King Missile AKA John S. Hall Talks About The Videos For “Detachable Penis” & “Martin Scorsese”

King-Missile

Two of the most art-school experiment videos to make it onto the MTV screen are both by King Missile, the avant-garde band led by poet John S. Hall (pictured above in hat and sunglasses) since the mid 1980s. These two videos, “Detachable Penis” and “Martin Scorsese,” both found their way into two separate but faithful legions of music video fans: those who watch “MTV’s 120 Minutes” and those who watch “Beavis & Butthead” (if you are a member of both, you rule in many realms). We caught up with Hall, just after a Vice magazine story on him was published this summer, to get the skinny on the videos, Martin Scorsese’s reactions, and the latest endeavors in the strange world of present-day King Missile.

How did Richard Kern come to direct the “Detachable Penis” video? Also, it’s clearly shot in New York.

Richard Kern was a neighbor of mine (actually, he lived right across the street)–I’m not sure how I found that out, but at some point when I was living in the East Village, someone introduced him to me, and I guess at some point I had mentioned to the other guys in KM that I knew him. When it came time to do a video for Detachable, we
considered a number of directors, including Phil Morrison, who had directed “My Heart is a Flower,” and I think George Seminara (who directed our next video, “Martin Scorsese”). But I believe it was Roger Murdock who suggested that we ask Richard Kern. So I did, and we all loved his script, which was to basically shoot on the locations mentioned in the song: so the apartment shots were done in my apartment (and, I think, Richard’s), and we shot in the Kiev, and on Second Avenue, between E. 7th and St. Mark’s Place (again, as described in the video). I think Richard did a fantastic job on that video.

What was your reaction to having it air on “MTV’s 120 Minutes” as well as “Beavis and Butthead”?

At that time, MTV and “Beavis” were both airing a lot of strange shit, and “Detachable” was number 1 (or maybe 2) on K-Rock in LA, so it wasn’t a tremendous shock that MTV added it to “120”. But it was great. I enjoyed the “Beavis and Butthead” episode with “Detachable” in it. There was also an Beavis episode featuring “Martin Scorsese.”

Any strange anecdotes from the “Detachable Penis” shoot?

The only things worth mentioning that I can remember are:

A. The cops did stop to question us when were out on Second Avenue with the dildo, but that was to be expected, I suppose. It was kind of outrageous that we were doing that, and I don’t think we had a permit.

B. One shoot I know we didn’t have a permit for was the one we did in the bathroom. That was done in the bathroom of a movie theater (The one on Second Avenue and 12th Street). The plan (conceived by Richard) was that we all bought tickets for an early movie, and about 10 minutes after it started, we went into the bathroom and shot it really quick, guerrilla style. It was a lot of fun. Whenever I go to the bathroom in that theater, I think of that shoot. (I recently got in touch with Richard again and he said that he also thinks of that shoot when he’s in that bathroom.)

C. The least pleasant part of the shoot for me was the kielbasa. I was vegetarian at that time (vegan now), and I didn’t want to put that in my mouth (I didn’t swallow).

What was the “Martin Scorsese” shoot with George Seminara like?

That shoot was done in a couple of hours, after we shot a fake “Unplugged” program that we hoped would get aired somewhere. (That did not come out well, and it never aired). The label wouldn’t give us money for a second video, but they did approve the “Unplugged” idea, and George built time into the budget to make the video on the same
set after the “Unplugged” shoot was finished. I believe George was introduced to us by our then-manager, Abe. One of the issues with the video was that the track is full of curses. The solution was to record the vocals during the shoot (this also eliminated the need to lip sync). A few people had suggested bleeping the curses out, or having me say “freaking” instead of “fucking,” but I’ve always hated the word “freaking.” My idea, which is what we went with, was to just take the word out entirely. (Instead of “He makes the best fucking films,” I just said “He makes the best films.”). For the last line, instead of “I fucking love him,” I say “I f_____________ love him,” holding the “f” sound for a while. I believe this video contains my second best video performance. The best was for someone else’s video, Maggie Estep’s “Hey Baby.” Maggie’s death earlier this year was a shock to
many of us. I think we shot me doing the entire piece three times, over audio that was playing in the background, and we used my new vocal track for the single, which did not end up getting a lot of airplay, except, again, on “120 Minutes” and “Beavis & Butthead”.

I recall you saying that you heard from the Martin Scorsese camp about the song?

Photographer Michael Macioce (www.macioce.org) told me that Scorsese had heard the “Martin Scorsese” track. Macioce had shot one of our album covers (and the cover of my record with Kramer) and had shot both me and King Missile multiple times. His wife (or girlfriend) was working in Scorsese’s office at the time “Happy Hour” had come out. She told Michael, who told me, that Scorsese’s reaction was, “What, he wants to hurt me?” I don’t know if he was kidding or actually confused.

Who came up with the concept with the photos, etc?

The photos were George Seminara’s idea. George, it turned out, knew Scorsese, and was initially insistent to us that “Marty has to be in this.” I didn’t actually think that made sense, because the piece
itself sets me up as a crazed fan who would be unable to control himself in Scorsese’s presence. As it turned out, Scorsese wasn’t available for the shoot, but he did allow us to use photos of him, which I’ve always appreciated.


What is the current status of King Missile (or KMII or KMIII)?

As mentioned in the Vice piece, I recently got together with Dave Rick and Roger Murdock, and we re-recorded “Detachable” in the hopes of licensing it out to film or TV. While we were in the studio, we recorded a few other things, but I haven’t listened to them since (this was last month) and I don’t know if we’ll do anything with them. But I had a great time working with them both and would love to record with them some more, and I expect that will happen. And maybe we’ll perform together again, if there’s interest. We sent the tracks to Chris Xefos, and he has added keyboard parts and is currently working on the mix. There is also a version with alternative lyrics, designed to operate as an advertisement to potential advertising people, filmmakers, and other potential licensees. The idea to re-record the track came as a result of Chris and I re-recording “Jesus Was Way Cool” for the “Worship” episode of Adult Swim’s “Off The Air” program. It was Chris’s idea to re-record “Jesus,” because it took me forever to locate the label that currently claims to control the rights to the original track–a claim I dispute, but which will take a long time to sort out. It was much more efficient to re-record “Jesus” than to work out an agreement with this label that would be satisfactory to me.

JohnSHallnow

Is there anything we haven’t covered with these two videos that you’d like people to know?

The thing that I would like people to know about “Detachable” is that there will soon be a new recording of it available for licensing and downloading, once the mix is completed and the rights to the composition are sorted out with the publisher, who has taken forever to respond to my inquiries. As for “Scorsese,” the background there is kind of interesting: we were on tour for the first Atlantic record (“The Way to Salvation”) and Goodfellas was on in the hotel room just as we were leaving to go to the next city. I had to stay and watch that “How the fuck am I funny” scene, which is one of my all time favorite film scenes. We got into the van, and I said to Roger, “He makes the best fucking films,” and Roger said, “I want to just shake him,” and then he made a strangling motion with his hands. And I wrote the piece right then and there in the van. Roger, as I have often said, was the funniest member of King Missile — although Dogbowl, from the earlier version of the band (King Missile (Dog Fly Religion)), was also very funny. They’re both funnier than I ever was.

Follow John S. Hall on Twitter here.

 

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