Citizen Staff Writer
The gloves and muzzles are off! As the newspaper prepares to close, Calendar staffers cull 35 years of experiences and tell all about their most memorable celebrity encounters: some good, some bad. Divas, divos, sourpusses, hot lips, evil pets – we’ve come across them all. But now we’re naming names and sparing no one!
As we dish the dirt, several silly things stand out for me.
The diva and the surgical mask
About 15 years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a very famous operatic diva, who shall remain nameless because despite the weird circumstances, she was very nice.
I arrived at her hotel room and was greeted at the door by her manager. He handed me a surgical mask and latex gloves and asked me to turn on my tape recorder. He then led me into the room and sat me down in one corner, placing my recorder on a coffee table about 20 feet away from me. The diva entered and sat by the coffee table. We waved at each other rather than shake hands.
Exactly 20 minutes into the conversation, the manager returned, picked up my tape recorder and showed me the door. I started to hand him my mask and he said, “You can keep that.” I dumped it and the gloves in the trash.
The temperamental composer
During the University of Arizona’s short-lived Festival in the Sun, composer John Adams was coming to town for the première of “The Wound Dresser.” I wanted to record the interview (which I did nearly every time during my years at the Citizen) and I have a special line at my house that goes to a recording machine.
So we set a day and time for the interview. When I got to my house, there was a nasty message from Adams saying that he called (two hours before the appointed time) and why wasn’t I there. I called his public relations person and we set another time. And the same thing happened – four more times. At that point, I sent a sympathy bouquet to his PR person because she had to deal with him all of the time.
Later when Adams was in town, we had a great conversation. While we were playing phone tag, he had been at work on his “Nixon in China” follow-up opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer.” He was just so frazzled at trying to meet the deadline that he was burnt to a crisp. We ended up getting along very well.
A couple of years later, I did a very long (three-hour) interview with him for Stereophile Magazine that may well be the best interview I ever got with any living composer. So this guy I thought initially was a petty tyrant turned out to be one of the most articulate, thoughtful minds I’ve ever had the opportunity to talk with.
A Stern awakening
Someone who I have considerably less respect for is renowned violinist Isaac Stern. He was a terrific violinist, but as a human being, he was something you just want to wipe off your shoe. Or maybe throw those shoes away.
Again at a Festival in the Sun event, Stern came in and got an honorary doctorate from UA. His residency was for several days and I had made arrangements to do a “fly on the wall” piece about his visit here. His PR person stressed to me that I could not ask him any questions at any point, but that at the end of his stay he might grant me a quick interview.
It didn’t take long for me to see that Stern viewed people as two types: those with money, with whom he was very gracious, and those who were completely beneath him. At a lavish dinner party with the big spenders, he was charming to the guests and an absolute creep to those with the misfortune of being waiters at the event.
The next to the last day of his residency I got a call from his PR person telling me that early the next day he would be doing a master class with UA students, and that there would be a question-and-answer session at the close. She told me that I could ask ONE question at that class.
It happened to be the year that the Republican Party was doing everything it could to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. Knowing that President Kennedy had asked Stern to be one of the founders of the NEA, I asked him what he thought about this. Stern gave a very articulate answer about how we needed to keep politics out of the arts. It was brilliant, and the students applauded.
After, I hung around for a few minutes talking to a friend when the Festival in the Sun PR guy ran up to me and said, “Mr. Stern would like to talk to you.” I thought, “Great, we’re finally going to do an actual interview.” Instead, Stern told me that I could not print his answer on the NEA question because it would be too inflammatory and he could do much more about this behind the scenes. I believe I called him an unprintable name involving fowl and waste and walked off.
Six months later, the PR guy from UA gave me a photo he thought I’d treasure: a shot of me with Isaac Stern. When I looked at it I realized it had been snapped just at the moment I’d called Stern a chicken****. It’s under a pile of junk somewhere in my house.
Sharing the love
Sometimes, the dish comes back to you, and those are the best times of all. My favorite came from pianist Olga Kern, of whom I wrote a scathing review after her appearance with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. I dropped by the TSO office a few days later and was handed a poster of Kern, which she signed, “To Dan, Much Love, Olga.” Now I’m pretty sure she meant what she wrote, though not necessarily in those words. It’s hung over my desk at work ever since.
Though interview with Moby goes belly up, most go swimmingly
Over nine years at the Citizen, I’ve amassed a lot of bylines, but not a lot of dirt. I perhaps got dirty here and there, but I’ll blame that on those reviews (“Sex and the City,” “The Vagina Monologues”) I co-wrote with the truly talented-with-a-turn-of-phrase Chuck Graham. So, here’s a hodgepodge of some notable celebrity action. It’s a messy article, yes. You might even say it’s dirty.
Biggest response to something I wrote
Sadly, this award goes to a review I wrote of *NSync when the boys played Phoenix in early June 2000. Nothing gets the ire of tweens, apparently, more than writing things like “At least Justin, JC, Joey, Chris and Lance were environmentally friendly, though, as they recycled their way through an 86-minute show that was a paler shade of New Kids on the Block.”
I did go back for more, though, when Justin & Co. played Phoenix 13 months later, and I gave them an overall favorable review. The dance steps were much better.
This one is easy: Moby. Sadly, my notes for this excruciating chat (in April 2000) went the way of DOS on my computer, so I don’t have many quotes from it, but I probably didn’t get many, anyway. This guy was screwed as tightly as a child-protected pill bottle, giving out terse answers to my questions. I understand that some people hate to do interviews, but why be a total grump? It turned out that the concert I’d interviewed him for – a double bill with Bush – got canceled. To quote Nelson from “The Simpsons”: “Ha, ha!”
This one is tough. So we need some subcategories. Most surprising goes to (the very friendly and hilarious) Dave Mustaine of Megadeth. When we chatted over the phone in the fall of 2004, he let the p-word slip. (Let me help, here: A not-so-nice word for a woman.) Normally, no big deal. He’s Dave Mustaine. I don’t expect clean. But he had recently converted to Christianity and was very disappointed in himself. He apologized all over the place.
Most canned: David Lee Roth. But, as a fan, I expected nothing less. Diamond Dave has his phrases and he knows how to reuse them. And he didn’t know I’d read his autobiography. So, I got to hear such practiced material as “my inner child wants to get laid,” “I’m a black man trapped in a Jewish body” and “the sound of Van Halen, when I was a part of it, is as familiar as the Nike swoosh.” Love it all.
Sweetest: Tammy Faye. Promoting her appearance on the second season of “The Surreal Life,” Tammy Faye Messner (nee Bakker) discussed wanting to sleep in the closet so she had space to herself, how she and Erik Estrada became the surrogate parents of the house (that included Ron Jeremy and Vanilla Ice) and how the hardest part of the 12-day filming was not seeing her husband, Roe Messner. Best quote: “I took away the fact that I’m a tough old broad. Ha! Ha!”
Chattiest: That goes to local singer-songwriter Howe Gelb. As garrulous as he is prolific, Gelb was a gracious subject, welcoming me into his home for two in-person interviews. The man can tell a tale.
Some favorite quotes
“Even if we had sex education, we would never have the kind we need. . . . Kids who are horny don’t think about fallopian tubes.”
- Dan Savage, syndicated columnist behind “Savage Love” (2005)
“Somebody took my makeup.”
- Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance (2004)
“I’ve looked in the mirror and thought, ‘What the f— am I wearing?’ ”
- Juliette Lewis, on her wide stylistic umbrella when performing with Juliette & the Licks (2007)
“I used to be a lot taller. I used to be 6-1, now I’m only 5-5. So you see what it’s done to me.”
- Ronnie James Dio, on the toll touring has taken lo these many years (2002)
“When you make the first movie, you have to think of a new way to do sex and violence to get on the generation’s nerves.”
- John Waters’ advice to wannabe filmmakers
“A surprising number of Shakespeare fans . . . have also seen every episode of ‘Twin Peaks.’ I wonder what the appeal is? Probably complicated plot lines – that’s something Shakespeare has in common with David Lynch.
- Shakespearean actor and The Log Lady from “Twin Peaks” Catherine E. Coulson (2006)
The real poop on Mae West
One summer during the 1970s, I found myself in Los Angeles visiting a friend. He knew Mae West in a round about way and asked if I would like to meet her. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to meet a true screen legend. I was immediately surprised by two things: the modesty of her apartment and the fact that she was much shorter than I had expected. After a few minutes of small talk, a monkey scampered into the room. He took one look at me and showed his instant dislike. He then inched his way closer and closer to me and without warning, jumped into my lap. Just as Mae West said, “I think he likes you,” the evil little bastard pooped all over me. It was a memorable afternoon, but not in the way I had hoped.
The führer over Ted Nugent’s concert review
Ted Nugent was playing the Tucson Arena sometime in the 1980s, screaming out his right-wing politics to a packed house of 10,000 screaming fanatics. The air was thick with fascist rhetoric as well as Nugent’s trademark buzz-saw rock ‘n’ roll. The rabid cheering of support for Nugent’s rigid right-wing attitudes and the brute force of pile-driving rock beats drove home the image of America’s own torque-jawed conservatives grabbing power at gunpoint.
All those stories of Hitler’s rave-up speeches in giant Munich beer halls came to mind. In my review of the show, I pointed out the parallels between Ted and Hitler.
The headline on the review linked Ted with the Nazis.
The next day Nugent was screaming into my answering machine at the newspaper that he wasn’t a Nazi. When his plane got to San Diego, he called me back again and started screaming again. I kept those messages on my answering machine for a long time.
Jimmy Buffett’s trouble in paradise
Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band were playing the Tucson Arena on one of their first national tours. Buffett was years away from recording future hits about Margaritaville and those cheeseburgers in Paradise. In fact, the good-time country rocker was getting rough treatment facing raucous crowds while opening for those white-line-fever boys who called themselves Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The touring combo of acts made no sense musically, but both bands had signed contracts with the tandem record companies, ABC and MCA. So there they were, Buffett taking a bruising while “Free Bird” was on everybody’s mind. “Sweet Home Alabama” was looking like it would become Lynyrd Skynyrd’s follow-up hit.
Buffett and I were backstage swapping stories about Key West when he sputtered “I hate Lynyrd Skynyrd” with such uncharacteristic ill will it kind of stopped me. In those days, all rock ‘n’ rollers stood together against the world. His eagerness to go against this youthful unity was impressive
Later I realized the real lesson was to be true to know yourself and be true to who you are – a lesson that’s even more important in today’s celebrity-crazed media world.
He writes the songs – but doesn’t know all that jazz
Barry Manilow was on the phone, hyping his 1984 dip into jazz with the album “Paradise Café.” On hand to help the singer carry this swinging load were guest artists Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan and sax man Gerry Mulligan. Disco was over. Punk rock was the new Colossus. Soft rock guys like Manilow had nowhere to hide.
But Manilow was always sensitive about his pop culture image. After breaking out early with such hits as “Mandy”" and “I Write the Songs,” who could blame him?
So in the spirit of truth in advertising, I was wanting to measure the depth of Manilow’s jazz soul, basically. I kept asking him about the songs and singers from those years. He must have thought it was a music history test.
“How old do you think I am?” he finally growled in frustration.
Not old enough, apparently.
ELSA NIDIA BARRETT
THE JERKS: Mexican actor Jaime Camil and Alicia Villarreal, lead singer of Grupo Limite, were two of the most unpleasant interviews I did for the Citizen. Both were arrogant, just giving “yes” and “no” answer – or, with Villarreal, just nodding her head. But at least she didn’t get furious with me, like Camil did when I compared his style of music to Enrique Iglesias’. He should be so lucky.
Another jerk was Morris Day (of the Time). After scheduling an interview with his publicist, Day refused to talk to me after his performance. He figured just shaking my hand was enough.
I had many artists cancel at the last minute, but the one that hurt the most was Mr. Funkadelic himself, George Clinton. I sooo wanted to talk to him, but after five canceled interviews, I realized he really didn’t want to talk to me.
THE GOOD GUYS: On the brighter side, I talked to some of the nicest, coolest people. After his concert at Club Congress, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis, talked to me for 30 minutes about every aspect of his life. He made me feel at home, switching from English to Spanish and calling me “mija.”
I got several dear “mijitas” from the lovely and funny Freddy Fender when he and Flaco Jimenez performed in Tucson. He laughed so hard when he referred to his band, The Texas Tornadoes,” as “The Old Farts On the Block.”
BESAME MUCHO – OR NOT: Julio Iglesias was also a very sweet, funny and flirtatious man. He put me at ease when I told him how nervous I was. “No, no, Amor, don’t feel that way,” he said. “I’m like you. The only difference is that I’m a singer and you’re a writer.” I got a kiss on the cheek from him. He went for my lips, but I freaked out and turned my head. Good thing, because my cheek was so wet after he slobbered all over it.
Another memorable moment for me was meeting actor Sam Elliott at Club Congress. He was seated at the bar with some friends, including a very intoxicated Val Kilmer, who was hard to recognize under two buxom blondes. Everyone at the club was being “very cool” and not bothering Elliott. But not me. I got up my nerve and asked him if I could shake his hand. He stood and gave me a kiss on my hand. “You’re the first one to ask me that,” he said. I felt my legs melting.
Machismo gracias: Thanks for the memories
ROGELIO YUBETA OLIVAS
Unlike my colleagues, I don’t have any dirt to dish. My column is pretty lame, mainly because I haven’t been an entertainment reporter as long as they have. So instead of dishin’ the dirt, I will offer my impressions about celebrities I’ve interviewed and share some memorable experiences I’ve had covering the Latin music beat and entertainment in general at the Citizen.
ALEJANDRO FERNANDEZ: The hunky Mexican singer struck me as sincere and very down to earth. He also was extremely gracious and helped me (with no hint of judgment) when I struggled with my Spanish during the interview.
Fernandez put on a great concert and oozed with sex appeal in his form-fitting mariachi outfit. My favorite line from the night came from a tipsy and overly amorous female fan, who shouted to Fernandez, “Ven a mi rancho, papacito! (Come to my ranch, daddy!)” Ay!
GEORGE LOPEZ: What struck me most about the comedian was that he always spoke his mind. He didn’t care whom he offended. You have to respect him for that.
We kind of bonded when we discussed how hard it is for guys with fat heads (like us) to find good hats.
ALEJANDRO SANZ: The talented Spanish singer-songwriter was one of the few Latin music superstars I got to spend time with. I met him backstage after his concert at Casino Del Sol’s AVA. He sat right next to me on the couch and asked about my family’s background.
He’s a decent guy, more handsome in person, humble and very easy to talk to. Nothing pretentious about him.
CHAYANNE: The Puerto Rican sex symbol is just as nice on the phone as he is in the movies and on TV. He laughed a lot during our interview, especially when I asked him what it was like to pose for Playgirl. In the middle of his answer, his publicist abruptly cut in and said my time was up. So I never got the naked truth about the experience.
PABLO MONTERO: The Mexican singer-actor wasn’t rude to me but he was very detached. I never felt at ease when I interviewed him before his headlining appearance at the Tucson International Mariachi Conference. His answers were short and he didn’t show any sign of enthusiasm.
RUBEN RAMOS: The Tejano music legend is a class act, with charm and personality to spare. He was superpolite during our talk – and funny as heck.
In describing his fans in the Old Pueblo, “El Gato Negro” said “Tucson has been like the Cool Whip on a pie.” You gotta love him.
JUANES: I was supposed to interview the Colombian superstar before his show at AVA, but he came down with a throat infection and had to rest his voice. So we did an e-mail interview instead. Even in writing, his warmth and Everyman vibe came through.
I had seen him the first time he performed in Tucson (at the Pima County Fairgrounds) before he hit it big, and his talent was evident. My friends and I that night predicted that he would be a major star within a couple of years.
EDDIE PALMIERI: Interviewing the Latin jazz legend was just like talking to a regular Joe on the streets of The Big Apple. The Spanish Harlem native still has his New York City accent and is the only person I’ve ever interviewed who used the expression “Fuggetaboutit.” He was incredibly friendly and accessible and his knowledge of music is awe-inspiring.
MOST MEMORABLE CONCERT MOMENT: For most of her 67 years, world music chanteuse Cesaria Evora has never let decorum stand in the way of comfort. During her Tucson concert, in 2001 at stodgy Centennial Hall, the Cape Verde native walked over in her trademark bare feet to her piano player, lit a cigarette, leaned against the instrument and proceeded to puff away as he performed his solo. The amused audience in the no-smoking hall erupted in laughter and applause. Priceless.
BEST CONCERT: I’ve attended some good ones (Lila Downs, the Buena Vista Social Club, Quetzal), but I have to give the honor to k.d. lang, whose Nov. 12 show at Centennial Hall was a vibrant display of vocal prowess and technical excellence. I knew she had a great voice but her performance exceeded my expectations. Her voice is so pure and crystal clear, and she’s one of the few musicians in the world who sounds just as good if not better live. Everyone in my group also raved about the excellent acoustics (thanks to the new state-of-the-art sound system) in Centennial Hall, two things that I never thought would go hand in hand.
WORST CONCERT: Mexican actor-singer Jaime Camil’s show at Centennial Hall in 2002. The telenovela heartthrob showcased Latin pop at its worst with tacky Las Vegas-style showmanship and cheesy cover material, such as “All Night Long” by Lionel Ritchie. Man it was painful to see and hear.
MOST SURREAL MOMENT DURING AN INTERVIEW: When I was interviewing Tejano singer Adalberto Gallegos in his Southwest Side home in 2003 and he was showing me his LP collection, I came across my sister’s Latin Breed album that had been stolen years before. It had her name, which she had written in marker, all over the cover. When I told him that that was my sister’s album, he said a friend of his had given it to him but that I could have it. I snatched it up and returned it to my sister, who was thrilled to have it back. Weird.