She’s in the Band

Singer and bassist Maggie Kim came to New York five years ago to become famous. First she got a job as a fashion writer at Glamour magazine. Then she played in a couple of local rock bands and dated a rock star.

Finally, last June Ms. Kim answered a want ad in the Village Voice from Ultra-V, a band signed to RCA that plays amped-up, derivative funk rock. Ms. Kim, 26, sent her picture and a tape and beat out 25 other female bassists for the gig.

The band may or may not make it. Ultra-V just sent out its first single, “Playboy Mansion,” to radio stations across the country. According to Ms. Kim, it’s already a hit in Texas. Whether Ultra-V gets big hardly matters. You just know Ms. Kim will be a star.

“You know what I really want?” Ms. Kim said recently over sushi at Nobu. “I say this with, like, all the hubris and, like, naïveté of, like, Madonna when she started out and she said, ‘I want to rule the world.’ I would like to be the only person that has a Grammy and a Pulitzer. How’s that? How awesome would that be? Yeah, although I think the Pulitzer will come around much later in life.”

Ms. Kim was wearing tight designer jeans, Jimmy Choo ankle boots with stilettos and a coral-colored, satiny tank-top camisole. One strap of the tank-top camisole was falling off her shoulder.

Ms. Kim is beautiful, determined and full of precious life energy. Wherever she may be, Ms. Kim is the object of attention and desire. Celebrities make passes, old men wink and young men cower. Once, Ms. Kim said, a crazy guy on the subway started openly pleasuring himself in front of her.

Ms. Kim’s last boyfriend, a writer for Details , just couldn’t keep up. Ms. Kim was having nightmares.

“I have really violent visions,” Ms. Kim said. “Like, of getting scalped or something. Isn’t that terrible? Things like that. Or that someone’s just going to come and, like, kill me horribly. Over the past month and a half, like every few nights. A lot of times it’s not even dreams; it’s like waking visions.”

The boyfriend was just too blasé, so she broke it off.

“We were just talking, and this is sort of when Fashion Week had just started,” she said. “He’s like, ‘I don’t know, I’m feeling really down because, you know, I feel my week was too fabulous and too much Lotus and too much Spa, and I’m just wondering what it’s all about now’–that’s what he said! And I’m like, ‘You asshole!’ And he’s like, ‘I feel so empty.’ I was like, ‘I can’t sleep at night! You know, my single’s going to radio in two weeks. It could change. We could get dropped, you know?’ Shit like that and so, ‘Do you even care ?'”

Ms. Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Philadelphia. Her dad plays the clarinet for the Seoul National Philharmonic. Growing up, Ms. Kim attended Catholic schools and studied cello. But in high school, she got sick of the cello and discovered pot. She became a punk–not a rehab, cutter-type punk, but a down-to-earth punk. She listened to the Cure and went out to nightclubs. She studied a lot, too, got 1330 on her SAT’s and attended the University of Pennsylvania. After college, Ms. Kim moved to New York and started dating a rock star, but she wouldn’t say who. She said he “defined, in a sense, the early 90’s.” She said it wasn’t Perry Farrell, Bono (“Ewwwww!”) or Tommy Lee (“Really hot!”).

During the day, Ms. Kim wrote fashion articles for Glamour . “You feel really cool when you work there when you’re young, because you get to go to all these great parties and hang out with cool people,” Ms. Kim said. “You get free clothes and free shoes and all that. And free makeup. I don’t know–then again, it’s such bullshit.”

At night, she played rock. Her first show was at CBGB’s with a band called the Cogs. “It was old-school,” she said. “They were older. They were, like, 30. One guy must have been in his late 30’s, like 40 with gray hair. It was just so not-me.”

After the Cogs, she was in an all-girl glam-rock outfit called Trixie Belden. That ended when Ms. Kim and the lead guitarist clashed over creative control.

One time during her days at Glamour, Ms. Kim and her friends were at a benefit when she met a tough guy New York actor known for his portrayal of lecherous, violent men.

“He had his little daughter with him at the time, who was maybe like 5 or 6, so she’s going ‘Daddy, daddy,’ you know, whatever,” Ms. Kim said. The actor and Ms. Kim saw each other a few times during the evening. Finally, the actor made his move. “He’s like, ‘If I give you a special number, like, will you call me, so I can, you know, take you out to dinner?'” she said. “I was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ So then he’s like, ‘Here, why don’t you give me your hand and I’ll pretend I’m giving you my autograph, but I’ll be writing my number on your hand’–like, he really is the character he plays, let me tell you. And I was like, ‘O.K.’ And then he’s like, ‘How old are you?’ And I was like, ‘Well, how old do you think I am?’ And he’s like–all hopefully–he’s like, ‘Seventeen?'” They never got together.

Outside Nobu, Ms. Kim stole a cab from under the nose of a lady in stilettos and took it to Grand Street, to a fourth-floor apartment above Lucky Strike belonging to the music producer Roger Greenawald.

Inside, there was a jam session going on. Five musicians were playing “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” with great energy. Thirty young people with goatees, knit caps and nose rings were singing along, dancing, slapping tambourines, drinking beers and smoking pot. On the coffee table, there was a copy of John Seabrook’s Nobrow . A sitar lay against a wall. Above it, there was painting of a woman playing with herself.

Every now and then, the musicians switched instruments. An 18-year-old guy, Ben, got up from the drums and strapped on a guitar. It was whispered that Ben had received a million-dollar advance from Mercury Records when he was 15. Someone yelled for some Neil Young, but they got “Good Lovin'” instead.

Ms. Kim sat on a sofa and watched the musicians play. Ex-Blondie member Nigel Harrison, who along with Frank (the Freak) Infante sued the rest of the band when they were left out of the reunion tour, was on bass. Ms. Kim leaned forward, like she wanted in. A tattoo of a camel just above the small of her back became visible.

Ms. Kim played a few songs on drums and guitar. Then she grabbed the mike and took over the room. She sang Sheryl Crow’s “My Favorite Mistake.” Then she did a straight version of Madonna’s “Material Girl.” Everyone cheered. She sang loudly and passionately. Then she sang it slow and sultry. That didn’t go over as well. It was 1 a.m. People started leaving.

We went to Marylou’s on Ninth Street. Morgan Entrekin, the long-haired publisher of Grove-Atlantic Press, was sitting two tables over from us with a blond woman and two other guys.

It seems everyone in New York has an interesting subway story. Ms. Kim told me hers.

“I was actually just going down to meet my friend to have brunch,” she said. “I’m just sitting there, and this weird guy got on and he’s whispering to me under his breath. And I’m like, ‘Whatever.’ I try not to pay attention to the crazy people. So I’m still kind of spaced out, and then all of a sudden I hear his pants unzip and he starts whacking off in front of me! Huge! Nasty! And I started screaming at him, ‘You fucking pig!’ I was like, ‘You’re fucking disgusting!’ And there are people all on the train and I was like, ‘This guy is jerking off!’ and I’m screaming this, and then he turns around and says, ‘What are you talking about? You’re crazy!’ And I was like, ‘You belong in a fucking mental institution! Go fuck yourself, loser.'”

I asked Ms. Kim if there was anything she wouldn’t do to become famous.

“Obviously, there are so many things I wouldn’t do, otherwise I’d already be famous,” she said. “Like, sleep with all the people who are like, ‘Baby, I’m gonna make you famous!’ Please! I wouldn’t kill my mother to be famous–there are lots of things I wouldn’t do to be famous. You know, I used to think being famous was the be-all end-all, and I’m learning that it’s really not. You know, as long as you’re doing what makes you happy–hey, and it’s so trite.”

Across the room Mr. Entrekin gave Ms. Kim a big, boozy thumbs-up. “Thumbs-up? That’s a first. Who does that ?” Ms. Kim thought. She gave him a thumbs-up back anyway.