In 1985, John S. Hall began presenting his work at open mic poetry readings. After three shows, he became a “featured” poet at the Backfence, a performance space in Manhattan’s East Village. In 1986, feeling that “20 minutes of me reading poetry would be totally boring],” Hall asked his guitarist friend Dogbowl to augment his performances with original music. Dogbowl agreed, and with the addition of bassist Alex DeLaszlo, drummer R.B. Korbet, and xylophonist George O’Malley, King Missile (Dog Fly Religion) was born. The band released two albums on the Shimmy Disc label, 1987’s Fluting on the Hump and 1988’s They, and then dissolved because Dogbowl wanted to pursue a solo career.
After Dogbowl’s departure, Hall asked Bongwater guitarist Dave Rick to help him put together a new band. Rick recruited multi-instrumentalist Chris Xefos, and Hall retained They drummer Steve Dansiger. Hall dubbed the new lineup King Missile, dropping the parenthetical “Dog Fly Religion” subtitle “since that was idea.” In late 1989 and early 1990, the band recorded the album Mystical Shit, and in 1990 released it on Shimmy Disc. On the strength of the single “Jesus Was Way Cool”, the album hit #1 on the CMJ charts, and the band was signed by a major label, Atlantic Records. This series of events led Hall to make a habit of joking, “‘Jesus’ got me signed to Atlantic Records.” Shortly after getting signed, Hall released an album on Shimmy Disc with permission from Atlantic: Real Men, a side project recorded with producer and Shimmy Disc founder Kramer. King Missile was featured in the 1990 documentary CutTime which chronicled the East Village music scene at the time.
King Missile recorded three albums for Atlantic: 1991’s The Way to Salvation, 1992’s Happy Hour, and 1994’s King Missile. Happy Hour spawned a modest hit in “Detachable Penis,” which reached #25 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Nonetheless, after the commercial failure of King Missile, the band was dropped from Atlantic, and broke up shortly thereafter because, according to Hall, “there was no reason to stay together.”
In 1996, Hall released a “solo album,” The Body Has a Head, on the German label Manifatture Criminali. The album featured considerable input from multi-instrumentalists Sasha Forte, Bradford Reed, and Jane Scarpantoni. With these musicians, as well as They cellist Charles Curtis, Hall formed a new band, King Missile III (pronounced “the third”). In 1998, the new lineup released its “debut” album, Failure, on Shimmy Disc. Curtis and Scarpantoni left the band after the release of Failure, and King Missile III continued as a trio, releasing two more albums, 2003’s The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and 2004’s Royal Lunch.
In 2015, King Missile IV released a short CD entitled This Fuckin’ Guy.
John S. Hall
John S. Hall is an American poet, author, singer and lawyer perhaps best known for his work with King Missile, an avant-garde band that he co-founded in 1986 and has since led in various disparate incarnations.
John S. Hall was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Manhattan’s West Village. He recalls being “very quiet and shy” as a child, and a social outcast as an adolescent. In 1978 he graduated from Stuyvesant High School.
Participation in poetry scene
In the early 1980s, Hall began participating in the Lower East Side poetry scene. He read his poems at such venues as Speakeasy and ABC No Rio. According to performance poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, Hall “became an easily recognizable figure in the scene: pale, bald, dressed mostly in black and white, with wire-rimmed glasses and a porkpie hat.”
Hall has performed alongside on such television programs as PBS’s The United States of Poetry, MTV’s Spoken Word Unplugged, and HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.
Hall performed in at least two musical groups before co-founding King Missile. One was Purple Sunshine, a “hippie band” Hall started because he “was really into hippies and LSD, and tuning in and dropping out, and all that stuff.” The other was You Suck, which Hall says was inspired by a band led by punk musician Mykel Board:
“Mykel’s band blew my mind. The idea of having someone in the band that didn’t sing or play an instrument was a revelation to me. Within a year, I had, with some friends, developed a band called You Suck, where most of the people on stage didn’t play an instrument. Like there was a guy who did a Rubik’s Cube, or a couple of people playing chess, or a guy with a dead fish on the end of a fishing line which he waved around the audience, or whatever. If you had some visual idea and cared to join us, we would let you. Over the course of a little over a year, over 100 people performed in You Suck. Mykel came to our first show and said that his face hurt from laughing so much. He ended up producing our only single and releasing it on his label: ‘The You Suck Chant’ ‘Get the Fuck off the Stage.’ It was weird, because those were practically our only original songs: we were a cover band. We would do any bad song we could think of… ”
Over the objections of the band, Board released the You Suck single with a pornographic cover image. The single was not a commercial success, and the band broke up shortly after its release.
Hall has released two books, both on Soft Skull Press. The first, 1997’s Jesus Was Way Cool, is a collection of 40 poems recorded on King Missile and Hall solo albums, plus a never-recorded poem, “Hope.”
The second, 2007’s Daily Negations, is a dark-humored satire of self-help books. In it, Hall presents a negative thought for each day of the calendar year (including Leap Day).