John S. Hall works as an Intellectual Property Analyst, whatever the fuck that is. He didn’t always, though. He’s been a major recording artist, a published author, and a highly respected poet. Emphasis on been. Now he’s an Intellectual Property Analyst, whatever the fuck that is. “I should feel like a failure right now,” he says. “but I don’t feel like a failure, actually.”
John S. Hall’s Twitter bio says that he “Had a band for a while—King Missile.” It ends, cryptically, with the line, “May have one again someday...” His use of ellipsis makes the statement seem like a threat. He doesn’t understand how Twitter works, which is how I acquired his personal email address—he publicly tweeted it at someone he used to know, thinking he was sending a direct message. He is rather stupid, which is why, he says, he went to law school and no longer fronts the aforementioned band. “If you're stupid,” John claims, law school is “not a bad choice, except for the debt that forces you to get a job at a large law firm.”
King Missile released a song in the 90s called “Detachable Penis.” It was about a man with a detachable penis. Bolstered by the John Wayne Bobbitt saga that was going on at the time, it became a huge novelty hit; morning zoo crews ate it up. By John’s estimation, over a million people heard it. John, however, is of the mindset that they didn’t want to. It was forced on them, “against their will,” by the radio and MTV.
This explains why far less than a million people bought the album that “Detachable Penis” was on, and even fewer people bought the next album. The fact that he derided that album in the press, during the band’s tour for said album, surely didn’t help.
Due to the band’s lack of commercial success, King Missile was dropped from their label (Atlantic, for those keeping track). At the time, John didn’t know what to do with his life. His then-girlfriend, now wife, was attending law school. He didn’t want to become a janitor (which, in his mind, was the only thing he could do if not fronting a band), so he decided to enroll in law school as well. Now he works as an Intellectual Property Analyst, whatever the fuck that is, at a big law firm on the 38th floor of a very tall building in Manhattan. His office doesn’t have a window, but the office across the hall has one. He can see it from his desk.
John can, in two words, be described as a sensitive artist. I say this because he has a song about it, entitled “Sensitive Artist.” The song was written, however, in jest, because that is how he writes many of his songs. Or “pieces,” as he calls them. He doesn’t really write a lot of pieces anymore, though he’d like to. Nor does he sing all that often, though he’d like to. The windowless office, and his job as an Intellectual Property Analyst, whatever the fuck that is, may get in the way, but he’s working on getting them out of the way. He is not dead yet. He is not done yet.
John, whenever he isn’t Analyzing Intellectual Property, still performs occasionally. There is, as a matter of fact, a YouTube video of him performing a few years ago, screaming his sweetly deranged lyrical poetry into the void while holding his daughter on his hip.
John has a seven-year-old daughter. Let’s call her Dorothy. He takes her to swimming lessons, and piano lessons, and ballet lessons, and to the pizzeria where his name’s printed on the wall in the context of an advertisement for CBGB’s, the now-shuttered club he used to perform at in his past life. She likes reading his name on the wall.
John’s name isn’t on the wall of Pie Face, another restaurant they used to frequent. They no longer frequent it because, according to John, Pie Face has “fucked [them] for the last time.” Their last experience there inspired him to teach the expression “You’re dead to me” to Dorothy, a sentiment he told her was OK to say to companies, but not people. “When she is older,” John says, he “will explain to her that corporations are people, but even better and more powerful.” He says this, of course, in jest.
He loves Dorothy very much, even though he once took her to a Patti Smith concert and had to leave as Patti was performing “Piss Factory” because it was past Dorothy’s bedtime. While he was upset that he had to miss “Piss Factory,” he does not resent his daughter because of it. He is a very good father.
John wrote a book, before Dorothy was born, called Daily Negations. A parody of self-help tomes and A.A. rhetoric, the back of the book describes it as “exactly what its title suggests: a collection of negative thoughts, one for each day of the year.” It can be “consulted first thing in the morning, or anytime during the day when a quick let-me-down is needed.”
John no longer believes many of his Negations. And, while he was in a position of emotional turmoil when he wrote the book, the existence of his daughter now makes him “feel like [he’s] not allowed to kill himself.” Many people say that becoming a parent changes them. Makes them happier. More fulfilled. While it is a cliché, in the case of John, it is also a truism.
John has a small, shambolic storage unit in Manhattan, filled with objects from his past life. Press clippings, stuffed into a Software Etc. bag, languish in the corner. Boxes filled with letters from old girlfriends, college papers about Ronald Reagan (who he naturally despised), rolling papers (he hasn’t smoked pot since 1989), and commemorative beer cans (he hasn’t drunk since 1989) are haphazardly stacked atop each other. One contains a letter he sent to the Selective Service when he was 22, in which he apologizes for not registering for the draft sooner.
“I have always been non-violent,” it reads. “If drafted, I am not necessarily opposed to serving, but I will not be able to kill. If I am forced through basic training and end up on a battlefield somewhere, I will drop my gun and probably be killed, serving no useful purpose to our country or myself. These are my feelings. They cannot be changed. I will not, cannot, fight.”
A photo from John S. Hall's storage unit.
One contains a press packet from when his band was on Atlantic. “We recommend that a new press assault begin immediately for phase two of the King Missile project,” it reads. “Prior to King Missile’s European Tour, we recommend John S. Hall and Roger Murdock embark on a promo tour visiting morning shows at top alternative stations who are supporting the band. The charm of these guys is one of our strongest assets.”
John and Roger and some other fellows recently re-recorded “Detachable Penis” for licensing purposes. They recorded an alternate version as well, filled with meta commentary about the re-recording itself. “Now,” John sings on the track, “instead of my penis lying on a blanket because some guy was selling it, now I’m the one selling it. You can buy it off me. Maybe I’ll ask for $22,000 and you can talk me down to $17 and I can dream of being happy again. Complete. People sometimes tell me, ‘You’re a washed up has-been who hasn’t had a good idea in 20 years,’ but at least once upon a time, I wrote something that some people liked. 'Detachable Penis.'”
A contact sheet found in John S. Hall's storage unit.
Everything in the storage unit is covered in a patina of dust. It reflects the passage of time. The next time he comes to the unit, he plans on bringing a rag so he can remove the dust.
“When you’re 24,” John says, “you just don’t think there’s enough time to do anything. Then you realize that you had more time than you thought. And that some things just take time. And then you just sit on the porch, in the rocking chair, and you just rock yourself for days, and days, and days, smoking the corncob pipe, watching the prairie dogs go by. I don’t know what prairie dogs are. But you watch them go by. Oh, and there’s a train off in the distance. And it seems to be moving really slowly. But it’s actually chugging right along.”
Follow Megan Koester on Twitter.