SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN) — My interview with singer Art Garfunkel quickly went downhill after I asked him how he felt about an old "Saturday Night Live" bit that seemed to poke fun at him.
“If I feel mocked, I don’t feel good about it,” he said, obviously perturbed. “Is that a mystery to you?”
If you want an interview to be memorable, having a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer rant at you for 10 minutes is definitely one way to achieve that. But during my decade as a celebrity interviewer, there were many other memorable moments — and most didn’t entail conflict.
Feeling nostalgic, I recently dug through the basket that contains my old celebrity interview tapes. Those mini cassettes — recorded when I was a freelance music writer and daily newspaper entertainment reporter — contain some interesting A- and B-side combinations.
While Cyndi Lauper and Kenny Loggins seem like a good fit for a duet, the tape labeled “Henry Winkler” on one side and “Sir Mix-a-Lot” on the other made me smile for its Odd Couple potential.
I always prided myself on developing interesting questions for these interviews, which required scores of research. But my first question to Mix-a-Lot, whose big hit famously declared “I like big butts, and I cannot lie,” was pretty straightforward.
“Do you still like big butts?” I asked.
It was the first and only time I’d ever ask that question during an interview.
“Oh, definitely,” he said.
Even years after “Baby Got Back” was a mega hit, Mix-a-Lot (aka Anthony Ray) said he often had requests to autograph people’s butts. And, refreshingly, he wasn’t sick of it.
“Never act ashamed of your big songs,” he advised. “Ever.”
Some of the celebrity interviews I did (Al Green, George Carlin, David Crosby, and Martin Short, to name a few) were phoners, while others were in person.
I shared a cinnamon role with B-52s front man Fred Schneider at a casino Starbucks. Backstage at that same casino, I sat next to bluesman Robert Cray, amid crates containing his band’s gear.
I had to ask him about John Belushi, who once did his famous Joe Cocker impression while sitting in with Cray’s band.
“I thought it was kind of stupid,” Cray said, to my surprise. “But he was a nice guy.”
In-person interviews always allowed for greater insight and detail.
When I interviewed an 18-year-old Zac Efron at his parents’ home in Arroyo Grande, California, there was a Lifetime movie script on the kitchen counter. When they told me he had to decide by the end of the day whether to accept a role in that movie, I wanted to suggest the part was beneath him — that a nearby pile of teen magazines sporting his image was proof of his budding stardom — but I kept my mouth shut.
They turned it down, without my advice, and a little over a year later he was walking on red carpets as his face adorned Hollywood billboards.
“I can’t believe where I’ve ended up,” he told me then. “I’ve always considered myself a theater kid from San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.”
When I interviewed Yes front man Jon Anderson in that same small town, I asked if I could get a photo with him and he suggested we have it taken by an Elvis statue outside Lightning Joe’s Guitar Heaven. As we walked toward the music store, I noticed that no one recognized him.
Despite his paint-smeared pants, scarf and British accent, he didn’t come off as a rock star.