Part 1 of my interview with New York rock DJ and Led Zeppelin expert Carol Miller ran in the New York Times. Click here to read it and listen to the accompanying audio clip. Behind Carol’s glamorous life is more than forty years of dealing with familial cancer. 5 % of the royalties from her memoir UP ALL NIGHT: My Life and Times in Rock Radio go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Here she talks about working in the Mad Men era versus now, dating rock stars, overtures from Robert Plant and if Led Zeppelin will reunite, and more.
She can be heard in New York City weeknights on Q104.3FM and on Sirius/XM’s Classic Rewind channel. Her widely syndicated feature Get the Led Out chronicles the life of Led Zeppelin. It started in 1984. Yeah, I’d say that makes her a Zep expert.
JM: If you had a daughter, what would you advise her about love, marriage, and divorce? (Her first marriage was to MTV VJ, Mark Goodman.)
CM: Oh, my goodness. Well, I would tell her to be confident, that she’s carrying the cards. If somebody is treating her poorly, they’re not worth it. If someone’s winding you up and aggravating you and doing something that just doesn’t seem right, they’re not worth it. Don’t go calling him on the phone because that’s the stupidest thing you can do. Don’t run after anybody. Let them run. All the old things apply.
JM: Can you think of a clear “I’m not young anymore” moment?
CM: No, you know why? It’s because I never really felt young. When you have a doctor telling you ‘I’d like to hear you on the radio in 2 ½ years’ and you’re a young person, and you’re 21 years old and you’re sitting in an office filled with middle-aged women who are afraid of dying, you don’t have the same outlook. When you’re in school and you’re going to a radiologist and then going back to class, you get a completely different on perspective on your own world. I like to try to turn everything into a useful experience. I thought I had a good overview. So I can’t say that I ever had that. No one ever came up to me and said, ‘Can I help you across the street?’
JM: Your father said “You never really got to be a kid.” I bet that helped you in dealing with rock stars. You weren’t as star struck as most young women would be.
CM: One of the things that I learned from my background is that we have no idols. You know, Second Commandment. I had no posters in my room. I was a Beatles fan but we didn’t idolize anybody. My father would be very sure of that. So I just thought they [rock stars] were different and fun. I went out with a couple of them but I actually went out with them. They were people I met at work, which sounds funny, but if that’s where you work and people come tramping through a couple of times and then they say ‘Well, you want to go here?’
JM: People like Steven Tyler, Paul Stanley.
CM: Many of them are so infantile. Not Paul Stanley, but some of the other ones. They really can’t take care of themselves. They’re very childlike and if you want to be the mommy that’s great. I could see that right away. Unless you want to be part of their circus and be led around.
JM: They’re not used to courting a woman.
CM: No! It’s like “Hey, you know who I am?” They calm down when they’re older because they realize they don’t have the charms. No, they just expect you to fall at their feet and that’s helped in a lot of interviews because I would never do it. I would just laugh at them.
JM: As one of the foremost Led Zeppelin authorities, I’m sure you’ve encountered them many times.
CM: I avoided them when I was young because of their terrible reputations. You’d hear these stories and go – AAH! I don’t want to go anywhere with them. I don’t even want to go near the car. The stuffing fish story and all this other horrible stuff. But when I really did start to interview them – mostly it was Robert Plant in the 80s – he was very, very charming and flirty. He didn’t seem to be ominous at all. And maybe never was. My husband worked with Jimmy Page. [Music Producer/sound engineer Paul Logus.] I did meet him a few times. He was a very nice guy but he wasn’t on the drugs that he was on when he was a kid. Once they get to a certain age they’re not going to be throwing TVs out of the rooms.
JM: Robert Plant never offered to whisk you away?
CM: Sure he did!
JM: What went through your head?
CM: I was taking listeners, contest winners, to see him perform in France with Lenny Kravitz. We had a meet and greet. He knew me from the interviews. He said ‘Hey, would you like to come on to Frankfort with me?’ This little 30-second movie’s rolling and I’m thinking: Sure. I have a job. I have listeners here. I also think I was seeing Paul [her husband]. Yeah. I’m going to drop everything and just go. That’s just nuts! A regular person would say ‘Nice to meet you. We’re going to Frankfort. Listen, when I get back, I’ll call you.’ That’s a regular guy. But this person just wants you to jump right on the plane.
JM: What do you think it would have been like if you’d gone off to Frankfort with Robert Plant?
CM: Pfft. I think it would have been exactly what people thought it would have been. The minute you get on the plane he’s assuming that you’re assuming what you’re there for and you’re just going to have a party and they’re loaded up with money. And you’ll get there and you’ll have this big dinner. You’re now their person for the day and so you’ll be trailing around with them.
JM: You’re like an accessory.
JM: Let’s go back to if you had a daughter. If she came to you and wanted to follow in your footsteps and be a radio DJ, what would you say?
CM: I would say that’s not a very good idea because the whole industry is changing and unfortunately I don’t think it’s changing for the better. You’re not only competing for the jobs, you’re competing for the job as in its existence. We’re fighting to keep our job as a viable way of making a living; that it’s important to have people on the radio. People need a personal connection. Listening to an automated system or pre-programmed music that’s already been picked out for you by a computer is not the same as somebody playing something and telling you what going on in sports, news, etcetera. It’s just a different experience.
JM: When I see shows like Mad Men, I have a hard time watching because I lived through that. It’s too real. How has that aspect changed?
CM: It’s much easier to get out of the station today than it used to be. Men are much more afraid of grabbing you and feeling you up which is what they used to do. You’re on your way home from work (she starts pawing herself). ‘Hey! I’d like to work closer with you.’ Women today don’t realize that’s what jobs were about. My mother used to say the holiday party was for the bosses to get rooms for the secretaries. My aunt told me ‘Do you know how many jobs I had to change because some guy was putting his hands on me?’ Yeah! The bad thing about that show, it’s just encouraged everybody to look at that wistfully. ‘Oh, I wish I could do that. That was a period of freedom.’ We are over-regulated to the point where if somebody says you have a nice dress, that person’s afraid that they’re going to be sued for harassment because somebody will abuse the systems that have been set up.
JM: Can you leave us with one Led Zeppelin story that the general public probably doesn’t know.
CM: Having interviewed especially Robert Plant as much as I have, I’ve never seen anyone change his mind as much in my life. He’s very dependent on other people’s opinions of him and he overreacted, I think, a way long time ago, to harsh press criticism in the 70s. Ever since then he’s tried to apologize for being Mr. Led Zeppelin. Apologize for those dances he did with his shirt open and apologize for the music that was so crass. Now he doesn’t want to sing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and he’s been doing all this other kind of music. But the Kennedy Center Honors …
JM: He was teary-eyed when they did "Stairway."
CM: That’s the thing. Everybody’s talking about that. He wanted to be with the snobby people. Put it down and say it’s a piece of trash and I wish I never wrote it, and there’s the President. For all intents and purposes, you’re in the White House, and there’s a choir and Ann Wilson is singing so beautifully and there’s an orchestra. They’re singing your song bud. That’s what I feel like saying. Ya like it now? Is it good enough for you now?
JM: I really wish they’d tour again. I keep hearing he’s the one who keeps holding it up.
CM: Oh, yes! Well, this could be another mind changer for our show. And I did ask him that. I said if you want to play with people who are adventurous and great musicians so you can move on, I said ‘What’s wrong with the three guys you’re sitting next to at the press conference?’ [For Celebration Day, October 9, 2012]. He said ‘That’s what it’s all about.’ I would say they’ll play again. I’m willing to bet at some point they will but why should they tour? They’re not in shape. Look at Mick Jagger. Forget about it. You want to be 70, look at Mick Jagger. But he trains. If you saw the video of the show at the Prudential Center with him and Lady Gaga, she gets winded at the end and he doesn’t. Which is pretty amazing.
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