Interview: Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons (on Her Autobiography, “Life Is So Strange: Missing Persons, Frank Zappa, Prince, and Beyond”)

DB 1
Dale Bozzio (Photo courtesy Lappen Enterprises)

From 1980-86, you couldn’t find a more thrilling American band than Missing Persons. The quintet was fronted by Dale Bozzio, who met her principal bandmates when they all worked for Frank Zappa. After Missing Persons broke up, Dale signed to Prince’s Paisley Park label. Eventually, she formed a touring band to perform the Missing Persons catalog. Missing Persons next performs for a number of dates this spring, including sets at the spectacular new wave/post-punk festival Cruel World in Los Angeles on May 14 and 15.

Recently, Dale published a book through Cleopatra Records, which has been her recording home for the past several years. In the book — “Life Is So Strange: Missing Persons, Frank Zappa, Prince, and Beyond” — Dale shares her life experiences from recording with Zappa to forming Missing Persons to touring still. Parklife DC’s Mickey McCarter recently interviewed Dale about her relationships with Zappa, Prince, and her former Missing Persons bandmates, as well as what comes next for her.

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Mickey McCarter: Congratulations on the book, Dale. What can you tell us about the experience of writing it?

Dale Bozzio: I wrote it because I wanted everybody to know about Frank Zappa and the kindness that he showed me, and that he helped teach me to be a musician and taught me how to live in the music world.

And I wanted everyone to know that I did not sleep with Frank. I didn’t have that kind of relationship with him. I say at the very beginning of the book, “Contrary to popular belief, I did not sleep with Frank.” He kissed me three times on the forehead and took me by the shoulders. And he did the same thing to my son, Shane, when he was one year old on his birthday. He took him by the shoulders, and he kissed him on the forehead.

I genuflect to Frank. I idolize Frank for his knowledge, his graciousness, his genius, and I’m indebted to him forever, forever and ever. He’s the hero of my book.

I came to California when I was only 21 years old, and I got sent right back to Boston, six months later, and woke up, and I was 22. And in that six months, I did Joe’s Garage with Frank — One, Two, Three, and Four. And that is what made me famous. And I sang, “I Don’t Want To Get Drafted.” And then I had a tragic accident, and I fell 40 feet out of a window.

MM: Oh my god.

DB: Yeah, and I was 21 years old. And this is the second point that I wanted to get across in the book — that this accident happened to me.

And I don’t know who this person who attacked me. This person came at me, and he was a security guy and chased me in my hotel room. And I had to run to the window and scream for help because he told me he was going to rape and kill me. He grabbed me around the neck in a stranglehold, and I had to pull away from him. And I fell out this window at Holiday Inn, downtown LA.

The fall out of the window was monumental because I woke up in Frank Zappa’s living room and Moon was playing the harp, and Gail, his wife, was by my side. I had just fallen 40 feet out of the window. I was in a coma for two weeks in Frank’s living room. Frank was in Japan with Terry Bozzio. And Gail took care of me. I woke up, two weeks into it, and I was only awake for a short amount of time.

Gail said, “Moon’s playing the harp. We tried to wake you up. And I made you some spaghetti. Why did you fall out of a fucking window?” And then I passed out and slipped back into a coma, had to get shipped back to Boston, and I had to go on life support.

I really had a violent invasion of my life. So when I pulled it all back up together, Terry Bozzio and Frank said, “Okay, well, now we’re going to take you to Europe, and you’re not going to stay home alone anymore. And you’re going to come with us.” And I went on tour with them, and I got better and everything got all right, and I went back to LA and put a band together with Terry and Warren Cuccurullo. And the rest is history. [Dale married Terry Bozzio in 1979 right before forming the band Missing Persons — Ed.]

I wanted everybody to know what happened to me, that I didn’t just pop up in the music business because I sucked somebody’s cock. That’s not how it happened.

Watch Missing Persons perform “Destination Unknown” live in 1982 for TopPop on YouTube:

MM: Just speaking for myself, I always 100 percent presumed that that was the case, that you and Frank just had this wonderfully professional mentor relationship. The way you speak of him, and have throughout your career, just makes it seem like it was never anything otherwise.

DB: Tears fall from my eyes when I think of what Frank gave me. I’ve been trying to live up to his goals, let’s put it that way, for years. He graced many musicians that have had amazing opportunities, as Terry Bozzio and Warren Cuccurullo and Steve Vai and so many people before me that I probably don’t even know, and me. And me, what he gave me, the school of Frank Zappa. For me, it was so altruistic and the only unconditional love affair I’ve ever had, I must say. There’s no luckier girl in the world than me to be friends with Frank.

MM: Missing Persons, let’s talk about the band for a little bit. What extraordinary work, Dale. I love those first three Missing Persons albums. I cannot think of anything else in my music catalog that I would rather listen to all the day long.

DB: Thank you very much. Thank you.

MM: That’s 100 percent sincere praise. That is amazing music. And I was hoping you would give me a little taste of the ride and what we will read about in the book regarding that time, particularly those years of issuing those three albums.

DB: I don’t talk too intently about Missing Persons. We go on tour, we make records. We do a lot of things, like make a video with Peter Max. I track down Helmut Newton in Europe. Missing Persons, I mean, the three of us, Terry, Warren, and myself, we used to split a tuna sub three ways and share everything. [Max directed the music video for Missing Persons’ “Surrender You Heart”; Newton shot photos for Missing Persons’ Rhyme & Reason album — Ed.]

Watch the official music video, directed by Peter Max, for “Surrender Your Heart” by Missing Persons on YouTube:

DB: We were the three best friends. We were really best friends. And lots things came and went, and it fell apart. It fell apart, but the records we made were sincere and all under a different emotional light.

For the first one [Spring Session M], the three of us were stone cold buddies. For the second one [Rhyme & Reason], we were trying to make an impression. And for the third one [Color in Your Life], we had to support the deal at the label, and we really weren’t happy together. So a lot of things were going down emotionally. Then I ran off one weekend with Warren on New Year’s Eve, broke down, and had sex with Warren.

We always had some kind of passion going on, so we finally clinched the deal. Then I, Miss Conscience, went home and told Terry that I did that. And that was the end of it. That was it.

Drugs, sex, and rock and roll. That’s what happened. We crashed and banged and fell apart. And all of that work and all of that time just went down the drain. And then I ran into Prince and said, “I quit.” And we went on to other things.

But thankfully, Warren went onto Duran Duran, and he wrote that incredible song “Ordinary World” with them. And Terry is the greatest drummer that there is. We went on to do the things that needed to be done. I don’t think there are any mistakes really in this, not in my lifetime.

MM: You mentioned Prince, so I have to ask. You were lovers with Prince?

DB: Yeah, yeah, Prince. I had an affair with Prince. I was with him off and on for a few years. We were romantic. I was close to him, as close as you could get, I guess, to an awkward child, as he was.

I have a lot of secrets with him. And I know the world loves him at large, so I want them to do that. I want them to honor him. He gave me a great opportunity.

I did have an affair with him, and he then turned around and said to me, “Will you marry me?” And I said, “No, no.” He said, “Well, what do you want?” I said, “Well, I want to be number one on the radio.”

And he said, what? And he kind of was shocked at that. I mean, I really wasn’t looking for a husband. I was just divorcing Terry Bozzio. I had just got my freedom. I really didn’t want to do that again. I was like, “Wait a minute here.” That magic ink, to quote Frank Zappa. [Dale released her solo album Riot in English in 1988 on Prince’s Paisley Park Records — Ed.]

Anyway. So I thought it was kind of funny. He asked me to marry him the first day he met me. And I thought that was a little awkward. So I took him at face value. I didn’t want to take advantage of him, or anything like that. I’m a musician. I don’t take advantage of people. That’s not my call. It was only about the music. And then all the other things just were part of it. It was part of it. I could get close to him only because I wanted him to be safe. And he was so worried and troubled, it seemed.

I don’t know what he was doing with other people. I don’t know. I have no idea. They know like I know, or they don’t. That’s the thing. I know him a lot better, I think, than a lot of other people.

Watch the official music video for “Simon Simon” by Dale Bozzio on YouTube:

MM: His reputation is that he was a difficult person to get to really know. Right?

DB: Yeah, and I can see that. Sure. I mean, he was expressing himself with his music. I’m surprised he even talked to people, because that takes enough of your strength and ability just to do that.

I play concerts. I know it comes from my insides out. I don’t just sing through my nose. This is a body thing. And you have to think about it. It’s a compassionate thing. I compare it to going into the boxing ring. That’s how I feel. I feel like every time I get up to go on that stage, I better put on my boxing mitts, because I got to get in to save my life. You can’t go up there without confidence. You’re not in this to make a fool of yourself.

So I feel that Prince was all about making love to the world in front of him, right there. That’s what he was doing. I don’t think he had all those girlfriends that he bragged about. He probably was in photographs with them. But soon, how they parted.

It was all about the music. And if he had just stayed that way and stopped looking for Miss America, maybe he would’ve been all right. He wouldn’t listen though.

And I understand that, because I won’t listen either. And I’m sure people think that they could tell me the right thing to do and be and say. But when you don’t listen to only your own inner spirit, sometimes that spirit’s dusty. Sometimes you got to dust that off and wake up.

There’s a little saying in the Bible, “The girl is not dead, she’s sleeping. So dust her off and wake her up.”

That’s for anybody. Sometimes we’re just sleeping, and it’s just wake us up. Put the light on. We could see better. Sometimes we sit in the dark. Maybe that’s not the way it should be. He was afraid of the dark.

I know I’m afraid of the dark. Because after I fell out that window, I didn’t even want to close my eyes, let alone be afraid of the dark. I sleep with the lights on still, like a spotlight. Forget about it.

So, people have glitches, and I get it. That’s all. I think that’s like kind of the relationship we had. I just wanted to tell everybody that he’s a gentle spirit. And if he got mad, he couldn’t help himself. That’s it. He couldn’t help himself. That’s how it went. And that’s it.

I wanted to share my feelings in the book. That’s what this is all about. In the meantime, I put little spicy things in there, loves lost and who I had relationships with and who I didn’t. It’s all good. There’s nothing harsh or rude or upsetting. Maybe a little racy from time but not too much!

I’m happy about it. And all of my pictures are in there and the history of all my albums are there and all the things that I really care about. Then, there’s a chapter says, “Dale Is.” And it says all the things that I am — that I’m sensitive or I’m a good friend or I’m pathetic when I’m crying.

I hope it makes somebody laugh, and I think the people that love my music will be really appreciative of it.

Watch Missing Persons perform “Walking in LA” live at the US Festival in 1983 via YouTube:

MM: You were talking a little bit earlier about your attitude toward live performance. And my blog, generally, we’re a concert review blog. We also have the wonderful opportunity to talk to musicians like yourself about books or other projects. But I would like to get some of your perspective on performing live.

I saw you perform in 2013. I had come to California to see Coachella and saw that you were performing at New Wave Bar, with your Missing Persons band, in Southern California. And your voice was extraordinary. It’s like no time had passed. You sounded so great. How do you feel about live performance and how do you approach it? Is it important to you?

DB: It’s like going to carnival. It’s a festival, it’s a party for me. I love it. I can’t say enough good things about it. I just open my mouth and the words and the notes come out. I’ve had a lot of practice. It’s effortless for me to sing these songs. It’s the easiest part of my life really. It seems as if the strive is to get there, to get to the places to go, to get to perform, but to be on stage with my band.

As it is now, I have Prescott Niles from the Knack in the band, and Andy Sanesi and Paris on keys, and Kyle Gatsby. So I have solid musicians playing with me. I’ve been playing with these fellas now longer than the original Missing Persons people.

And yes, my voice is strong! I rest, I don’t drink alcohol, coffee. I don’t drink coffee or drink Coca-Cola. And I’ve been sober for 13 years. I feel good. I smoke pot, that’s it, and drink tea.

I sound like an Aerosmith song.

MM: [Chuckles] When it comes to performance, I imagine that that experience at the beginning of your career, touring with Frank, was quite an education?

DB: I never played live on stage with Frank Zappa. I only recorded with Frank on the records. We also made a record called Thing-Fish where he brought Terry and I back in the studio to record with him after the original Missing Persons broke up. And I never went on stage with Frank.

I went on tour with Frank, and I was on the sidelines, but never on stage with Frank, which is really ironic, knowing him as long as I did. But when it came to performing the Joe’s Garage, it wasn’t with me. And I was going on to the Missing Persons people, doing this band with Terry and Warren. And so, Frank was off doing what he did. And then when the Thing-Fish popped up, and he called the two of us, and he said, “Go back to Terry Bozzio.” He tried to reconcile us. I said, “I can’t, Frank. It’s not up to me. It’s up to Terry.”

And Terry would not go back to me. Thank God. He married Ev, his wife, and had a son, Raanen, which is awesome. So that wouldn’t have happened. You know?

If I had stayed in his life, that wouldn’t have come to pass. And that’s the thing. We do things in life, and we should just keep going forward, and the next step, and the next step. And then just before we know it, look, we made accomplishments that we needed to make.

I can’t regret it. No matter what happens to me in the rest of my life, it is what it is. And for people to say, and they appreciate all these things that I’ve done, when I’m just a little girl, five foot two, from Medford, Massachusetts.

I sit at my desk on a daily basis in a limited amount of space and just write and talk and think, and create, and listen to the news, or watch a movie. I’m really just kind of like everybody else. And it seems that whatever I said or did, thanks to Frank, made a great impression.

MM: You continue to record. You put out an album just two years ago, and I bought that album off of Amazon. And you’re going to continue to put out albums.

Buy Dale’s latest record, an album of covers — Dreaming by Missing Persons from Cleopatra Records.

DB: Yeah. I was thinking now I should probably make a new soundtrack for my movie. That’s what I’m thinking of making now. That’s what I’m working on. I’m thinking of working on a movie, maybe even much more elaborate than the book is, a little more quirky and racy and seedy. I’m going to put my best effort into that.

It’s best to have something in the forefront of your mind that you know you can accomplish, more so than setting a goal that you are afraid you might not make. So that’s how I play it. I do these little things and think, “Yeah, I can do that.” And it snowballs! And then all of a sudden, I take a bigger chance than the chance I just took before. That’s how I got here so far.

MM: Any last thoughts to share before we wrap our chat?

DB: I just want everyone to know that in all respect due respect to all the people that I did talk about in the book, it’s only on the good foot. It’s all about the goodness of all of them, and the funny part of it, and how life really should tread lightly.

Life is super precious. And that’s the point that I really needed to point across when, just in the blink of an eye, I had a tragic accident. It took a real long time and a lot of thought for me to get better. I wouldn’t give up.

You see, we do really show how we are inside. Maybe some of us don’t care, and maybe we act like we don’t care. But I take people at face value. And maybe what we say is what we really mean. Forget about these fantasies that we have, like, “Oh, no, they didn’t really mean that.” Well, maybe they did.

So I take it forefront, everything that happens, and jump, jump, jump through the ring of fire. That’s it. I do the best I can to come out the other side. And that’s all I’ll do. Hopefully, if my sons need me, I will be there for them, and my friends. A lot of my friends now aren’t really here. But the ones that are left, I’m good to go.

MM: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask one final question. A lot of folks say that Lady Gaga “ripped off your look or your performance” a bit. I was hoping to get your reaction to that statement.

DB: I don’t know. I think that’s high praise. We all just look for greatness from what has come before us. There are bands that inspired me before I started singing. I wanted to look just like Judy Garland. I wanted to be Judy Garland. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s one of the greatest forms of flattery.

Buy “Life Is So Strange: Missing Persons, Frank Zappa, Prince, and Beyond” by Dale Bozzio from Cleopatra Records.

Leave a Reply

This site uses User Verification plugin to reduce spam. See how your comment data is processed.