Frank Zappa’s painfully awkward appearance on Andy Warhol’s late-night TV show
Andy Warhol and Frank Zappa were two polar opposite characters who, to all intents and purposes, quietly despised each other for years. Despite both being the captains of their own ships and being maverick creative captains at that, the pair couldn’t have been more separate entities on a personal level—it means their meetings always have an undesirable awkward factor to them. A factor which made Zappa an odd pick as a guest on Warhol’s TV chat show and, as you would imagine, the result was suitably painful to watch.
It’s worth mentioning that both Zappa and Warhol enjoyed a somewhat chequered history, something which originated all the way back in 1967 when the artist accompanied The Velvet Underground and Nico for a pair of dates in LA and San Francisco. At the show, Zappa would make a play for the top and try to undermine the band who, to a classically trained musician such a shim, represented and the unwanted and unwelcomed new breed of musicians, using fashion and fame to sell themselves.
For the dates on the west coast, they were joined on the bill by The Mothers Of Invention who Zappa was playing the guitar for at the time, soon to be leading them through a dramatic charge for artistic purity. During the shows, Zappa did his best to make the Velvet Underground and, by proxy, their manager and leader Andy Warhol, look stupid whenever he could.
Warhol disclosed in his 1989 book, Diaries of both those shows and their meeting at the studios some years later: “Frank Zappa came for an interview for our TV show and I believe that after the interview I hated him even more than ever before. He was so childish to us when the Mothers of Invention played with the Velvet Underground—I both think of the L.A. trip and the Fillmore in San Francisco. I hated him then and now I still see nothing in him.”
Warhol then recalled a bizarre encounter him and Zappa had after the pop artist complimented his daughter, clearly seeing something in Warhol’s remark that offended him: “He acted very strange about Moon. I told him how great she was, and he said: ‘Listen, she is my creation. I invented her’. Something like: ‘She’s nothing, actually I’m behind it’. I mean, if she were my daughter, then I would say: ‘People, what a girl’,” recalled the acclaimed artist, “but he left all the honour to himself. Very strange.”
The first incident of Zappa and Warhol falling out was documented by Chris Darrow of Kaleidoscope, who was at the San Francisco show and, somewhat surprisingly, he took Zappa’s side and detailed a classically Zappa moment: “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.”
We’ve all seen film of Nico performing and it’s hard not to hear this description as anything but accurate: “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.”
Adding: “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…” It was a clear and direct insult to both the band and their manager. Zappa, emboldened by his clique, didn’t stop either, “This ‘song’ kept going for about a minute or so and then suddenly stopped. He walked off the stage and the show moved on. It was one of the greatest pieces of rock ‘n roll theatre that I have ever seen.”
Given the backstory of Zappa and Warhol’s relationship, the late-night TV interview arrived in unusual circumstances. The discussion, which was conducted in The Factory Boardroom, included Zappa fan Rob Berlin who sat next to Warhol during the encounter and, at times, the pioneering artist seems to sit back in a look of bemusement at the musician for the entirety of the clip.
In the conversation, Zappa seems to take an instant dislike to the interviewer and tries to entertain himself by being incredibly hostile to make things difficult for Berlin. The clip is truly fascinating to watch after knowing about the pair’s desolate relationship, check it out below.