6 Inexplicably Hostile Interviews With Famous Musicians
In researching my new novel, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, about an 11-year-old pop star, I watched a number of interviews with musicians. Most performers, like the media-friendly kid in my book, are happy to be getting airtime and don't want to alienate their fans. But then there are those who, for whatever reason -- an off-putting comment, a generally grumpy demeanor, the fact that they're opening that night for Sinbad -- are a little less agreeable. Sort of like ...
Justin Bieber vs. Mojo in the Morning
Justin Bieber's recent spate of pot-smoking, torso-flaunting petulance is either a full-blown meltdown or the behavior of a pretty typical teenager. But it wasn't long ago that Bieber dominated the world by being as pleasant as it's possible to be when millions of crazed Beliebers document your every move.
But in this interview with Detroit radio show Mojo in the Morning, the cracks began to appear in the Bieb's facade. He first gets upset at 2:45, when Mojo tries to pay him a genuine compliment: When Mojo first heard Bieber's new single, "Boyfriend," he thought it was Justin Timberlake, whom he admires. Bieber gets defensive. "That's crazy, because our voices sound nothing alike," he says. "Saying I sound like someone else is not really a compliment." One assumes that Bieber might have been equally indignant at a comparison to John Lennon.
Timberlake is a sellout, Biebs is from the streets.
Mojo assures him that he meant it as a tribute and tries to smooth things over, but the damage has been done. At 6:40, Mojo jokingly asks if Bieber is worried about Harry from One Direction hanging out with his mom, since this Harry fellow apparently likes older women. That might seem like an awkward line of questioning for any grown man who's not a drill instructor to take with a teenager. But as Mojo explains later, Bieber had made the exact same joke about Harry in a previous interview.
That doesn't stop Bieber from getting pissed. "I think you should worry about me around your mom," the 18-year-old retorts. Mojo takes the opportunity to let him know that his own mother is actually dead, at which point Bieber hangs up on him. Never say never when it comes to hypocrisy!
Bob Dylan vs. Time Magazine
On Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of the U.K., captured in the documentary Don't Look Back, the raspy crooner spends a lot of time messing with the insatiable press, sometimes goofily. But in a terrible mismatch, Time magazine sent Horace Judson, a historian of molecular biology, to interview the voice of his generation. The folksinger -- a label he disdains -- goes on an extended, semi-articulate rant against Time and the mainstream media for peddling falsehoods. It's sort of like a college freshman who's just discovered Noam Chomsky and come home for Thanksgiving to tell his family how disgustingly bourgeois they are. Judson remains unflappable as Dylan gets more inflamed, boasting that he's as good a singer as early 20th century Italian tenor Enrico Caruso.
What was Judson's impression of the concert, which he went on to attend that evening? "My opinion then and now," he later said, "was that the music was unpleasant, the lyrics inflated, and Dylan a self-indulgent, whining showoff." And yet he loved Dylan's Christian phase, so go figure ...
Vanilla Ice vs. MTV (with Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofalo, Denis Leary, and Chris Kattan)
In 1999, MTV produced a special called Twenty-Five Lame in which they counted down the 25 worst-ever music videos, as voted on by fans. The top 10 videos would be banned forever from the channel, with the symbolic destruction of a videocassette by hammer, lighter, or blender. They invited Robert Matthew Van Winkle, aka Vanilla Ice, to destroy his own entry, "Ice Ice Baby," at No. 9.
Before we get to what happened, let's take a moment to appreciate Vanilla's caricatured embodiment of late '90s fashion.
Dennis Leary remained undouched.
Goatee and extra-long sideburns, backward baseball cap, oversized Dr. Evil T-shirt, and baggy shorts with sneakers. All that's missing is some No Fear apparel and an oversized surfboard bearing the inscription "It takes two hands to wax a Big Johnson."
After being forced to watch the video, Vanilla asks for something more potent than the hammer he's been given, and Jon Stewart unwisely hands him a baseball bat. At 1:25, the rapper not only attacks the cassette, but metamorphoses into an out-of-control toddler with advanced motor skills, trashing the entire set and check-swinging at Stewart's head while issuing awkward, disingenuous apologies. He also attacks the cardboard cutout of Gerardo, rapper of "Rico Suave." Repeated attempts at appeasing him with Chris Kattan's shouts of "Vanilla! No, Vanilla!" fail to quell his oddly apologetic rage -- a strange mixture of anger and regret matched only by that of moviegoers who had paid to see him star in the 1991 film Cool as Ice.
Chris Kattan was never seen again.
Nick Cave vs. Billy Corgan
It's 1994, and Australian rocker Nick Cave doesn't seem pleased to be at Lollapalooza. Fortunately, MTV had the foresight to have fellow rock star and Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan conduct the interview. But when Corgan asks him how he came to be at the festival, Cave flatly answers, "Well, my manager rang me up and told me that I was gonna do this." Fascinating!
Wearing sunglasses and an expressionless face, Cave begins answering Corgan's next question, then realizes how boring he sounds and abruptly switches tack, complaining that he's already done this "same interview with MTV" and asking Corgan if they're his questions (they're not).
If they were, his second question might have been "Did you know that the length of one's hair is equal to one's father's disappointment?"
You'd think after a few decades in the business that Cave would understand that part of being a celebrity is answering the same questions repeatedly, especially when you're at a big event on national television. The good-humored Corgan doesn't do himself any favors by mistakenly calling Cave's band English. In Corgan's defense, Cave moved to England, and some of the band members are British. Corgan apologetically points this out, finally displaying the level of respect and preparation his subject apparently demands of mindless Q-and-A sessions. But this only makes Cave crankier. He ends the interview by telling the 27-year-old that he has "the mentality of a teenager." Poor Corgan had a thankless assignment at the festival; he also got to grind through a challenging interview with MCA from the Beastie Boys.
Billy Bob Thornton vs. Jian Ghomeshi
Billy Bob Thornton was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the monotone protagonist of 1996's Sling Blade (and won one for his screenplay). If this interview with Canadian radio's Jian Ghomeshi to promote his band, the Boxmasters, is any indication, he apparently stayed in character for 13 years. Having warned the show's producers that he didn't want to talk about his film career, Thornton takes umbrage with Ghomeshi's introduction, in which he makes passing -- and understandable -- reference to Thornton's storied cinematic work. Thornton then provides only sullen-teenager responses, all variations of "I don't know what you mean," as the other Boxmasters suffer.
Reality is now ... disengaged.
Ghomeshi redirects his questions to the band members for a while, but re-engages with the movie star about five minutes in. Big mistake: Thornton rambles nonsensically about a magazine he subscribed to as a kid called Famous Monsters of Filmland. Seriously -- listen to it, it's an amazing feat of digression. At seven minutes, Thornton finally expresses his frustration that Ghomeshi brought up his film career, as it suggests that music is merely a hobby of his, and asserts that an interviewer would never ask Tom Petty if music was his first love. (No, but if Petty, say, started acting in movies, you might mention that he had something of a music career beforehand.)
"My first love was a chick named Lisa Cohen," he deadpans, answering once and for all the much-debated question of whether Thornton ever had a Jewish girlfriend. The host calls a truce at 10 minutes, and the two adversaries limp to the finish line. Side note: Early issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland from the '50s and '60s often go for several hundred dollars on eBay. No word yet on whether Thornton is planning to adapt it into a movie, with him playing the soundtrack.
Sigur Ros vs. Luke Burbank
If you thought Billy Bob Thornton was passive-aggressively taciturn, he has nothing on Icelandic band Sigur Ros, who, in 2007, talked with Luke Burbank on NPR's Bryant Park Project. Although "talk" is a stretch; the band members mumble, laugh nervously, pause excruciatingly, occasionally whisper a word or two, and generally behave as though Burbank is conducting the entire interview while they commit an especially grisly murder. Imagine the most strained conversation you've ever had, multiply it by 10, and put it on live radio.
You might think there's a language barrier. Perhaps they're more comfortable communicating in "Hopelandic," the invented language they sing in. Until, that is, Burbank asks them about it, and one of them says of the language, "It's just fucking bullshit" (censored by NPR).
The interview was so horrible that NPR later did its own postmortem, with Burbank gamely asking a veteran music journalist to critique his interview skills. She points out, for instance, that he should have targeted individual members instead of the band as a whole, not asked the questions they always get asked, and called them out on their surliness. Because that wouldn't have made things even more awkward.
For a less aggressive interview, perhaps Burbank should have interviewed Sigur Ros' fellow Icelander Bjork.
Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels The Love Song of Jonny Valentine and Kapitoil. He is also on Twitter.
For more unruly rock stars, check out The 6 Most (Certifiably) Insane Tales of Rock Star Behavior and 7 Beloved Celebrities And The Awful Shit You Forgot They Did.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out What They Really Meant: The Billy Bob Thornton Tantrum.