childproof In Brooklyn, by Patrick King
WELL, KATIE, BUT I GUESS that’s how it goes. Send your husband to the big city to meet up with some rock-n-roll madmen and see if his mind isn’t just a little bit shattered.
And me, a nervous fat shut-in who wakes up early nearly every morning to do his writing. At least these days. I try to stay out of trouble. Be productive. At least a little sane. Even so, here I am on what could turn out to be one of them genuine adventures I’ve heard so much about. I’m on a Bolt bus, going from Baltimore to New York, where I’ve been told all the hip folks live.
JP Marin, guitar player, singer and primary songwriter for childproof, a band that not only doesn’t capitalize its name but also produces some of the most fascinating music in New York. A dapper fella. The guy I had traveled north to meet in a Brooklyn neighborhood called Bushwick. I had been listening to his music for over a year. Cole Jett, JP’s writing partner and multi-instrumentalist goof was supposed to meet us somewhere down the line. A little background might be needed:
“I know some of my stuff is weird,” JP says. “I mean, I can recognize it as weird.”
Early last year, on a kind of lark, I had decided to follow former Marilyn Manson guitar player Daisy Berkowitz (née Scott Putesky) on Facebook. He’s always interacting with his fans. Good guy. At one time or another he put a far-out digital collage on his page which featured all sorts of celebrities and pop culture figures side by side with characters from science and politics. The collage was creepy, innocent, sincere. It lacked the kind of irony you would expect from this kind of thing. I was intrigued. After investigating further (I clicked on a link), I found out that the artist behind the collage, JP Marin, had a band that was kind of like the musical equivalent of these collages: various eras of rock-n-roll history were spliced together to form a unifying sound. This was my introduction to childproof. I’ve been following them and corresponding with JP ever since. I consider him a friend. But what initially attracted me to the music and the man were his songs’ elegant, deceptively simple lyrics. I also loved that the songs were had a pop structure, but were incredibly weird at the same time.
JP Marin: Not being on the clock, I’m just going to the studio, you know, hanging out, talking about stuff, bullshitting. Some recording will get done here and there, but it’s not like work. It’s more like a hangout. And there’s music, somehow, at the end of it. Somebody plays some music - usually it’s us.
Childproof’s recording process used to be fairly simple. Write a song with guitar, bass, drums, keys. Go from there. Hit “record” and then maybe there’s some overdubs. But now that it’s just JP and Cole doing the recording (although their live band consists of six or seven people), they use a drum machine and the music has become much more layered, more pop, closer to a sort of apocalyptic dance music than straight up rock-n-roll. Now it’s either danceable rock-n-roll or rock-n-roll dance music. I’m not sure which.
JP Marin: I mean, writing pop songs is trickery. There isn’t a whole lot of variation that people tolerate. I look at it as a convention, like sonnets. I wanna be the guy who writes sonnets. There are conventions with that. You know, you have to work within those rules and you’re gonna end up with a certain type of feel.
And that was why I’m in Brooklyn. I like the music and I’m always looking for a good story. And here I am on the L train, May 4th, 2013, a thirty-two year old man who’s aged more like a pickle than wine, waiting to meet JP, hoping for an interesting story. And did I look like a nervous tourist? Probably. Yeah.
I get to the Loft Hostel in Bushwick around one, a couple hours before check-in. I call JP. He tells me he’s going to try to get in touch with Cole. We’ll hang out then. Cole’s the wild card. I haven’t corresponded with him much. But I brought two books, my chapbook of short stories and my novel, as a way of breaking the ice.
I decide to take a walk around the block, really get a feel for the area. About what you’d expect. Plenty of Hispanics, hipsters and decaying buildings. A Boar’s Head lunch meat warehouse, taco and sub shops mixed with trendy cafes and bars. Near the roof of a six or seven story building, someone has spray painted “Dr. Sex” on the brick wall in this crazy spaced-out font. Does the doctor make house calls? One would hope. I snap a picture and move on.
I head back to the hostel about thirty minutes later. JP calls. “You want to get some tacos?” he says. Of course, of course.
When I meet JP he’s wearing pajama bottoms and a blue dress coat. He’s also wearing a pin in the shape of a panda head and rainbow sunglasses. I stare at the panda pin throughout the day. It makes me want to giggle. Like most of what JP does, it shouldn’t make sense, but it works anyway.
He takes me to this cool taco place that’s no bigger than your average gas station. But the food is fucking excellent. And at two-fifty per taco, no less.
I’m a little nervous about our first face to face conversation, but JP talks enough for the both of us, which I’m certainly fine with. “You either need to make under $13,000,” JP says, “or over $90,000. If you make $13,000 or under, you not only don’t pay any taxes but you’re eligable for all kinds of benefits.” This strategy, plus the fact that JP pays astonishingly low rent on his apartment explains why JP has so much time on his hands. He does some work here and there: building websites, other odd jobs. But he has a fantastic amount of time to himself, to pursue his projects or fantasies.
We head out. It’s an unusually sunny day in early May. JP texts Cole to see if he wants to meet up with us. No repsonse. “He hates phones,” JP says. “Well, do you wanna get a beer?” Ah, the magic words. Not that I drink too much these days. Hardly at all. But in this case, I feel like the booze will loosen me up. Nervousness wins out. I am not what you would call much of a “people person.”
JP Marin: The song isn’t working, that’s okay, so you just hang out, have a big party, have some drinks. Like with “Hey Boo,” for example, we just got totally shit-hammered. Ugh. I don’t know how the hell we did it.
I’d passed by this bar on my walk around the block, but didn’t realize what it was. It was just this black door and a window. I don’t even remember there being a sign. Just that weird little black door. The door leads into a narrow space, dark, with a long bar and a few tables for people to lounge around. Then it opens up into a patio area with benches and chairs. We sit down and talk about everything: drugs, people on drugs and funny drug stories. “Oh, time for my medicine,” JP says, and in the hatch it goes and there’s suddenly a peacefulness about his face. He offers me some of his medicine. I politely decline.
We talk for about an hour or so. JP has quite a few strange things to say, but among the strangest is when he says, “I hate adjectives.”
“You hate adjectives?” I say. “Just full-stop, no adjectives at all?”
“Yeah. I also don’t like pronouns and coordinating conjunctions.” I have to admit, I’ve never met someone who’s been so opposed to adjectives, though I tend to use them sparingly myself.
We also talk about the nature of weird things, why we like them so much. “I know some of my stuff is weird,” JP says. “I mean, I can recognize it as weird.”
“Weird for weird’s sake,” I say.
“Yeah, kinda,” he says.
We leave the bar. Mysterious Cole finally texts JP back. He’s in the Villiage. Do I want to go out and meet him? Of course.
The East Village. Odd to think this was once a place for actual bohemians. Who calls it home now?
We stop at a place called the Odessa. A little cafe and bar. The name sounds familiar. I can’t figure out why. We find a couple stools. JP immediately strikes up a conversation with the bartender. The bartender says sadly that the place is going to be closed within a year or so. The lease is up and it’s too expensive to renew. Something will be here, but it won’t be the Odessa. “Is this still a big hangout for NYU students?” JP asks and suddenly I remember why the bar sounds familiar. Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso. They loved this place, along with other so-called “Beat” writers, before anyone knew they existed. When they were still sharing their poetry among themselves. When they were anonymous. This place used to be a real writer’s haunt and it will be as dead as they are soon enough. I try to really take the place in, savor it. Pictures of movie stars hang on the wall. I dig the photo of a very young Clint Eastwood wearing a cowboy hat.
It was in the Odessa that JP told me about a project he had plans for that really made me smile. You see, he wants to take an old briefcase, the kind you might see in noir detective movies from the 40’s and 50’s, and use it to create an art object that features the music of childproof. You open it up and there’s several fold-out levels to the thing. On one level there’s an 8-track with the newest childproof single. Included, of course, is an 8-track player. You want to be able to actually listen to the stuff, naturally. On another, there’s a small mirror that’s been used to do plenty of drugs and also a highball glass. “The highball glass,” JP says, “will have the Great childproof Seal on it.” Further down a level will be a floppy disk. Naturally, because almost nobody has a floppy disk drive anymore, the disk will have an alternative use. It will be used as a triggering mechanism so that when you insert it into music player on the briefcase, it plays another childproof song. Even better, if you can find a computer that actually has a floppy drive, you’ll find even more content on the disk itself. Text files with lyrics, perhaps. Or MIDI versions of their songs.
“I want to live in a world where things like this are an everyday thing,” JP says. “But I guess by making these things, I’m helping to create that world.”
We have a few beers at the Odessa. I haven’t had this much to drink in months. I’ve forgotten to hydrate myself. I’m getting a headache. No word from Cole this entire time. Who is this mysterious person? He finally texts JP just as we’re about to leave. He’s back in Bushwick. Might we join him there? We decide to meet at the bar where we started our adventure, the hole in the wall trying not to make itself noticed.
We’re back in Bushwick and almost finished with our first drink when Cole swaggers in. See, he has this walk. It’s a hip walk, in the old sense of the word. It’s as if he’s always got some music playing in his head. The fluidity of his movements is impressive. Do JP and I want to go to a place called the Gutter, where some friends are playing? Apparently it’s a bowling alley / bar / performance space, all tucked together like some weird adult-sized drunk wonderland. I’m in, of course. So is JP.
Cole’s skinny-long-legged strides mean that I really have to do some serious walking if I want to keep pace. Cole leads the way down the sidewalk when he suddenly twists around to face me and JP and he snaps his fingers, singing “Three Cool Cats.” Funny little Beatles song that’s oddly appropriate to ten o’clock at night Williamsburg-bound fellas in their early thirties trying to find a good time.
Damn. My feet are really starting to ache from all this walking.
JP Marin: [The song] “Money Shot” is vaguely homoerotic. There could be some ladyboys involved. That’s been a favorite live. A very 90’s rock anthem. You know, I wrote it in the 90’s. Honestly, I read the lyrics I wrote when I was seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, I’m like, good god, this stuff is really weird. If I was writing songs now like the kind of songs I wrote as a teenager, nobody would talk to me. Because they’re fucking weird and perverted and strange. Like, the new songs, I don’t think the lyrics are particularly weird.
“I remember when this area used to be weird,” Cole says, as we’re nearing the Gutter.
“You weren’t in New York when Williamsburg was weird,” JP says.
Cole loves these little non sequiturs. He just lets these stories spill out. When we get to the Gutter, we find that their friends’ band has already played. We sit outside. Cole pulls out his phone and shows JP a picture of Einstein, someone he’s been reading a lot about lately, playing an electric guitar.
“The style of the guitar is too late for Einstein to have played it,” JP says.
“Damn,” Cole says, “I really wanted it to be true.”
More drinks. My headache’s getting worse. I ask JP and Cole whether they have any aspirin. Cole lifts up his beer and says, “This is what you take for headaches!” He does have a point. I’m really starting to like the guy.
JP Marin: The space rock record is really going to be an album, a concept album. There’s a film to go with it as well. So we record the film, that will inform the music, then I’m going to edit the music to go with the film. We’re gonna go back and forth. We’re probably going to just record a lot of leitmotifs and riffs. It’s gonna be much more of an ambient / textural kind of thing.
I’m feeling a bit spaced myself. It’s past midnight and we’re walking what must be about ten blocks or so to a club called Grand Victory. The thing is that this is the 40th anniversary of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album and a bunch of bands are collaborating to perform the entire album live, in its entirety. But first there is the matter of The Brats, who are on stage while a couple hundred people look on. They’re quite old, veterans of their trade, which is some 70’s rock-n-roll just this side of glam. They’re the real deal. They were getting their start at the same time as the New York Dolls. Kiss used to open for them. Somehow they got lost in the shuffle and were never signed. Which is too bad, really. They’re quite good, though the years have weathered them physically.
After The Brats have finished their set, we’re outside the club and Cole is talking to two women who are so drunk they can barely stand upright. They’ve confused the fact that he’s studying physics to mean that he’s actually a physicist. “I’m really just trying to work on my rap lyrics right now,” Cole says. The women seem genuinely impressed. One of them says, “I’ve never met someone who was a physicist and a hip-hop artist.” Now you have, I think to myself. JP is talking to a group of people who have formed a semicircle around him. “I don’t expect to make any money with my music,” he says. “My friend Scott, the original guitarist for Marilyn Manson, things got so bad for him at one point that he had to get a job until he got his next royalty statement.”
Maybe we can skip the Aladdin Sane tribute and go straight to the ride back to the hostel? My hams are killing me. As if through fate, Cole asks me if I want to share a cab. I say sure.
JP Marin: In many cases, you know how I’ll use the low voice and the high voice? They’re two different characters. They’re different meta-characters talking to each other.
One of the first things Cole says when we’re in the cab is, “You should be my biographer.” “Okay,” I say, without hesitation. I’m always looking for a wild project. Next, Cole starts talking about movie scores. Big fan of John Williams. Not so much Hans Zimmer. “You can remember a John Williams score,” he says, “because of the leitmotifs. Can you remember any Hans Zimmer music?” I admit that I can’t, at the moment at least. “Exactly! He hires his work out. Anyone can make things go boom! Anyone.”
JP Marin: Yeah, but the lyrics are fucking weird. One thing I’ve been considering doing with the old songs is redoing them, because I didn’t know a lot of really cool chords back then. I know all the really cool jazz chords. They’re still good songs - I’d just go back and record everything the way I do now. I mean, I guess what I should be doing is taking one song and then changing little bits of it and calling it a new song.
JP’s dream is to buy a building where tenants can finance a basement art gallery and performance space where childproof will be the house band. And if something like that does happen there will be further cracking of the mind and I’ll get a little closer to believing that the freaks really are winning, letting the beauty leak out a little at a time, spreading romantic madness like a virus. Steps are being taken. The ship will come closer to shore.
About Pat King
Patrick King is a 3,000 year old billy goat who gruffly writes stuff every now and then. Check out his blog if you like humor, pop culture or weird metaphysical ramblings: www.themugwumpcorporation.com. He can be contacted at Alabamamoviemaker@hotmail.com.
Originally posted on Red Fez