A Fiona Apple interview to make your skin crawl
Here's an old Howard Stern interview I dug up.
Hello and welcome to REPLY ALT. I’ve picked up a lot of new subscribers recently who found me through my posts about art critic Jerry Saltz’s weird coffee habits/performance art. While I cannot resist my duty to do coffee journalism when I am called upon, REPLY ALT is actually more of a newsletter about music, believe it or not. So unless someone shines the Folgers logo over the city of Gotham, I will now resume my work as a mild-mannered music writer. That said, let’s talk about this new Fiona Apple album.
In case you missed it, Fiona came out of hiding on Friday to drop Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her first album in eight years. It was the first album in a decade to receive a perfect 10 on Pitchfork which is what happens when they fail to review the Punk Goes Pop series!!!!! But people seem to generally love this record and are just waiting on some poor sucker to say an unkind word about it so they can unleash the pent-up catharsis of five weeks away from human contact. I realize that as a white dude I am a prime target for that ire but fuck it, let’s dive in.
Well, sorry to disappoint if you came here looking to shame me for my bad Bolt Cutters opinions but I actually think it’s pretty good! The album title is inarguably sick as hell and is harder than most modern hardcore album titles. (Let it be known that in 2020, Fiona Apple released an album called Fetch the Bolt Cutters and Code Orange released an album called Underneath.) I do think Bolt Cutters’ lyrics often come off like the captions of an Instagram user who just discovered 35mm film, but hey, to each their own. I don’t know that I’d give it a Perfect 10, but let’s give it the ol’ solid Thumbs Up. There are enough people smarter than me writing about this album, though, so what I really wanna talk about today is gross Fiona interviews from decades ago.
I fell into a YouTube hole of old Fiona interviews last night. One of them was from The Howard Stern Show in 1997, right after her famous “this world is bullshit” speech at the MTV awards. It’s 23 minutes long and I’ve embedded it below. Everything about it feels like it’s from an entirely different world. For starters, she talks about her boyfriend, famous stunt magician David Blaine, which is always a fun little tidbit to remember about her. Also, she was once romantically involved with Louis C.K. I can’t really say she has a “type” but she certainly chooses men that make you say “…..him?”
Anyway, some context: For those who don’t remember, in 1997, Fiona Apple won one of those dumbass moon man statues they gave out at the MTV VMAs. She quoted Maya Angelou and then said “This world is bullshit,” meaning the entertainment industry, and advised young fans watching: “You shouldn’t model your life about what you think we think is cool and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself.” Here it is:
Back in those days, you couldn’t go viral if you said something cool on TV. The opposite, actually. You were expected to give a really polished acceptance speech and the only deviating you were allowed to do was to 1. make a joke about Tommy Lee’s dick, 2. do an Austin Powers impression, 3. something to do with David Spade or, failing that, Andy Dick. Fiona later explained the speech on her website, saying she “felt like a sellout” and had “betrayed my own kind by becoming a paper doll in order to be accepted.”
But no one wanted to hear that. Everyone wanted to say ha ha wow look at this crazy-ass white woman who didn’t even bother to give us a “do I make you horny, baby?” In fact, the show’s host Chris Rock set that tone immediately, jokingly nicknaming her “Fiona X.” It sort of went down in pop culture history as one of those waAaAacky award show moments because most TV viewers have been so conditioned to absorb synthetic, surface-level drivel that anything that breaks into reality is weird and scary to them. (Even Janeane Garofalo later did a not very funny parody of it and joked about Fiona’s eating disorder.)
And so, Fiona went on The Howard Stern Show afterwards because that’s what you had to do back then if you were a woman with something to promote. You had to go to Howard’s New York studio at 7 in the morning and an assistant named something like Terry the Troll would escort you to Howard’s STD-ridden couch. Then you would sit in front of Howard and he would ask you questions like “so have you ever gone down on another woman?” or “do you shave your pussy?” It was an imperfect system but there were no podcasts so it was all we had.
So the very outspoken Fiona steps into this horny lion’s den one morning, with Howard introducing her thusly: “Here comes Fiona Apple wearing the sexiest little outfit… I love the bellychain, goddamn you know how to dress.”
From there, Howard badgered her about being “an angry chick” approximately—and I’m not exaggerating here—80,000 times. Every time Fiona finally piped up and said “I’m not angry!” Howard would say something like “whoa whoa whoa why are you yelling??? Boy you really are angry. I’d love to see what you’re like in bed goddamn.” This mixture of belittling and sexualizing went on for about 15 minutes.
They talked about Fiona’s VMA speech which Howard insisted “went awry” because it was “so heavy.” And then he asked about Chris Rock’s jokes about her and she said this:
“Chris Rock needs to check himself because he was suffering up there and he grabbed for some kind of little anorexic joke which I really don’t appreciate and that I am angry about.”
Then she said that Rock was one to talk about being too skinny, calling him “little mister burnt match himself,” which ehhhhhhhhh I’m not gonna touch that one.
Instead of addressing that comment, Howard said: “I’d love to do you. You have no idea how much fun we’d have in the sack.” But you know, in an extremely tactful way, of course! Oh, by the way, I should mention that Fiona was a week shy of her 20th birthday at this time. So, still a teenager.
Then Howard took a bunch of calls from listeners, which were mostly men telling her that she should lighten up and date Eddie Vedder. One guy with a splendid Long Island accent said simply, “Yeah, Fiona? Yeah, you’re a lunatic.” Howard hung up on all these people before Fiona had a chance to respond even though she wanted to.
Howard then decided that he was going to take calls from lesbians because he had decided that lesbians love Fiona. One of the lesbian callers asked why Fiona doesn’t like femmes, to which Fiona said:
“It’s not that I’m not attracted to femmes, I was just assuming that I was gonna come here and he was gonna have 20 femmes come in here and reduce all lesbianism to an accessory to a fetish for male fantasy.”
Howard responded by saying, “Oh heeere we go. You’re too serious,” with the same patronizing tone my uncle gives me when I want to talk about why healthcare shouldn’t be employer-based. “Smart doesn’t mean serious and boring, man!” Fiona defended.
Howard, who seems to zone out whenever someone is making a legitimate point or saying anything of substance, then said, “I’ll bet all the guys in your band wanna climb on you. You guys wanna climb on Fiona, right? She’s shaking her ass up there, I see you guys looking, trying to act all politically correct.”
Later, after calling Fiona “a piece of ass,” asking how it was “playing Lilith Fair with all those angry women,” and commenting on her bellychain another two or three dozen times, he determined of David Blaine’s sexual prowess: “This guy’s not doing you right. You wouldn’t be angry if you were with me, if you had a little taste of me.”
Anyway, I’d recommend giving it a listen if you want to have your shoulders up to your ears for a full 20 minutes and get a lesson in patience and endurance from Fiona. In a way, I think it’s an appropriate document of the time. I can’t imagine literally a second of it happening now. I remember hearing Howard Stern every morning before school during this time because my parents would have it on the radio in the background. My mom liked his no-bullshit takes on the day’s headlines but turned it off after the news hour because then it was “all lesbians and strippers.” A lot of my friends listen to Howard today. I know he’s moved a little past this kind of stuff and has gotten a bit more, for lack of a better term, “woke.” I wonder if he’ll have Fiona back on to talk about the new album.
I’m not sure why I’ve been thinking about all this. I guess it’s just cool when an artist endures this sort of old fashioned misogyny and years of gross, lecherous interviews and is still standing decades later. One of the criteria I have for that Rank Your Records interview series I do is that the artist must have a catalog of at least four albums. I fully cop to how dude-heavy the series is, not for lack of trying. It’s just that the music industry is a lot more conducive for men to build up deep catalogs than women. That said, if Fiona is reading, you’re welcome to be on it anytime! I promise not to call you angry once. No promises on the David Blaine questions though. (How did he make frogs come out of his mouth I simply must know.)
OK, that’s it for today. On the Fiona tip, I will leave you with this video of her covering a song I love with my pal Shirley. Later!