Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bobby Pickett Interview: The Man Who Wrote"Monster Mash"

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Bobby Pickett, co-writer of the the Halloween smash Monster Mash agreed to an interview recently in which we talked about many issues, including his most famous song. Read the free interview below.

Interviewer: I have about 20 questions for you.
Bobby Pickett: Take your time. I m not pressed for time.

I: What are you doing these days?
B: I work part time at a nine-hole golf course. I m reading a lot of books, watching a lot of movies and watching selected TV.
I: What are you watching?
B: A lot of PBS and Discovery Channel. I find some of the politics amusing as well.

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I: Bush or Kerry?
B: Neither, actually!

I: This is a personal question which you don t have to answer. Monster Mash has sold about 4 million copies. Have you been able to live off the money you ve made from this song?
B: Yes. It s paid the rent for 44 years.
I: Isn t that great?
B: Yes! Imagine if I d had several hits! I d be living in style.
I: You re living in L.A.
B: But I wouldn t call it living in style. I became addicted to the climate out here when I first came out here in the 1960s. It s so pleasant.

I: I ve heard a lot of people call Monster Mash a novelty song. But how much of a novelty song can it be? You ve been living off it for 44 years.
B: People use novelty in the sense that it s not a mainstream type of recording, about teenage love or angst. Offbeat and non-mainstream.
I: So it s not meant as a put down.
B: I don t think it ever was. It was just a little different, out of the mainstream, like an independent movie.
I: I ve always thought it was a fun song. Everybody knows it. There s nothing you can disparage about it.
B: Right. It s been around since 1962. And it really has become part of the culture. I just finished reading Maureen Dowd s book, Bushworld, and I was pleased to see that one of her chapters was called Mashing the Monster. And before that, Rush Limbaugh played Monster Mash on his show. So we ve crossed the political spectrum with this song!

I: What do you think when you see references to your song, or hear it played by someone like Rush? Does it make your proud?
B: Pride s a sin. (Laughs) I was brought up Catholic, and I remember that as one of the true things I was taught growing up, that the number one sin is pride. But to answer your question, I get a kick out of it.

I: Monster Mash has given you opportunities that the average guy hasn t had.
B: I ve been pretty lucky. Imagine being 24 and someone walks up to you and says, You re about to do something that s going to pay your rent for the next 44 years.
That s the upside. The downside is that it gave me quite an ego. Having such a big hit so young made me think I was the most talented, cool, intelligent, funny person on the planet, and that all women belonged to me. It s a form of insanity.
I had a hard crash. It wasn t so easy to have other things be as successful.

I: Has this song kept you from doing anything?
B: Not really. It opened a lot of doors. I wanted to be an actor, and when the song became popular I got a lot of acting jobs. I did a lot of commercials and a lot of episodic TV, several obscure, low-budget movies, some with a monster theme. I ve never felt I was deprived of anything because of it. At one point early on I did feel I was typecast as the guy who does novelty records. I was trying to be a matinee idol, so it didn t fit the image. I grew out of that.

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I: What do you like about the song?
B: It s whimsical. And it s always timely. Kids love monsters, and they always will.
I: Anything you d change about it?
B: Not a word or note.
I: How many things that have been around for 44 years that still bring a smile to people?
B: Right. It has a shelf life. Especially in October. Since Reggie Jackson retired, my friend says that I ve become Mr. October.
I: How many people have a month that they own?
B: (Laughs) It used to just be a night, Halloween. Then it became a week, and now it s a month. In fact, I was walking about my neighborhood in July and I noticed the Halloween store was opening. In July!
I: Are you ever tempted to go into a store like that and play with their minds a little bit, as the person who wrote the biggest Halloween song ever?
B: No. I m not one for practical jokes. But I have had some interesting experiences because of the song. I was in a bar in New York once, and the guy next to me was telling his lady friend that he wrote Monster Mash. I couldn t believe it.
I: What happened?
B: I couldn t let that one go. I said, That s a coincidence. I thought I wrote that song! I handed them some business cards, and they both froze, shocked.

I: Can you talk a little about writing Monster Mash ?
B: It took an hour or two to write, or even less. It just came out. We knew Lenny Capizzi, my co-writer and I we knew that we wanted to do the Boris Karloff voice, singing a song about his creation who gets up off his gurney and begins to do the latest dance craze, which I thought was the Twist. Lenny told me The Mashed Potato was number one, and I said, That s even better. We ll call it The Monster Mashed Potato. Of course we shortened it later, but that was the original title.
I: There was a length of time between when the idea to write this song first came to you and when you actually wrote it. Were you turning it over in the back of your mind that whole time?
B: The idea came to us when we were singing in Tim Yuro s parents Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. We were literally singing for a spaghetti dinner. We did a song by The Diamonds called Little Darlin . There s a monologue in the middle of that. I said to Lenny, I m going to do this as Boris Karloff. The audience cracked up. After the set, Lenny said, We should do a novelty record with that voice. It could do really well.
I thought it was a good idea, but I let it slide for a year. I was more interested in pursuing an acting career. When that wasn t going so well I got an agent and he had a heart attack and died two weeks later. I called Lenny then and said, You remember that idea? Why don t we get together?
Monster Mash reached its peak at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. It relieved people of the tension.
I: That s an odd juxtaposition, Monster Mash and the Cuban missile crisis.
B: It was. We need something like it today!
I: Get busy writing something!

I: What about Lenny Capizzi, who you co-write the song with? Do you ever see him?
B: Lenny passed away a few years ago,unfortunately. He was a tortured artist and got into heavy drugs in the 80s. His hero was Lenny Bruce, and they went out the same way. Lenny was a tortured genius. He was so good at what he did, but after Monster Mash, it was all downhill for him.
The good news is that he has a wonderful daughter who s working as a film editor now, I believe. He left a widow, and those two get the royalty checks now.

I: Are there some things about you that the other interviews don t touch on?
B: Very few people know that I woke up one morning in 1997 and found out I was a grandfather! A woman contacted me from Seattle, Washington. She was 35 years old and had two children. I turned out to be her father. I had no idea. Her mother, who I had one date with back in 1963, never told me. Our daughter was put up for adoption. After 35 years she decided to look for her parents. She found her mother, then six months later her mother turned her on to me.
I: How has that been?
B: It s been the most fantastic thing that s ever happened to me.
I: She s your only daughter?
B: Yes. She has a 15 year old girl and an 11 year old boy. They knew Monster Mash and loved it before they knew it was their grandpa singing.
I m working on my memoirs right now to answer all the questions I never get asked! I m still in the early stages. It won t be a kiss and tell, but I will mention a lot of names. I hope to make ita quick and amusing story of my life. I m going to call it, Monster Mash: Half Alive in Hollywood.
I: What does the half alive part mean?
B: My sister asked me the same thing! I said, Linda, half alive means you re not quite alive, yet you re not quite dead either. You re kind of a zombie. (Laughs)
I: Does it refer to being kind of insider in Hollywood, yet also being on the outside looking in?
B: A little of both, yes. I grew up being conditioned to be a celebrity worshiper. My heroes were baseball players and movie stars. By now I ve gone far past admiring celebrities of any sort, unless they have something intelligent or thoughtful to say. Very few of them do.
I: Very few people do.
B: That s true.

I: Do you have any advice for people who would like to break into the music or movie business?
B: I have a grandson who thinks he s going to have a career as musician, but I m not sure. Rather than discourage him though, what I say is, Keep your day job and try to envision where you want to be five years from now. Thinking about the future realistically is not something most dreamers do.
The whole thing is so different now, of course. When Monster Mash came out, you could walk into a radio station, give them the record and they might play it. Today, that s out of the question. You have these corporations that own the stations, and they d never allow that. It s very programmed and very tight very difficult to break into.
Show business is the same. My only advice to someone who s interested in this is that they be obsessed. You have to be ruthlessly possessed with pursuing it. It s a business. It s not fun. It means eating peanut butter sandwiches for a long, long time. I d encouragethese people to get into something with computers. Or maybe politics.
I: What if you liked them?
B: Well, we need good people who can change things politically. But young people are turned off by politics. They see how sleazy the whole thing is.

I: What turns you on these days?
B: As I said, I like to read a lot. I love movies, as I have since I was a little kid. I go to three or four movies a week. At the risk of being branded a traitor, I like French movies, French wine and French cheese!
I: Is there anything you re recommending to your friends that they have to read or see?
B: I saw a good movie called Maria Full of Grace, a Colombian film about a mother who eats the drugs and takes them to the US.
I ve seen all the political films that have been coming out, and they re all worthwhile. They re all left-leaning films, like Fahrenheit 9/11. Then there s The Corporation. Control Room, I thought, was excellent, about Al-Jazeera. Outfoxed was kind of funny. It looked like the guy just turned on his VCR and pulled all this stuff off Fox, then did a good editing job.

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I: To shift gears again, what about Bobby Pickett ringtones? There are hundreds of internet sites that sell these things.
B: (Laughs) I didn t even know what these things were until recently. I m so computer illiterate. But it s very interesting.
I: Just another sign you ve made it. The ringtones, the astronauts getting woken up to your song on Halloween.
B: Oh, yeah. They played it for them in outer space.
One of my big thrills was a version of the song this band called the Misfits did. A punk group. They sent me a copy of the song and a t-shirt that glows in the dark.

I: What are some of your favorite Halloween memories?
B: My favorite is from when I was in a Winnebago with my band, the Cryptkickers, in 1973. We were out on the road playing at 6 Flags parks. We were chugging through Missouri on our way to 6 Flags Over St. Louis. It was Halloween, and the instant the clock struck midnight. Our tour bus died.
It was pitch dark out. I grabbed this big flashlight, opened the door of the bus and saw a sign right in front of me: Welcome to Frankenstein, Missouri. My manager said, If we had a phone, I d called the Associated Press!
I got back on the bus a few minutes later and it started right up! No problem. The ghost of Boris Karloff lives.

I: I just noticed an e-mail from my wife. She told me to ask you about the verdict Elvis gave on your song that you mention on your web site.
B: (In Elvis voice): Dumbest thing I ever heard.
I was really upset when I heard it. My ego was shattered. I was a big fan of the King. But then I realized that no one ever showed a horror movie in Memphis. Elvis didn t know who Boris Karloff was. He didn t get it. It s as simple as that. But you d think he would have appreciated that I had two fabulous black musicians pounding out the bass and drums on that record. That should have at least captured his musical sense, but all he was doing was listening to these words that made no sense, in a voice he couldn t identify as human. In my act at Halloween every year I say, (in Karloff voice) If you re out there listening, Elvis, I m still here!

I: Any last comments you d like to make?
B: I d like to wish everyone a happy Halloween eternally. And keep on mashing!

For more information on Bobby Pickett, please go to his web site

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