“I’ve been too high lately to be terrified of anything,” Liam McMullan said as he loped down Broadway on a recent afternoon to audition for a remake of the movie Fame. Twenty years old, he wore jeans, a purple T-shirt, beat-up Chuck Taylors and a Batman fanny pack containing a jar of marijuana, a bottle of Excedrin for the migraines he been getting lately, and a cell phone and iPod.
When he was 2 years old, Liam was featured in a VH1 special on children with wild parents—his are nightlife society photographer Patrick McMullan and the artist Laurie Ogle. His godparents are Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto and Mudd Club DJ Anita Sarko. His parents brought Liam to Warhol’s Factory when he has 3 weeks old. They never married.
Liam spent most of his childhood on the Upper West Side with Mom, whom he affectionately calls a “slacker”; since 15, he’s mostly stayed at his dad’s round-the-clock photo lab apartment on Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue. As a teenager, Liam traveled to movie premieres, parties and galas at his dad’s side, helping out and taking it all in; on his own, he showed up in a Levi’s commercial and a Vanity Fair photo spread of young society gents. “I didn’t even know what he was doing so much,” says Patrick McMullan. “Kid’s all fuck around. You try to be supportive. I try not to be bourgeois, I try to get him to follow his enjoyment of life.”
College wasn’t so much in the picture, though Liam made a point of getting his high-school diploma. (“I saved the money for him to go to college,” says McMullan père. “He said, ‘Dad, if I were to go to school right now, it would be a waste of your money.’”)
“I’ve always wanted to do lots of things, like direct movies, and write things, and make art, all different types,” Liam said. He resembles a skinnier, more feminine version of Marlon Brando, with wispy sideburns and peach fuzz. He speaks in a soft, slow, melodic voice. He’s currently recording his first album in a windowless music studio on 30th Street and Eighth Avenue, which he calls the dungeon. At around 10 p.m. on a recent night, he and his collaborator, 33-year-old producer Chris Young, were tinkering with the nine songs they have done so far.
“I’m more than happy to show people what we have,” Liam said. “But we can even just make something right now, you know? What do you think we should make a song about?”
How about his childhood?
He nodded, took a few tokes of a glass pipe in the shape of a mushroom, and hopped on his MacBook Air.
Meanwhile, Mr. Young began fooling around with some beats; he studied music at Interlochen Center for the Arts and has spent the past five years recording, mastering the technology. He’s filled the dungeon with all the latest equipment. He’s done some recording with soap actress and gal-about-town Leven Rambin.
“The way I view Liam is as not just an artist,” said Mr. Young. “I think he’s more than just a singer type. When you listen to his words, and listen to what he stands for, I find a very common thread between the two of us. We have the same ideas and belief system—which is, basically: Everything is all good, and do what you want, as long as it’s nothing bad for me. And everything will be cool. And above all, be creative.”
While the two men worked on the new song, Mr. Young’s blond, busty, beachy girlfriend was sitting on the couch wearing a tank top and skirt, next to a red-haired girl wearing a sailor’s cap and dark shirt and pants. Neither spoke. Mr. Young later told me his girlfriend gives him a sponge bath every morning.
In 15 minutes, Liam was ready with the lyrics. He made his way to the recording booth, a small closet lathered in purple sound-proofing foam. They recently decided to call their first album Purple Foam.
“So go out, take some pictures,” sang Liam. “See how much you can grow/ Just go to school, learn about botany/ And go to parties, learn about sociology/ Keep warm inside when it’s cold/ Just grow up before you get old.”
A couple beats of silence, then the chorus:
“Hey bud you’re gettin pretty big, so make a song up about being a kid,
Hey bud you’re getting really big, make me a song about being a kid,
Oh … oh … oh … oh …”
A moody pop song was born.
“I want to make something that’s legitimate and good,” Liam said. Mr. Young “brings in the beats that make people dance without even thinking about it, and I try to bring in lyrics that at least sound good. … I’m not trying to make stupid, silly songs. I’m trying to make songs that mean something, and if you’re actually looking at what the meaning could be, you’re going to find out something more.”
“You want to grab someone’s attention with every song and have them listen to the whole album,” he continued. “In all my favorite albums, every song is really good. I love all music; if you saw my iPod, it’s 160 gigs. I love all Bowie and Bob Dylan and pretty much everything. Nine Inch Nails to fucking Barbra Streisand.”
Over the years, his parents have remained friends, but their relationship has made him a little cynical about the whole relationship thing.
He had his first kiss at 15, he told me between sips of a Jack and Coke at a bar down the block from the dungeon. He lost his virginity at 18 to his high-school sweetheart of two years, Amy; a blue terry-cloth wristband now covers a tattoo of her name.
“It took one second, and it was just done,” he said. “I was just like ‘Ahahahahah!’ Now it just goes on forever. And I have thes
e migraines now that do really hurt like balls when I’m having sex. I start being a dick then. I’m like, ‘Um you can move around a little bit—I don’t have to do all the work.’”
He started smoking weed over the summer of 10th grade
“Since I smoked at that time, I’ve had the desire to smoke for a while now,” he said. “Smoking weed is pretty good; I haven’t gotten many complaints about it. It helps with my migraine pains. I’ve been getting migraines, because we’ve been in the studio for so long with blasting music.”
He thinks love is a dangerous thing. “It is what everyone craves; it is an idea,” he said. “I fall in love all the time. I love my girlfriend. And I love my ex-girlfriend. But love is different, love changes.”
His current girlfriend is 28, he said above the din of the bar. He said he’s always gone for crazy-type girls; his ex, Amy, recently texted him to say she thinks she has a borderline personality.
A few days later, on his way down Broadway to the Fame audition, he admitted he hadn’t read his sides—the scratched notes made by the director and producers in the margins of the script. He doesn’t like to check his e-mail. But he’d had a look at the script, and he’d shaved the peach fuzz.
He wasn’t sweating it. Whether he got the part or not, it would not be “my ticket to stardom,” he said. A warm breeze brushed his thatched hair back against his forehead. Tinted Wayfarers protected his eyes from the sun. His girlfriend called. He said he’d have to call her back; his cell phone was running out of juice. They broke up three days later. Things had come to light, he would explain.
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