Thursday, August 16, 2007

Keith Hemmerling - Law School Suicide (**Guest Post!**)

“You’re not gonna know who you’re watching up here, a madman or just a guy trying to make a whole lotta hell out of a bad situation…a whole lotta heaven. My name is Caulfield Dean and I make up movies in my mind…”

Caulfield Dean, CD A

This is a kind of departure from the usual posts here. Law School Suicide is a four CD set released by a singer-songwriter named Keith Hemmerling through some sort of entity called the Damien Stone Theatrical Company. Keith Hemmerling plays Caulfield Dean, Caulfield Dean is the main character in this story, Caulfield Dean wrote the story, Caulfield Dean is Damien Stone’s real name and so is Keith Hemmerling. All, some or none of this is true. Confusing, eh?

This is not a book.

This is not a play, although it is called one.

This is not an album, although it is a CD set.

It is not music but it contains music.

It is like nothing you have ever heard before.

The mystery of who Keith Hemmerling is and why he did what he has done is one of the eternal questions I think that will never be fully explained. All we know is the information that he has provided about himself, what we can deduce from his songs and writings and the fragments of art we still have. He came from nowhere and then returned, leaving us with scraps of videos, references to his literature on the subject of mental health and ten known albums released between 2000 and 2003. What we know is that Keith Hemmerling seems to be a recovered heroin addict with manic depressive bi-polar disorder, who spent much of his life in and out of whore-houses and working in sex-shows.

The story begins as a thinly veiled autobiography, detailing the relationship between Caulfield Dean, a singer-songwriter in law-school in Virginia, and his friend and classmate Alee. From the beginning Dean launches into an epic soliloquy that races from suicide to mental telepathy, briefly stopping off at jealousy, sports and James Dean. This is not only a blistering performance from Hemmerling that instantly creates a vivid and real character in the listeners mind, but also upsets our sense of reality. Dean’s first line sets himself up as an unreliable narrator. But we are told two things; firstly, all you must decide if he is telling the truth about this story and secondly, he made up the entire story in the Bar examination of 1979. As the story progresses layers of contradiction and confusion amount and as the storyline spirals out of control, reaching such levels of absurdity that we will be forced to question the very nature of the piece and its narrator.

The medium that this work uses is so unique that Hemmerling is free to experiment in a way that would be unfeasible using the mediums of literature, drama or music alone. Law School Suicide lurches uncontrollably through places, times and ultimately through reality and fantasy, becoming increasingly erratic as the listener realizes the extent of Dean/Hemmerling’s mental illness. Large amounts of time focus on instrumental passages with Hemmerling messing around on the guitar with no structure in mind, twenty minute long stream-of-consciousness speeches sprawl into unknown territories, pieces of tape cut out mid-stream due to “bad” editing and at one stage Hemmerling breaks down mid sentence and screams at his sound engineer.

But there is more to Law School Suicide than just its strangeness. It is a complex look at metal illness; it also has one of the funniest speeches ever written in the form of a music publisher’s rant (“the lyrics used to be important when they were printed on the album – but no one can read anymore…stick to the audience, you know they are one-syllable-people”); but most striking of all, it gives the character of Alee a level of realism and density that is extremely rare even in many character based works of literature, even while this entire exposition takes place in one phone message.

A unique masterpiece that still defies explanation or understanding, Law School Suicide cements Keith Hemmerling as the most unusual and innovative artists of all time. At the moment information about where Keith is, he has not released any more music to my knowledge since 2004’s The War in Zevon. One may never truly understand Hemmerling but somehow that’s part of the attraction.

Caulfield Dean, Damien Stone, the art of Erica Escobar, Forty-Deuce; the sex shows of old Time Square, the butterfly tattoo, the Minnesota pipeline, drugs, therapy, whore-Madonna complexes and the law-school student who suicided last year. The music of Keith Hemmerling inhabits its own universe, one that is as beautiful as it is inexplicable.

(Review written by 'mr x, indeed')




CD D (with cover art)

1 comment: said...

Nice review of an amazing and bewildering artist. We have a Tribute page to Keith Hemmerling at, with an exegesis and streaming albums. He was a great friend and sent us literally everything. Law School Suicide is his Ulysses, but only a slice of the holographic mythology that was literally his life's work. We learned that Keith passed away in Sept 2005.