One morning I sat and chatted on the phone
with John S. Hall for over an hour. He is the
lead singer and writer of the band King Missile.
They are mostly known for their silly song,
But that’s so unfair. They have many more
silly songs they should be known for.
Some version of King Missile was touring New
Zealand. And I didn’t make it to the show in the
end, despite being very excited about it (I later
heard it was very poorly attended – that probably
figures, but it still seemed sad to me). I did have
a lovely chat with John S. Hall though. He is
a published poet – he’s a lawyer too. His whole
approach to King Missile is entirely about writing,
not really about music at all. He basically pulled
together a band around him because he needed
something to break the tension – or boredom – around
poetry readings. He wasn’t prepared to do half-hour
poetry readings with his voice droning on, and so he
masked this with cello and percussion and choppy
rhythmic waves of guitar.
We talked for ages – about all sorts of things. But it
always came back to poetry and writing. If we talked
about someone like Jonathan Richman, which we did
(and Hall is a huge fan – and I am too) it was mostly about
Jonathan’s songs and the writing. Sure, his delivery is
crucial, his Sad Sam eyes and his melancholic stance set
against the often optimistic lyrics – or sometimes it’s a
sad story of a song delivered to a happy clip of guitar and
drums. But to Hall it was always about the words and how
they sounded, what they meant, how and when they were
written – and this was the case as we talked about Dylan Thomas
and Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot and then to Richman and
Bob Dylan and The Flaming Lips and Lou Reed.
At one point I told him that King Missile’s 1988 album titled
“They” – their second record – just blew my teenage mind. I
didn’t hear it until about 1990/1991 – and I had never heard
anything like it. Sometimes when I listen to it now I still think
there’s really nothing like it – those songs: Now, I’m Open,
Mr. Johnson, She Had Nothing, He Needed,
And at least another half dozen. But especially Hemophiliac of Love
(“when I see you I bleed like a hemophiliac of love”) and If Only
(“if only we could turn our heads into breads/we could slice ourselves up
and make sandwiches…SANDWICHES!”)
and Margaret’s Eyes. Which is just a spectacular pop song
and then it has that dark turn – he talks about how grey
Margaret’s eyes are – and lists a few things before saying
they are greyer than the “the cigarette she puts out on me”.
The Blood Song. When She Closed Her Eyes. The Box.
WW3 Is A Giant Ice Cream Cone. I’m just naming song titles
now – which is what I started doing during the interview. And
I felt okay about that. And John S. Hall did too. But I didn’t ever
print the interview. And I don’t feel okay about that. But that’s
not because I worried about all the fan-boy gushing. It was, instead,
because a burglar broke into our house – while we were still
sleeping – and stole our wallets, and phones, our computers and
I was unable to write the story up – I carried it in my head but didn’t
feel able to hammer it out on the computer I borrowed to just
get by. So I never wrote it up, and barely ever talked about it.
I feel bad. John S. Hall is quite brilliant I think. And I reckon
most people that have heard of him or his band wouldn’t
know how serious he is about it all – and what a brilliant mind he has.
And it was my job to share that news. And I failed.
The burglar didn’t really make a mess at all. A clean operation.
Fairly smooth. But there was a little tin of guitar picks I had and
they were scattered everywhere. When the police came to dust
for footsteps and fingerprints they found the tin behind a couch cushion
and took photos and told me the burglar would have figured it
a stash tin – would have been hoping for a good hit of something.
The police officer got a great boot imprint – and said they’d
probably catch the crook as a result (and they did).
It was super gutting to get robbed. But we were back up and
on our feet – and able to leave our own boot prints about – within
a day or two. Computers and phones via insurance, and some very
kind people dropped off a couple of meals, someone else loaned
me a computer straight away – and we got back the money the
thieves spent on our cards too.
But I always felt bad that they robbed me of the chance – in a
way – of telling some of John S. Hall’s story. They didn’t
rob me of the chance to speak to him though, and I can’t say I’ve
been waiting all this time to talk about it in any way but here we
are now, just as those guitar picks were scattered all about our floor
in the very early hours of a Friday, not long after I talked to John S. Hall.