Before Timm Mulhern brings his glam-punk quartet Cowbell Superstar to Ortlieb’s on Saturday, you should know his hook. That might seem an insensitive comment regarding a man who uses a titanium prosthetic claw. But it comes from Mulhern himself; his bejeweled hook is as much a part of his act as his bold, quavering vocals and catchy, self-penned tunes, such as “Lonely for You.”
Sitting in a doctor’s office in Manhattan, Mulhern, 48, chats about getting a new prosthetic for everyday use (“they’re getting the right color for the veins and doing my nails as we speak”), while discussing his band and his fabulous “fake hand” — once again, his term. “I hate the word prosthesis. Sounds too clinical, as if I’m afflicted,” Mulhern says. “I love my hook.”
Even a story about the recent theft of said hook — after a show at John & Peter’s in New Hope — draws laughter. “Ween’s Mickey Melchiondo is a good friend, and he put a note on Facebook imploring whoever stole it from my dressing room to return it as it is part of my onstage schtick,” he says. Mulhern found it returned when he was collecting his mail. “It was a mess but it comes with the territory.”
Mulhern even used to dream that one day he’d have a special roadie whose only job was to guard the hook. “I must have thought I’d be up on stage with Liza Minnelli or something,” he says with a laugh.
Dreams are big for Mulhern. When the New Hope native was a kid, he had a dream he knew he could make real: He wanted to be rock star. He was a smart and burgeoning songwriter, guitarist, and singer with an eye and ear for glam theatricality — think the schoolboy outfits of AC/DC and Ziggy-era Bowie — and serious chops equaled only by his level of ambition. “I was driven, had a real taste for it,” he says.
At 18, Mulhern says, he was on a surfing vacation in Malibu when a freak accident occurred: A shark gnawed his left hand and arm. “I fell asleep on the board, drifted out far, and the next thing you know, a shark’s nibbling my arm,” he says. Conscious enough (“barely”) to drive in shock to Cedar Sinai Hospital, Mulhern crashed his car and broke his collarbone, along with losing his hand in an emergency amputation. “All I could think, though, was that my hair must’ve looked terrible — the ultimate bad-hair day,” he says, giggling. “I like to tell people that after the shark bit my hand off that I swam around in circles for awhile.”
It is this level of humor, character, and pragmatism that guided Mulhern through rehabilitation. He wouldn’t allow anyone to do anything for him, forcing himself to tie his own shoes and persevere through everyday tasks. “It was sad, sure … I played guitar and bass. I was working with a band at that time and lost all chances of a recording contract,” he says. “So I cried until I stopped feeling sorry for myself and just moved on. I couldn’t sit and do nothing.”
Remaining as strong and pragmatic as he could, Mulhern went through prosthetic hands and occasional bands with varying levels of success. That was until violinist/jewelry designer Eric Merkle made Mulhern “this precious hook — a beautiful piece of art,” and he began embracing its dramatic persona as well as his own
“I never dug that hand then. I was trying to pretend it was real. Not that the hook is my best asset — I believe my songs and playing are — but I think camouflaging my deal when I was younger was wrong,” he says. “Now that I’m exploiting it to the max with the hook, I am freer. My music is freer.”
The irony is not lost on Mulhern that his and Cowbell Superstar’s music is imbued with glamour, pomp, and circumstance. There is no hiding a hook in glam rock, so he’s made theatrical hay of it. “It’s a positive and pretty prop. I believe I made the hook glamorous. But like my songs and what they say, and our live show, you have to cause a stir. You have to enlist emotion.”
When I accidentally ask whether there is “a shorthand” to the music and words of Cowbell Superstar that the hook helps facilitate, Mulhern laughs loudly. “Yes it does. But only if you keep that line in the story.”
As for what’s next for him and the quartet, Mulhern mentions more gigs up and down the East Coast and producing an EP due out by the middle of 2018 at his Left Hook Recording in New Hope. Beyond that, he’s just living life and enjoying his circumstance.
“I learned not to count chickens before they hatch — but I do feel more poised for success than ever. If something great happens as a byproduct of having fun and being true to myself, that’s cool. I’m trying to just seize that moment. The hook is just one of the shiniest aspects of Cowbell Superstar.”
With Outcalls and Petunia, 8 p.m. Saturday, Ortlieb's, 847 N. 3rd St. $10, 267-324-3348, ortliebslounge.ticketfly.com