Everyone loves a good “Kiss and Tell” memoir and Dale Bozzio’s, Life Is So Strange – Missing Persons, Frank Zappa, Prince & Beyond has it all!
I enjoyed my conversation with Dale Bozzio, co-founder and lead vocalist of the 80s new wave group Missing Persons. Every teenage boy in the 80s had a poster of Dale on their wall. She dressed in provocative performance outfits assembled with parts from local hardware and aquatic stores. She was a Playboy Bunny in the 70s, “Boston Bunny of the Year” when she was 21 years old, and twice dominated the covers of Hustler. Her music career was jumpstarted by Frank Zappa whom she first met when she climbed a 3 story fire escape to meet him. Sooner than later, Zappa hired her to perform on “Joe’s Garage 1, 2, 3, and 4, rehearsing with her future husband, Terry Bozzio. Her band, Missing Persons released six albums, including Spring Session M in 1982 which hit gold. After Missing Persons broke up, Prince signed Dale to his Paisley Park record label which released her first solo album, Riot in English, and marked the beginning of their notorious personal relationship.
Look out for Dale on tour in May in an 80’s music bash with other female performers from that era.
Interview by Maria Passannante-Derr. Photo courtesy of Dale Bozzio.
Maria Passannante-Derr: You have a very creative format to your memoir. You include a remix of two of your hits, “Destination Unknown” and “Mental Hopscotch”, lyric sheets, poetry and never before seen photographs from your personal archives. What was it like to be photographed by another icon, Helmut Newton, for the cover of the Paisley Park album, your first solo album, Riot in English.
Dale Bozzio: It was unbelievable to spend the day with him. He came to my house with professional make-up for the shoot. It was around my birthday in March and Terry had bought me a giant, black grand piano. I sat down in front of it and Helmut posed me in front of the piano. That’s how the cover was photographed. It just happened. It wasn’t prearranged. When we were done, he signed my Helmut Newton books with the inscription, “to my beautiful torch singer”. He gave me a hug and a kiss and went on his way. I never saw him again. He was a lovely person.
MP-D: What prompted you to write and publish your life story, to commit to the reveal of deep dark thoughts, relationships, mistakes and accomplishments?
DB: Believe it or not, I am shy and introverted. I write most of the time. I do a lot of thinking when I am walking. When my son woke me up and said, “Your boy has died,” it was a complete shock. I knew he meant Prince and I couldn’t believe it. I started crying, and when I stopped, I started thinking, ‘What the hell happened?’ I automatically started analyzing it.
I thought, I better sit at my desk and just write this all down, whatever is on my mind. The epiphany to write about Prince launched my decision to write my memoir, and ‘Whoa!, this is the first chapter!’. It didn’t end up being the first chapter. It never does. I thought, I might as well write the book before I die and someone else writes it about me.
MP-D: Ironic because, in the last chapter of your book, Prince, who loved you and wanted to marry you, was very manipulative and hurtful. You write that, in response, you had one of your rage episodes, which I want to ask you about later. You also write that he was “not a real live boy” so he kept from people who he really was or is there some other interpretation?
DB: He was cryptic and spoke in half sentences. I think he was afraid to act out on what he really felt. He thought more about what he wanted to do than doing it. I understand musicians write music for people to hear, but I think they really write it for themselves. Prince was greedy. However, we altered each other’s lives. Philosophically speaking, we pass through people’s lives and meet by chance because we are vibrating at the same level, at that moment in time. Didn’t you just alter a person’s life and change each other’s timing when you encountered him or her?
MP-D: You also write that he was someone you didn’t say “no” to and that appears to be the reason why he demanded to know whether you loved him or your father, pitting your love for him against your love for your father at a very difficult time when you needed comfort and understanding.
DB: It was a quick, knee jerk reaction without understanding the consequences. He would just jump to conclusions like that, very paranoid.
MP-D: Your well-developed poetic skills and your sensitive personality come from your mother, particularly her reading poetry like Edna Saint Vincent Malay to you. She died right after reading a Tennyson poem to you. On the other hand, there are episodes of rage, not a lot, but I wonder if you got this trait from your father from the way you described growing up with him.
DB: Absolutely. I grew up in “Goodfellows.” I hardly went to school. I started performing at twelve. There were always guns visible in the house. My “party doll” mother cheated on my father but he always took her back. At Christmas, when I was 9 years, my mother left and my father took out a contract on her. I thought I was adopted, like where do I really come from? It is still so overwhelming some days for me. I have my mother’s ashes here in a box and my brother is right next to her. I know exactly where they are 24 hours a day and all I can do is take care of their remains in a box.
MP-D: How did you get through the pandemic? I assume you were out in California.
DB: I got through it alright. I got COVID and I was very sick for a month, really sick. I got vaccinated, did everything I was supposed to do, but I was deadly sick from January 4th until January 30th. I hate to use the word “deadly” that way but I went through a metamorphosis because I had just finished my book, pre COVID, so when COVID started, I had to stop writing with my assistant and we had to finish everything over the phone via printing, faxing and texting. I didn’t mind because I finally completed the book but because of distribution and transportation issues, it didn’t come out for another year. At least I wrote the book, and, I thought, ‘If I die between then and now, the book will have been written because it was very important for me to get this story out and put it in my words.’ Anybody can say anything they want but if it is not your story, then it is just hearsay.
MP-D: You write about Frank Zappa throughout your book?
DB: He had a big influence upon my career and me personally. He was a ‘bigger than life’ person whom you never said no to in a genuine way. I respected Frank until he died.
MP-D: It seemed like a genuine parental relationship.
DB: Yes and nothing beyond that.
MP-D: You wrote a lot of songs. You are a very prolific artist. You wrote that the source of your songs is personal pain.
DB: I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be in pain all their lives but I guess that’s how you were touched to create. I wonder if people are in pain throughout their whole lives. I don’t know too many people. I’m not a socialite. I’m very quiet and to myself. Mainly, I stay with my son with whom I feel safe. I depend on writing something all the time. I love words and writing prose and poetry. I found comfort and peace writing poetry when I was a very little girl.
When I was nine my mother left for many years. I lived with my father in a big house, with high ceilings. It was so empty and it echoed when she wasn’t there. When she was there, music would be playing and she’d be dancing and talking, doing this and that and clanking and clicking. There was always action. When she would leave, it was dead quiet. My father was so violent and strange that no one would come to my house. There were guns by the door. My father would sit in his big library in the front of the house and cry. I thought, how could this woman break this incredible man?
MP-D: Is there anything in this memoir that is outrageous even for you?
DB: Outrageous is when a low life comes in my hotel room, pretends to be a security guard and tells me he’s gonna rape and kill me. He should not have told me that because now I’m one up on him and that is not gonna happen. I’m gonna write this in my book, exactly what happened in that hotel room and exactly what this guy thought he was gonna do. If he was determined to kill me, he would have just done it instead of announcing it. So fight or flight. I risked my life to save my life, went out the window, injured myself landing on a sign, broke my kneecaps, split my head open requiring 52 stitches and lost my vision. I went on tour in Europe with Terry and Frank. I thought about other things and my eyesight got better and stronger.
MP-D: So we know that your songwriting came from your poetry but on the music side of it who or what were you influences or did you leave it to Warren and Terry?
DB: Terry would take the guitar and suggest that we write a song and play. Warren would sit down sometimes and play the drums and then Terry would play the piano. A lot of times it came from a spontaneous idea or phrase or stream of consciousness.
MP-D: Has your sound changed over the years?
DB: It’s different when you work with different people. I can’t really tell because I am not with Missing Persons anymore. I doubt I will ever have another hit on the radio because I’ve already had enough hits in my life.
MP-D: You are going out on tour in May?
DB: Yes, I’m still performing, going out on an 80’s concert tour, playing a big show with Blondie, and other really cool people. I go out there and flail around, sing my hits, a couple of songs from my Prince album. I’m happy just to be able to play. I have sung thousands of concerts and I can still sing thousands more which is pretty amazing to me. Frank Zappa said “You’re not gonna be a singer. I’m gonna make you a household word, you’ll see. I laughed at Frank and said, ‘No, no.” I thought he was so funny. I found my true self-worth through him. I am going to keep busy. I’m working on the soundtrack to a movie I am making. No title or screenplay yet, but it will be based upon my memoir.
MP-D: What impact has fame had on you? It seems like there were times when you went off to New Hampshire and you did not want fame and there were other times, like in the early years when you craved it.
DB: I have a better understanding of fame. I’ve gotten over needing attention. I was the one everyone was taking about. As a young person, I got a lot of attention from my father so I thought that was how it was always supposed to be. He turned me into a superstar and that’s why I can handle being by myself. I prefer being alone. I panic in a crowd. Oddly enough you would think the opposite.
MP-D: I totally understand. First of all, it allows you to be productive and creative and to write your poetry and your poetry gave you and continues to give you peace of mind. What would you now advise Dale at 17?
DB: You can’t live in fear of what might happen. That’s irrelevant. Be patient and have the courage to know what is truly in your mind and your heart and everything will be alright. It’s all about strength and courage when it really comes down to it.