Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Remember MTV's Superock? If you didn't see it you missed the best music show of the '90s. Host Jackie Farry talks MTV, Kurt Cobain, and her 10 year battle with cancer

Most likely there is quite a bit that you don't know about Jackie Farry.   Did you know that she's been battling cancer for over 10 years now or that she used to nanny for Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love?   Did you know that she created the "Fuck Cancer" phenomenon of recent years?   Did you know that she once had a television show on MTV?   Her show was called Superock and it was the coolest show on MTV in the mid '90s. You probably didn't see it.

Superock aired on Saturday nights at midnight in the mid '90s and it not only featured a highly unique showcase of music videos but Farry herself produced incredibly fun and insightful interviews with music's greatest luminaries of the era.  If you were a seventeen year old kid growing up in 1995 with an interest in music then shows like Superock and other late night MTV music video showcases like Headbanger's Ball and 120 Minutes might have been the only shows you watched on television as a teenager.

Farry's show Superock was different though.   Unlike 120 Minutes or Headbanger's Ball which kept within their strict but respective formatting; showcasing only specific genres of music in video form, Superock mixed all genres of music and it was the best thing on the pay cable channel in its era.  The videos that 120 Minutes and Headbanger's Ball didn't play usually ended up on Superock and those were the ones that you wanted to see.

Superock mixed heavy metal, alternative rock, hip-hop, punk, and vintage music videos together.  Each episode of the show was a toss up too.  On any given Saturday night fans of the short-lived MTV show would see music videos from The Beastie Boys, Slayer, De La Soul, Primus, L.L. Cool J, Suicidal Tendencies, Urban Dance Squad and Dinosaur Jr. all within a short time frame.   

Farry's show also had a unique artistry about it too.  Unlike the other shows on MTV, Superock was highly stylized.  There was something unique and almost indescribable about the aesthetic of the show.   The show's title credits and logo were like a pop art pastel explosion animated by a speed freak.   With a blaze and a brutal Warholian color wheel of oranges, reds, and pinkish hues, Superock's title sequence offered its audience a chance to self-induce an epileptic seizure while thrusting itself across your television screen with a golden king's crown twisting disco violente alternating within it all.    It was highly visual and culturally quirky pre-dating a visual style that seems to have become common place today.  

Between the music videos and segments with Farry herself, fans of the show were gifted with strange and surreal subtitled book ends that  segwayed into late night Noxzema commercials.  These were lifted from the bizarre Italian-French Mario Bava directed film DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968).  It was ahead of it's time and with all things that receive that label of distinction they get destroyed before they can truly be appreciated or fully understood.  Superock went off the air after just one year on MTV.  But the fact that the show lasted for as long as it did on MTV was a Jackson Pollack miracle.

The best part of Superock was Jackie Farry.   It's difficult to brush Farry off as just another VJ on the music channel because she wasn't really a VJ.   She actually knew about the bands and the music that Superock was showcasing unlike the majority of the channel's VJs.  Watching Farry interview musicians like Trent Reznor, Glenn Danzig or Scott Ian proved that she not only loved and knew everything about the music she was talking about but that she actually believed in the show's format.  Superock felt like something special when you were watching it and that needs to be attributed to Farry herself.   Jackie Farry injected moments of humor into her interviews throwing her guests off guard and the show was not without it's occasional awkwardness but Farry always managed to wrangle from her guests thought provoking and insightful commentaries on artistic process and musicality via conversational methodology.   The show is missed by it's fans and for those that never saw it... Search an episode or interview out online.

TV Store Online recently got an opportunity to talk with Jackie Farry via telephone about MTV's Superock, her relationship with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love and her 10 year battle with cancer.  Here's how it went....   

TV STORE ONLINE:  You know I'm a huge fan of Superock from back in the day.   So I thought I'd start this whole thing off with a question that you'd ask bands that you interviewed on the show...What was your first concert?

FARRY:  My first concert was Woodstock in 1969.  I was fortunate enough to have hippie parents.   But the first concert that I actually paid for and got tickets to go to was with Ted Nugent, Aerosmith, and AC/DC with Bon Scott in 1976.   There was also another band there that I never heard from again after I saw them called Mahogany Rush.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What city was that in?   

FARRY: It was in Oakland, California.  It was at this festival or sorts called "A Day On The Green".   Then the year after that I got to see The Rolling Stones on their "Some Girls" tour which was their last great tour.  I was only like twelve years old at the time.

TV STORE ONLINE:  At what point in your life did you know that you were going to pursue a career in the music industry?

FARRY:  I knew when I was really young that I wanted to be a behind-the-scenes kind of person.   That's why I never went to college because I got a job at a independent record label like one hour after I graduated high school.    I started working at Homestead Records as a receptionist.  Then from there I worked in the production department at Atlantic Records for three years.  Then I did Metal promotion for Epic Records.

I finally got to where I wasn't someone's secretary when I moved to Relativity Records.    I had an expense account and I was working toward everything that I had thought that I wanted but when I got it I realized that I didn't really like it.   In 1992, I decided that I'd take some time off from the music business and that's when I started to work for Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love as their daughter Frances nanny.    I was with them on and off for a couple years.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are your Top Five Favorite Records of All Time?

FARRY:  1. Rolling Stones "Beggars Banquet", 2. Flaming Lips "Soft Bulletin", 3. Sebadoh "Bubble and Scrape", 4. Slayer "Reign In Blood", 5. Hole "Pretty On The Inside".   Picks 2 through 5 are not in order and I am not even sure they are on my all time list because a list like this is difficult to decide on.   But for today this is what I'm going with.  Bubble and Scrape by Sebadoh is my favorite break up record now but that could be replaced on my next break up.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So how did MTV's Superock come to you?

FARRY:  I had moved back to NYC.  I had heard that MTV was creating a show to replace Headbanger's Ball.    They said it was going to be for the Lollapalooza generation and it was going to have all of these heavy rock and heavy rap videos on it..   I went in to audition for the job of the host and I got it.  I had no experience in front of the camera and the sad part of it is that by the time that I got comfortable with the camera MTV canceled the show.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you have any input in regards to the programming of the music videos that were played on the show?

FARRY:  Not one bit.  Every once in a while they'd let me pick like one video to show but other than that I didn't have any input.  I did get to give my input during the editing of the show though.  Clay Tarver from the band Bullet LaVolta, who is now a screenwriter was the genius that was behind all of the DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968) film segways with the subtitles.  I had input into what the subtitles would say also.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Why did the show go off the air so quickly?

FARRY:  Everything was going really well, but Superock didn't have that much of a viewership because it aired from Midnight to 2 a.m. on Saturday night and it was an expensive show to produce because we were flying all over the world to shoot the show.  You would've thought that they'd just shoot the show locally in NYC and let the artists come to them but we went to the artists because MTV wanted the show to look big and something that wasn't done in a studio.   I remember going to Amsterdam for a week to shoot that first show with The Beastie Boys.   They paid for myself and four crew members to go to Amsterdam for a week.  It was super expense.  I can remember thinking at the time that the show probably wouldn't be able to go on for very long because of it's cost for the time slot that it occupied.  I really am glad though to have been a part of it regardless of how long it was on the air.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I remember that first Beastie Boys show very well.    That first show was a bit stiff in some respects...

FARRY:  Yeah.  The guys were all totally baked but I totally was not.   I had sort of knew Mike D before that but I hadn't met any of the other guys before that day.   I was completely nervous because I had never been on camera before.  I wasn't used to having my make-up done professionally either.   A woman came to my hotel and I told her that I wanted it really simple but she told me that she had to use stage make-up because I'd be under lights.  We shot it outside and I looked like a prostitute.  In fact we drove by the red light district while we were shooting and I told everyone that they should drop me off so I could make some cash. On top of that, MTV bought me this dress to wear that was too big and it was cut too low for my taste and when you add that in to an already ridiculous make-up job...I looked like a total prostitute.  I couldn't believe it when I saw the interview afterward.


TV STORE ONLINE:   You can feel this weird tension when you watch the interview on YouTube today...

FARRY:  The interview was very stiff.  The producers had given me some questions but the guys weren't biting on them so I started to improv.

Jackie Farry talks with NIN's Trent Reznor on
MTV's Superock
TV STORE ONLINE:  One of my favorite interviews you ever did for the show and it's one that is on YouTube as well is the interview you did with Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails....

FARRY:  That one was really funny.

TV STORE ONLINE:  You ask him some really funny questions....In particular when you ask him about...


TV STORE ONLINE:  That's so funny.  People don't realize that he was in that film...

FARRY:  I asked him if there was to be a LIGHT OF DAY 2 if he would be the leader of the band with Michael J. Fox and not just the keyboard player...laughing    He should be proud of that movie.


TV STORE ONLINE:   What about the episode with Glenn Danzig you did from that big St. Mark's comic book store in NYC where he had on that all black pleather body suit...

FARRY:   That was really fun.  I asked him if his outfit was made out of a Glad Trash Bag...laughing   He was fun and he had a great sense of humor too.  I used to were vintage dresses and he asked me back if my grandmother knew that I was wearing her dress.   He was so nice.  I remember asking him... But I'm not sure if it made the final cut for the show but I said to him, "People warned me not to look into your eyes..."

TV STORE ONLINE:  You always had fun questions.  You could tell that you really knew the music that you were talking about too.    Plus your interviews had a feeling of like two friends just hanging out and chatting about music.   As a interviewer myself,  I wanted to know what your process was for preparing for an interview for the show?

Jackie Farry (R) with members of the band
Faith No More on MTV's Superock
FARRY:   My process?  Mostly fear.  Up until that Danzig interview I really didn't know what I was doing. I was just so nervous, scared, and I wasn't confident either.     All of that funny stuff was just ad-libbed.  I didn't have a list of questions really.  The producers would give me questions.  One thing that I noticed was that I would cut people off that were talking to me.   The interviews on Superock were for the most part conversational but I did other interviews for MTV too.  I did interviews were I was off camera and I'd ask a question and then wait for a response then I'd fire off another question to whoever I was interviewing.  I tried to make those conversational too because I was so nervous.  I remember I interviewed Gene Simmons from Kiss and he yelled at me because I cut him off when he was talking.  It took me like four episodes before I realized that I was doing that.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Because of your background in the music industry did you ever have to book your own guests for Superock?

FARRY:   Honestly, because of my time in the music industry and all of the people that I knew already is probably why I got the job with MTV.   As for booking the guests for Superock I didn't do that at first.   MTV had a department for that.  In fact they told me at first that they didn't want me involved with any of that stuff because they wanted the credit.  There were times though that a guest's manager for example would not get back to the show and I'd ask them if they wanted me to get involved and eventually I did make a few calls to get guests in the 9th hour.  MTV would say, "Hey, can you call Courtney Love..."

TV STORE ONLINE:  Did you ever feel used for your record industry connections?

Jackie Farry with Beastie Boy Mike D
FARRY:  A little bit...But because I was always so nervous.  But I figured that the more people that I actually knew on the show would make it easier.

TV STORE ONLINE:  If the producers of the show are going to tap you for your connections the least they could've done was to give you more creative control over the show...

FARRY:  That's what I thought.  They couldn't let me pick five videos for the show and not just one.  What's funny about the one video that I'd pick for the show too is that when they did show it they'd play it under the show's titles or something like that ...laughing  It wasn't very fair but they were trying to throw me a small bone I suppose.

TV STORE ONLINE:  What are you memories of doing the interviews for the Faith No More episode....That episode is very loose and fun...

FARRY:  That was a lot of fun.  I knew Roddy [Bottum] already.  But that's what I was saying earlier...The Faith No More show came never the end of the show's run on MTV and by that time I was more relaxed and I wasn't cutting people off when they were talking.  It was great.


TV STORE ONLINE:   Superock and other MTV shows like 120 Minutes and Headbanger's Ball were very important shows to me as a teenager in the mid '90s as well as to others because they were how we discovered new music...   Could a show like those work in today's internet age and how do you think that the internet has changed how we find and value our music?

Jackie Farry with Courtney Love
FARRY:  Well, I don't think that I can answer that question because I've never downloaded a single song off the internet.  I mean, I have I-Tunes but I've only ever bought one album off of it and frankly I was disappointed with the experience because you don't even get to see the artwork for the album and I don't like that.  I'm not anti-internet when it comes to music but I know how it's effected many bands.   Because of that it's become harder for bands to tour even.   I still go out and buy records at my local record store actually.  I'm set up for vinyl here at the house and I like to go out and buy records yet.   So I guess I'm a little outdated in that respect.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Can we talk about Kurt Cobain?  I don't want to spend too much time on it because I know you've talked about it in the past...I've read some of the interview you've given for that one Cobain book that came out a couple years ago...

FARRY:  Right. I was approached for several of the books and also the movies that have come out and I felt like I should pass on all of that.  I felt like those people were just looking for dirt on Kurt and Courtney.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'm not looking for dirt on anyone....Having not read any of the books myself and as a fan of that music then and still today I'm wondering about him all these years later...  What kind of guy was Kurt Cobain?

FARRY:  He was kinda quiet.  He was cranky in the mornings, but who isn't?   He was very sweet too.  He wasn't overly chatty and I lived in pretty close quarters with Kurt, Frances, and Courtney in this little house with one bathroom.   At a point I was taking care of Frances twenty-four hours a day and we had an agreement that if she woke up before 7 a.m. that they'd take care of her until that time.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Given everything that happened around that time with him and his death...Can you ever disassociate yourself from the whole experience today?   Can you look back at your time now with him and does it seem surreal in a way as all memories often do?

FARRY:  Yeah it was surreal but in a good way.  And it was sad too.   I definitely think back about it today and how surreal it was but not in a weird way.   I think back about the good times.  I think back about Kurt and I going shopping together.  I know that when I'm 70 years old I'll still remember those times.   I think back about "Nevermind" too.  I mean, the first time I heard that album I knew that it was going to have the impact that it ultimately did.

TV STORE ONLINE:   I'm sure you know that music just as well as I do...Do you think that there's one Nirvana song that captures the essence of who Kurt Cobain was?

FARRY:   I don't know.  I was around when he was writing "Incesticide" and "In Utero" and all of those songs like 'Heart-Shaped Box' are amazing.  But there seemed to be some anger behind them.   I don't think I can answer your question. I can't pick one song that captures his essence on the spot.   That was the thing about Kurt.   All of his songs were incredible.  He could write and then record 10 songs and all of them would be amazing.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Of course after Superock went off the air you got into managing bands and going out with them on tour.   How did that all happen to you?

FARRY:    Well, I had worked all of those years at record labels and I knew that wasn't for me.  My friend Janet was managing a few bands and after Superock went on hiatus she asked me if I wanted to go on the road and sell merch for The Lemonheads.    I fell in love with the experience and by the time that the next tour came around I went out as a Asst. Tour Manager and then on the next run I became the Tour Manager. I just totally fell in love with it and I ended up managing different bands on tour for about 15 years.

TV STORE ONLINE:    When were you diagnosed with cancer?

FARRY:  I was diagnosed...Well I got the news when I was on tour with the New Zealand band The Datsuns.   I kept fracturing my ribs doing nothing.  I would fracture my rib from laughing.  I would fracture my rib from choking.  This happened like four times before a doctor did an X-ray and that's when they said that I needed to get a work-up done for Multiple Myeloma.   I just left and I didn't know what that was and the doctor didn't tell me what it was. My back was also in pain to the point where I couldn't pick anything up so I went to a chiropractor and after an X-ray he told me what Multiple Myeloma  was.   I was supposed to leave on tour in five days when I found all this out.  I was told that it would be a month before they could start the treatment and so I went out on tour and over that whole time I was in total denial about it and eventually that turned into a total meltdown.  When I got home I started treatment and I really thought that it would be finished in a year's time and here we are 10 years later and I'm still dealing with it.

TV STORE ONLINE:   There's been two incredibly cool benefits for you on the coasts in the last few years...What was the impact on you from these benefits?

FARRY:  They were incredible.   There were so many bands that offered to play and I was so touched by that.    I was so blown away and it was such an honor.  I couldn't help but to just go around all night and blurt out "Thank You" to everyone.   There is footage of one of the benefits on YouTube.   They were love fests.  Someone made me a cake.  I had all of these friends there who I felt like I knew all my life and then also friends who I've only known for a couple years.

TV STORE ONLINE:    You have the whole "Fuck Cancer" thing that you're doing these days.   How did this whole phenomenon come about for you?

To order a "Fuck Cancer" hat
please visit:
FARRY:    Well before me I think there was another group that was called Fuck Cancer so I obviously didn't invent the phrase.   There's a company called Tannis Root that makes a lot of the band merchandise and not long after I was diagnosed I got a package in the mail from them and inside of it was a hat that had the words "Fuck Cancer" on it.   I wore the hat in a documentary film called CRAZY SEXY CANCER (2007) and after that I started getting emails from people asking me where they could buy that hat and that was seven years ago and we're still selling them today.

TV STORE ONLINE:  I don't want to leave this interview with a "Where can we see you next?"  question.  So let me ask....What do you want to do next?

FARRY:   I don't know.  I've just asked the same thing on Twitter...laughing    I may write a book but I'm not sure.   Sometimes I'm not sure if that's the right thing to do.   I've also thought about putting out a book of short stories too that I think I'll call "Farry Tales".  I've thought about creating a video series for Farry Tales as well. You should follow me on Twitter and Facebook and I'll update you when I decide.

For more with Jackie Farry please visit:
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