he couldn’t punch me in the head. He graciously did the deed (signing, not punching), we mugged for a few more snapshots with me holding up my prize, and then we parted, never to cross paths again — other than the personalized letter of rejection I later got when I applied for a job at his (since failed) Internet company, Stan Lee Media, signed, “Tough luck, True Believer!”
Worst sabotaged introduction to a rock star
Meeting Doors guitarist Robbie Krieger (10-11- 98), introduced by an unfriendly (to me, anyway) local promoter — “Robbie, this is the guy who wrote the Doors comic book you never got any money from.”
Worst insult or threat from a rock star
Guns ’N Roses comic book
Axl Rose (9-30-92, Jack Murphy Stadium) to publicist Tom Holtz, pointing at me — “If that motherfucker steps over the line and comes on our side, I don’t care who invited him, I’ll smash his fuckin’ face!” I was backstage as a guest of co-headliner Ice-T of Body Count, who was unaware of the bad blood between Rose and me stemming from a G’n’R comic book I’d written. Just a few months previously, in a cover feature for the April ’92 issue of Rolling Stone, Rose had singled out my Rock ’n’ Roll Comics #43 to badmouth — “A comic book says how Izzy comes to me and says, ‘You know, I just don’t feel I’m up to this.’ And I go, ‘Yeah, and you’re scared, too, aw shit.’ Well, that ain’t the way it went down.” (The scene was laid out according to events described to me by Izzy himself.) Backstage at the stadium, someone in the G’n’R encampment pointed me out to Rose and informed him that I was the guy behind said comic book. He went ballistic, having to be held back as he hurled profane insults and threats my way, both amusing and flattering me, whereas I suspect his intent was to frighten or at least intimidate. Later, while G’n’R played onstage, I crossed over to the group’s wagon train of buses and trailers, snuck into their catering tent, and scattered around a dozen copies of the comic book that had so incensed Rose for the band’s post-performance enjoyment. Nine years later, I mentioned this during a chance encounter with Slash, and he was nearly apoplectic with laughter. “Dude, I thought Axl’s fuckin’ head was gonna explode when he saw those comics!” Ahh, the power of the press.
Worst public embarrassment (with smoothest recovery)
Outspoken and cantankerous author Harlan Ellison and I were both booked to sign autographs at a 1994 Atlanta comic book convention. We were seated near each other behind a conference table; I was signing copies of Rock ’n’ Roll Comics while Ellison promoted his upcoming Dream Corridor comic book.During one lull, I showed him a comic I’d written called “Deepest Dimension Terror Anthology,” featuring an illustrated adaptation of a short story that Ellison had published in his own Dangerous Visions anthology book — “A Toy for Juliette”by famed Psycho author Robert Bloch. Ellison’s mood visibly darkened. “Nobody told me about this,”he growled (and I do mean growled — think Schwarzenegger finding a parking ticket on his Humvee). He made the line of autograph seekers wait while he carefully read the comic (illustrated by Matthew Alice’s own Rick Geary) from cover to cover. I could almost see the thunderclouds forming over his head as he got to a brief scene that hadn’t appeared in the original text story from Dangerous Visions.
“Who the fuck gave a no-name son of a bitch like you the right to rewrite Robert Bloch?”he shouted so loud that people in line visibly flinched.“You put his fucking name on the cover; every goddamned word of this story should be by Robert fucking Bloch.”
Ellison went on berating me without pause for another half minute (so I’m told — I was sure it was a half hour), his voice and gorge rising in tandem as he defended the sacrosanct nature of Robert Bloch’s storytelling. Finally running out of oxygen (if not epithets), he paused for breath, and I was able to tell him, “I spoke with Robert Bloch about the comic script, and he’s the one who suggested the change and the new dialogue.”
In a bipolar rush of reversal, Ellison’s scowl was replaced by an unctuous smile as he closed the comic book and handed it back to me with feigned grace. “Oh, well, why didn’t you say so? In that case, I love it. Good work.” Ellison turned to the crowd of onlookers, bowed with Shakespearean theatricality,and said,“Every one of you should buy this Deepest Dimension comic. I highly recommend it.” I understand that’s the closest thing to a public apology ever offered by the mercurial wordsmith.
Worst actors from the worst movies
“Vampira”(real name Maila Nurmi) is probably best known for appearing in the so-called worst movie ever made, Ed Wood Jr.’s Plan 9 from Outer Space. Nurmi agreed to an indepth, in-person chat with me at L.A.’s Glamourcon convention (November 1995) for an article about horror TV hosts — her glamour ghoul Morticia Addams-style character debuted on TV in April 1955, hosting late-night horror movies shown on KABC Channel 7 in L.A., predating copycat Elvira by decades (Elvira’s name even rhymes with Vampira’s). I also wanted to ask about her fabled friendship with James Dean (who told reporters that he thought Nurmi was a genuine sorceress, before finding out she was a mere horror-movie hostess). After the young actor’s death in September 1955, Nurmi claimed to the press on several occasions that she was in contact with Dean’s departed spirit.“The Ghost of James Dean”was a five-page cover feature written by Vampira herself for Borderline magazine in January ’64. When asked about this, the 74-year-old actress was put off by my query and reluctant to discuss Dean at all. I asked about an article from the February ’57 issue of Whisper Magazine, a cover feature entitled “James Dean’s Black Madonna” — “What did you think when tabloids published rumors that you were a jilted lover who put some kind of curse on James Dean shortly before his fatal car crash?”
Nurmi stiffened in both poise and tone.“The gossip magazines made that story up,after I wouldn’t talk to them anymore about Jimmy,” she said icily, adding,“I’ll have you know that I personally destroyed the only known photograph of James Dean and I together, just so that people like you couldn’t accuse me of cashing in on my friendship with him. ”This belied previous interviews she’d given, but I pushed on, asking about her failed infringement lawsuit against Elvira (1989’s Nurmi v. Peterson; Nurmi lost because the court ruled “character likeness means an exact copy, not a suggestive resemblance”). This served only to get her more agitated — “As far as I’m concerned, she stole the entire ‘Vampira’ concept from me, that’s all I’ll say.”
With two strikes against me, I figured, what the hell, if looks could kill I would have already been wearing a toe tag. “Is it true your TV show was canceled in early 1955 because parents complained that you promoted witchcraft and because you made a joke on the air saying, ‘My sister was lynched for raping a snake’?” This oft-repeated rumor first turned up in ’50s magazines like Whisper and Confidential, and I hoped to finally get either a confirmation or denial of its veracity, straight from the sorceress’s mouth,but she gave me neither, instead standing up and turning swiftly on the heels of her sensible black shoes and marching away from me without another word.
Her tablemate at Glamourcon, 63-year-old Conrad Brooks, also had a role in Plan 9 (as “Patrolman Jamie”). He sat nearby watching as my chat with Vampira abruptly ended. “You can interview me,” he offered with a hopeful grin, putting his arm around my shoulder with unnerving familiarity. My assignment was write an article with some kind of “cult movie star” angle, so I said, “Sure” and went to start my tape recorder. “No, wait, you have to buy one of my movies first,” he insisted, pushing a VHS copy of Baby Ghost into my hands, an apparently homemade Casper knockoff that,when I tried to sit through it later, made the worst entry in Ed Wood’s inept oeuvre look like Citizen Kane. It ended up costing me $15 ($10 for the video and $5 for an autographed B&W photo) to talk to Conrad Brooks, but at least he told me a colorful story about the time cross-dressing counterculture hero Ed Wood burst into tears because his favorite bullet brassiere had shrunk in the wash.
Worst trip down memory lane
Richard Matheson’s work for the classic Twilight Zone series (“The Invaders,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” “Little Girl Lost,”etc.) represents some of television’s best writing. His agent arranged for a phone interview (1/18/89), though I quickly found the author hadn’t been informed that my article was about the ’60s anthology TV series Thriller — an assignment that, unbeknownst to me, Matheson considered the nadir of his television career.
MATHESON: Thriller? You’re kidding, right? The Boris Karloff show? Well, I’ll be.I don’t think anyone has ever asked me about that particular show.It’s not even on my résumé. Well, okay, I guess I’ll tell you what I can. I only did the one episode. I have to tell you, it’s weird being asked about this. Just hearing the name of the show after all this time, well, it wasn’t my favorite career experience, let’s just say. Do I really want to get into this?
Q: How did you come to adapt that particular story, “The Return of Andrew Bentley” [by August Derleth and Mark Shorer]? Had you adapted work by others much at that point?
MATHESON: This is going to be an interesting interview. You want to ask me about other writers then? And about Thriller? Okay, let’s get this out of the way quick so we can wrap this up.This isn’t what you want to hear, or maybe it is, but I wasn’t too happy with what happened to that particular script. There was some massive rewrite.
Q: Oh really? It was revised after you’d turned in your final draft?
MATHESON: Well,yes, of course,why else would I be unhappy with it? What I had done, I don’t know if you’re familiar with a Twilight Zone of mine called “Nick of Time” [Bill Shatner and the devilhead fortune-telling machine].Well, I put that couple into a bantering thing. I did a similar thing with Bentley,with that sort of bandying about, gradually becoming involved in genuine fear. And, uh, they played it pretty heavy right from the start.Which is not really my cup of tea. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Surprising to hear from the guy who wrote “I Am Legend,” about a vampiric plague and the last human on Earth, and Spielberg’s TV movie Duel, both “pretty heavy right from the start”…]
Q: Did you know about the rewrite before it aired?
MATHESON:I had no idea. And I have no idea who redid it. A story editor? That’s happened to me a number of times, but this was one of the earliest occasions and just being reminded of it is unpleasant, I can tell you. It’s the business…I’m rather more well-known now, safe to say, but of course it’s still something that happens and something I’d just as soon not dwell on or discuss at length. Or discuss at all, now that I’ve come to think on it. What say we both find something else to do now? Good luck with your article. [Cue dial tone…]
Worst interruption or distraction
Courtney Love’s cootchie (Civic Theatre,12-12-94)— Backstage at 91X’s Christmas concert, I was trying to have an earnest conversation with legendary crooner Tom Jones, but seated on a bench just opposite where we stood was Hole singer Courtney Love. Love kept lifting her short, raggedy dress to her chin every time Jones looked in her direction, knees akimbo more than necessary for us to ascertain that she wasn’t wearing panties and that her hygiene routine didn’t include razors or wax. Love winked at Jones with every flash, but the Welsh sex symbol, to his credit, didn’t acknowledge the dark forest she was luring him toward. That is, until I turned off my tape recorder to leave, whereupon he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “On the bright side, I don’t have to worry about her throwing her undergarments at me!”
In February 1989, I was one of several people being considered to write a mass-market biography of Gene Roddenberry, the writer/producer to thank/blame for the revered/reviled Star Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry and his wife, veteran Trek actress Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel on the original series), sent word that they wanted to meet with me and with writer David Alexander on separate occasions, to get a feel for our respective approaches to the project. My interview took place over a poolside brunch at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, and all seemed to be going well at first. Roddenberry was explaining how he wanted this to be an unbiased “warts and all”account when he excused himself to visit the men’s room. This left me in the position of making small talk with his wife, who at the time had a recurring role on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Lwaxana Troi, the flamboyant mother of Enterprise crewmember Deanna Troi.
I mentioned to Mrs. Roddenberry that I enjoyed the way her character was portrayed as being in the autumn of her life, yet still shown as very sexual, pursuing a twitchy Captain Picard and taunting him with a rotating roster of competing suitors, once going into pheromone-frenzied “heat”; in another episode, turning up nude on the Enterprise promenade. “Yours is one of the most sexual characters on the show,” I was telling her, just as Roddenberry stepped back up to our table.
He apparently misheard me— “For chrissakes,”Roddenberry bellowed loud enough to make the orange juice in my glass ripple like the scene in Jurassic Park where T-Rex is approaching.“I walk away for five minutes and come back to find you hitting on my wife and telling her she’s the sexiest thing on Star Trek!” At first I thought he was pulling my leg, impressing me with his acting skills; but then he grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet, muttering, “This is why I never bring my wife out in public anymore.” Before his wife or I could clarify, they were off the patio,out the doors, and making their way toward the valet parking lot, leaving me with a breakfast bill of $57 for three orange juices, muffins, coffee, and two fruit salads.
David Alexander completed his 600-page love letter to Roddenberry after the Star Trek creator passed away in 1991, and the book became a midlevel bestseller. I ended up scripting two much-less-circulated comic book bios about Roddenberry and his (lovely) wife, both of them unauthorized but neither unflattering. Majel Barrett recently autographed a copy of her comic for me, apologizing for the way her husband’s jealousy resulted in my losing a primo writing gig. “God love him,” she said with weary affection, “he believed I was the most beautiful creature on Earth and was convinced every other man in the world wanted to steal me away from him.”
Worst case of getting too close to a subject
I met Penthouse centerfold and cover girl Christina Angel at the San Diego Comic-Con, of all places, which she was attending in the company of purported rock star Glenn Danzig.While I interviewed Christina for a profile, the two of us “hit it off.”Before the convention was over,she’d taken up temporary residence with me, forsaking Danzig’s hotel room for my two-bedroom house in La Mesa. This caused some consternation a few nights later when we showed up arm-in-arm at a private Comic-Con party hosted by Danzig (we were “escorted” out of the building by several of the singer’s well-muscled bodyguards). Soon after, I took to the road with Christina,attending showgirl conventions in Vegas and working strip clubs where she headlined, catching her clothes as they flew from the stage. At the time, I considered myself the luckiest guy alive — homely, hairy, chronically underemployed, and yet I was jetting cross country having a romantic fling with a one-time Playboy Playmate who’d been voted among the ten most beautiful women in the world…
The problem, aside from living two hours apart, stemmed from Christina being married at the time (not to Danzig). That and her downhill spiral into low-budget porn movies, a questionable career choice she chose to promote with an appearance on The Jerry Springer Show. I was watching the program when she brought up our extramarital relationship — I hadn’t been given any warning this was coming. I decided on the spot that, when my life is being discussed on TV with Jerry Springer, it’s definitely time to change my life, and the two of us went our separate ways. Male friends were bewildered if not downright angry that I’d walk away from a gorgeous centerfold model and porn star, seeing as how I normally couldn’t lure a WalMart cashier into my bedroom without chloroform or cocaine. But none of those friends ever had my experience. As the old cliché goes, the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but that wouldn’t be the case if people just watered their own fucking lawns.
Worst and most unsettling wrap-up
“Let’s come up with something that we can all make money on,and that way our attack-dog lawyers won’t have to go after you and drag you like carrion to my doorstep.”— Gene Simmons (8-2-93). This was pretty much the final word in a taped phone conference between Simmons, me, and the publisher of Revolutionary Comics, where I was managing editor. Our company had previously produced an unofficial, unauthorized issue of Hard Rock Comics about Kiss. Simmons “unofficially” liked our comic and,instead of suing us, wore a Hard Rock Comics T-shirt on the cover of Kiss Alive III and then phoned our office for the above-referenced conference. He was proposing a “joint publication”between the band and Revolutionary, albeit under vague threat of attack-dog litigation over the earlier unsanctioned comic. Simmons and RevCom never came to an agreement about the joint publication,and Kiss ended up producing the new biocomic themselves, published in their Kisstory hardcover book. They hired the same creative and production team from our company’s Kiss comic book,essentially getting themselves a Revolutionary comic without having to pay Revolutionary Comics. Oh well, at least I didn’t end up getting dragged like carrion (or maybe he meant “carry on,”as in luggage?) to Gene Simmons’s doorstep (where he seems to have installed a revolving door, judging from the umpteenth Kiss lineup currently failing to sell out arenas on their umpteenth “farewell”tour).
Worst interview subject
Dr. Dre (4-8-92) — The NWA lyricist didn’t give up a single usable quote during this taped phone chat regarding his debut solo album, The Chronic. My article instead ended up being about how many times the rapper said, “You know what I’m sayin’ ”without actually saying anything — 178 times in just under 20 minutes, averaging once every six to seven seconds. I still got paid for the article, and now I’m being paid to write about the interview again, which is why Dre was the worst interview subject but not the worst interview ever.
Worst interview ever
Arthur Lee (7-23-94) — I met with the leader of the legendary ’60s L.A. band Love outside the now-defunct and then-funky Flash Café in Mission Valley. About ten minutes into what seemed like a perfectly normal chat, Lee — who has a reputation for being, um, mentally unpredictable — suddenly shouted that I was a “lying son of a bitch,” and I wasn’t really a reporter, I was an undercover police officer trying to trick him into admitting on tape he’d done something illegal (I hadn’t said a word about anything other than music). Lee snatched a $200 recording machine from my hands and smashed it to the ground, kicking it across the asphalt and leaving the unit in pieces before turning to flee into the building.
Randy California’s band Spirit was also on the bill that night, and California witnessed Lee’s tantrum and the ensuing destruction from a few feet away.
“You’re lucky he only thought you were a narc,” California offered casually as I bent over to pick up the busted remains of one of the most expensive tools of my trade. “He hates reporters a lot worse than he hates cops.”