Celebrating “Detachable Penis” 20 Years On
Discussing King Missile’s unlikely breakout hit, “Detachable Penis,” and its relationship to the bygone East Village is rather redundant at this point. However, Spin decided to reopen the book twenty years after its initial release to discuss the history of the song and how it ultimately affected the band and its legacy. The publication located all those involved in its creation for an…err…oral history, from band leader and composer John S. Hall to producer Mark Kramer.
The full interview is certainly worth reading, but we’ve snipped some select sound bytes:
Frontman John C. Hall: I remember having the idea, and saying, “That would be a good idea to write about.” And actually the day that I had the idea, I had a show that night, somewhere in Massachusetts. Sebadoh was on the bill. I’d just performed “Jesus Is Way Cool,” which was our biggest hit up until that time, and I said, “So my next big hit is going to be called ‘Detachable Penis,’” and people laughed. Then it took me several months to actually sit down and write it. Maybe 10 years earlier, I’d read a piece in the Village Voice by a lesbian who was talking about a dildo. She had the feeling that she could be male when she wanted to — you could just strap it on or take it off at will and you’re a different gender. When I first thought of “Detachable,” that was the idea. But when I was writing it, that didn’t seem workable, so it didn’t go that way. It occurred to me that if your penis were detachable, it would probably get lost. So the song isn’t actually about it being detachable, it’s about it being lost. But “Lost Penis” is not really a good name for a song.
Bassist Chris Xefos: The opening shot [of the video] is in this movie-theater bathroom and we shot it totally guerilla-style. We paid for tickets to go see Glengarry Glen Ross at the 2nd Avenue multiplex in the Village, sat in the front row, and then one by one went into the bathroom.
Video Director Richard Kern: That was one of the most expensive shots because we had to buy movie tickets. The only problem was when we were shooting the scene with the guy selling stuff on the street, and John comes up and sees this dildo. The cops came and ran us off because we didn’t have the proper permits. It just looked funny, us standing there with a guy waving a dildo around the street. I guess that bothered them.
Hall: We made three different versions of the video. The first one, they brought it to MTV and they said, “No, we’re not going to show that.” The second one, we put a big black bar over the dildo, to make it obvious and really silly. I think that did get shown a few times on MTV, but they didn’t like that either. The final version, the dildo was blurred out, and that got the predominant amount of play.
Kern: I was shocked it was on MTV.
Drummer Roger Murdock: Beavis and Butt-Head picked up on it right away. When they heard the word “penis,” boy, that was it. They knew that we rocked or something. I love that show, so that’s a very proud moment for me — something I can tell my daughter about.
Hall: Now I work as an intellectual property analyst at a major corporate law firm so the people are very different. I generally don’t talk about it that much, but one time I was at a continuing legal education class and asked a question. One of the new associates came up to me after and said, “I recognize your voice.” But that rarely happens.
Check out the full interview here.