Magazine article The New Yorker

Way Cool

Magazine article The New Yorker

Way Cool

Article excerpt

Way Cool

After twenty years, a punk poet rediscovers what's been missing.

King Missile revives its whimsically biting prose and experimental folk at Union Hall.

It's best to deal with King Missile's irreverent 1992 smash, "Detachable Penis," the way the band does in its sets: quickly, loosely, and early. The New York quartet shot from a buzzy anti-folk project popular on college radio to an MTV mainstay on the strength of the proto-viral single, in which the singer and poet John S. Hall recounts losing his prized member at a party, waking up the next morning, and wandering between the Kiev and St. Mark's trying to find it--"This happens all the time," he explains, wilted. "It's detachable."

Both endearing and crude, the song was exemplary of Hall's literary gifts and sneering wit. At a small basement show on Ludlow Street last May, Hall updated some lyrics: "People say, 'Well, that's a nice little story, but isn't it about time you get it permanently attached?' I say no, because then my gender identity would be fixed."

In 1985, Hall, a Stuyvesant High School graduate, started attending open poetry readings downtown and soon assembled a rolling band of musicians to help fill out his sets. The avant-garde style that King Missile developed bridged Patti Smith and Weird Al: vivid spoken-word narratives delivered with smirking derision, rattled over jaunty organ and spiky guitar. Hall would grab at an idea, bludgeon it with deadpan puns, and land a coda that delightfully skewered its dimensions. …

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