• These are a few of my favorite things. . . that happened while interviewing celebs
• Notorious B.I.G. almost ruins an interview with his eyes closed
• The guy from Fountains of Wayne versus the guy from Wayne, N.J.
Brian Wilson was still under the spell of a weird therapist, Eugene Landy, and extremely spaced out when I taped a CNN interview with him in the early ‘90s. The folks in the control room were going crazy as I was trying to make sense of his halting, distracted meandering. It was a highlight – or lowlight – of that year’s Christmas party blooper reel.
Consider this sort of a blooper reel, too.
Biggie Smalls – The Notorious B.I.G. – was a pretty good “get” at the time, but his prominence in the rap world was mostly lost on me. It would have been 1995. He was dropping (see, I’m not clueless now) Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s debut album and he and Lil’ Kim sat on a couch at a hotel for me and my CNN crew. During a brief break in the interview, the audio man tapped me on the shoulder and whispered: “When you were talking to Lil’ Kim and the camera was on her, I heard some funny noise in my headphones: Biggie was asleep and snoring!”
I’m pretty sure we didn’t make that part of the piece we produced, but damn – I look back now and say, how could I have not?!
Postscript: After his murder in 1997, his star-studded funeral was held in Manhattan. I was sent with a video crew to Brooklyn where crowds lined the street outside his family’s home. We got a few seconds of his funeral cortege flying by – a hearse and SUV’s with horns honking and friends cheering and waving from the windows.
In Tom Hanks’ directorial debut, the 1996 “That Thing You Do,” the title song was written by the bass player for the rock band Fountains of Wayne, Adam Schlesinger. However, his onetime partner in a group called the Candy Butchers, Mike Viola, claimed the two of them co-wrote it.
The dispute went public. I interviewed Viola, then asked Fountains of Wayne’s publicist for a Schlesinger interview. She said I could interview him about their new album and then ask about the disagreement with Viola at the end. Agreed. (And I was delighted to do a piece on one of my favorite bands. . . not just because they got their name from a lawn and garden supply store on Route 23 in my New Jersey hometown.) Schlesinger handled the controversial questions breezily, telling his side of the story. Piece ran. Good little story about a songwriting credit dispute.
Fast forward to several months later: I’m at Nassau Coliseum, setting up with a crew in the visitors’ dressing room for an interview with Billy Corgan, lead singer of Smashing Pumpkins. Fountains of Wayne is the opening act. Out in the hallway, I see Schlesinger. I say how ya doin? He jumps up in my face: “You, motherfucker – you ambushed me! I saw that story you did! You embarrassed me!” (He’s kind of a little guy; I didn’t feel threatened.)
What are you talking about, I say, you agreed to take questions on this, and you did. I presented your position and Viola’s position equivalently. And I didn’t take a side! He stalks away. For a brief moment I’m afraid he’s going to run to Corgan and tell him not to do an interview with me. But that doesn’t happen and I do one of what would be several interviews with the cordial head Pumpkin.
Now, normally I would speculate that Schlesinger’s publicist did not give him a heads-up about the topic I was to ask him about. . . but she was there in the room and he had shown no surprise and no reluctance to discuss it. What the hell was he pissed off about? No idea. Just another weird blooper.
So, Oasis comes to town, loaded with baggage. The British rock band with the frequently feuding Gallagher brothers who claim they’ll be bigger than the Beatles. It’s agreed that we will bring a CNN crew to the White Horse Tavern in the Village and interview Noel, the rational brother, and Liam, the loose cannon, separately. Noel shows up first, we have a right proper chat over a pint. Then a lengthy wait for Liam. When he comes in he is sweaty and jumpy. And full of himself.
In the end, this Oasis story isn’t a blooper, per se, just one of the most fun of all the Showbiz Today stories I did. Enjoy:
Last, and definitely least, there is The One That Got Away. In the late ‘90s, Columbia Records’ publicity department called with exciting news: Bob Dylan was going to be available for me to interview on CNN. He had done a lengthy sit-down with Jon Pareles of the NY Times, he was going to talk to someone else, and then I was next. I was immediately paralyzed with anxiety, obsessing over one looming challenge: what is the first question you ask of a living legend? Where on earth do you begin? I had no doubt I could engage him – or at least attempt to — on myriad elements of his life and work. But what’s the ice-breaker? The opener that sets the tone for the conversation to come? Incredibly important, I thought. And intimidating.
Didn’t have to worry, as it turned out. A few days later came the news that Dylan had abruptly changed his mind and was doing no more interviews.