The picture of David Kammerer

First meeting – in John Jay – white uniform and red of hair

Michael C. Hall as David Kammerer in Kill Your DarlingsSometimes it happens. I accidentally discover a character that gets me under a spell, and I suddenly start my too-extended research on everything there is to know about that character’s life.
This time, it happened while watching Kill your darlings. Lucien Carr was the first one to catch my eye, but as soon as Michael C. Hall makes his first appearance as David Kammerer, Carr is forgotten, and my mind is focused on him.

[THERE MIGHT BE MOVIE & LITERATURE SPOILERS FROM THIS LINE ON. IF YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT GET OUT OF YOUR CAVE, READ ABOUT THE BEAT GENERATION, THEN COME BACK.]
Okay, besides Michael C. Hall charmingly portraing the character, this  is the real face of David Kammerer.David Kammerer
Allen Ginsberg, in his journals from 1944, describes him as

[…] a tall, hatless, red haired man, about 30 years of age, who immediately smiled
and charmingly bowed to greet Carr’s assembled guests

We don’t know much about Kammerer’s life before Carr, except that he was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, on 02 September 1911.
An unspecified day of 1937, exactly in Saint Louis, a 26 year old Kammerer meets the 12 year old Lucien Carr for the first time.
Teacher at Washington University in Saint Louis, Kammerer is the Boy Scout leader of the boy who will be the death of him.
Three years later, in 1940, after finding letters written with desperation from the older man to the younger, Carr’s mother sends her child to Chicago, Andover, Maine and New York. Every time, Kammerer follows.
It’s exactly in Chicago where they meet William Burroughs, Kammerer’s friend and another important name of the Beats, and where Lucien Carr will attempt to kill himself. This act is defined by Carr himself as an art gesture.

Allen Ginsberg wrote very much about Kammerer in his journals, during his first year at Columbia University and, unlike what’s shown in the movie, he seemed to be quite interested in Kammerer, and to admire him very much.
On 13 August 1944, he writes a story with the title: “West End Sunday: A Romanticized Version of a Tragedy“, West End being a popular bar near Columbia.
In this scene, Kammerer joins Ginsberg and a friend of his, and asks them for money. When they both refuse, he changes the subject of the conversation until Carr arrives too. Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg start talking, until they focus on Celine, Carr’s girlfriend at the time,  and Kammerer interrupts them.

“Well, well, fighting as usual!” Kammerer’s voice came to us as he leered down upon us from the side table.

and as the conversation between the two continues, then Ginsberg writes:

Someone kicked my foot and I turned resentfully to Carr, who looked at the heavens and pointed to Kammerer. Kammerer smiled queerly at me, leaned his head to one side and said with surprising bitterness, “damn fool.” I turned around, Kammerer kicked me again with violence. I became annoyed and pulled my foot back into his groin, missing him by inches. He raised an eyebrow, smiled sardonically and sidled away.

Ginsberg then keeps talking to his friend, while both Carr and Kammerer go sit at the bar, and, after a while, they leave.

Carr and Kammerer, meanwhile, sat at the bar. Carr was entirely absorbed in conversation while Kammerer stared down at him seriously, they seemed to be arguing heatedly. I could not hear what they were arguing about…
I notice that Carr and Kammerer had left, it was one thirty. We rose from the table, walked to the soda fountain and ordered sandwiches. I walked to the door and looked outside to see if I could spy Kammerer and Car. They had completely disappeared.
That one night at the bar, which sounds more real than a creative writing piece, was Kammerer’s last night. On 14 August 1944, Lucien Carr kills David Kammerer, stabbing him with his pocket knife, and throws his body into the Hudson.
Everyone justifies this event with self-defense.
Ginsberg, the day after, writes: “Kammerer Dead! Another lover hits the universe!”  and a few days later “The shadow has closed down on us and engulfed us all. Carr is in prison, Kammerer is dead – wonderful, perverse Kammerer.”
Reading Ginsberg’s journal, the same day, he also writes “Reminiscences of Kammerer, whom it would be best not to forget”, a list of nights he was out and Kammerer was present (And, as I noticed, also was Carr).

Finally, in October 1944, Allen Ginsberg begins making notes about a novel based on Carr and Kammerer’s story, with the title: “The Bloodsong“.

Incident: Kammerer getting money for Lucien by prostituting self.
Food- fighting over it; meat- wildness.
Ripping Burroughs’ coat off to festoon room.
One particular scene in The Bloodsong involves Ginsberg, Carr and Kammerer.
Lucien Carr asks David Kammerer to buy some food from a shop downstairs, together with some wine.
He asks Carr to go with him, but he refuses.

Carr nodded a cold negative. “How much will you need tomorrow?”
“Oh,” Kammerer smiled vaguely “I can always get more.”
“Then leave the change with me. Bring the food up and leave it at the door with the money. I’m too tired. You’d better crawl back to the Village.”
Kammerer stood at the door. He masked his insecurity with an accommodating bow. “Goodnight.”
After that, Carr knocks on Ginsberg’s door and when the latter says that he thought His friend was tired, Carr replies that he just didn’t want Kammerer around, that he gets boring after a while.
Ginsberg is interested in knowing who Kammerer is, so Carr explains that he’s a friend from New Orleans, a fruit, and that he followed him from there, to St. John’s college to there, New York.
Allen asks: “What’s a fruit?” and Carr, mocking him, replies: “A homosexual.”
Later on, they find a bag with food in front of Carr’s door. Kammerer did was he was asked to.
Pages after, there’s a new scene where Carr tells Ginsberg about a fight he and Kammerer had with an artist, Rubenstein.

Do you like this article? Please, leave a comment!

Some artist that lives on Minetta Lane. Lived in England for about 20 years. He ghost writes novels for refugees. But he specializes in painting male nudes. He’s a fruit. So he invited me up to his studio and began to paw me. Kammerer began to insult him, so Rubenstein pulled a knife and jumped on Kammerer. Kammerer is weak as a fish, and I was drunk enough to get over and defend him. […] We finished and went to Kammerer’s room to drink. That’s all I remember. When I woke up, I was sleeping on Kammerer’s bed covered by his coat. He was sitting in a chair staring at me. I borrowed a nickel from him and came back here.

Moving on, there’s the Death Scene.
Carr is talking about his plan of sailing to France, and leave New York. Kammerer insists on going with him, but he doesn’t want to.

Kammerer, balked ad despairing, cried, “You deny me, you deny me! You are life; you deny me!”
“Then commit suicide,” laughed Lucien, concealing his disquietude.
“If I did that,” Kammerer sneered bitterly, “it sould be murder on your part.”
“I am not responsible for you. I’m not your brother.”
“You are my lover,” implored Kammerer leaning down to his Lucien.
“I do not love you,” declared Lucien, grimly, pushing Kammerer’s face away with his arm. The touch of Lucien’s cold hand upon Kammerer’s cheek roused his desire.
“I love you Lucien,” he seized Lucien’s shoulder.
“No!” cried Lucien in guilt.
After hearing again and again that his feelings are not reciprocated, he reaches Lucien’s thigh and takes his pocket knife. He extends it and handles it to him, asking Carr to kill him.

[…] he merely, waveringly, indecisively, raised his knife and pointed it to Kammerer’s breast. Kammerer pressed on, crushing Lucien’s body toward him, crushing the knife to his body, crushing Death into his life. Lucien suddenly wrenched himself free, maddened with hatred and remorse. He Drew out the knife violently and suddenly plunged into his lover’s breast deeper than before, startled with himself, with his lover, with his knife.
[…]
“Lucien,” he mubled, “Why did you do it?” He heard a frightened voice somewhere reply, “But you made me.” Lucien’s voice and heart overpowered Kammerer and he lost all thought of fear; “I forgive you.” Lucien was stroking Kammerer’s hair red as the blood on his chest, Lucien’s testicles enwrapping eternity, loving him, and hating him and at the same time dying of him.

So, if you search the internet, as I did, and read about David Kammerer’s death, every article will force you to believe that he was a stalker, and that Lucien Carr killed him to defend himself to his attacks.
This theory gets me angry everytime I think about it.
Yes, Kammerer was in love with a much younger guy, and followed him everytime he moved to another city. But we must also recognised that Carr took advantage of Kammerer, so his company was not that unpleasant.
And, as Ginsberg said in his journals, Kammerer was “weak as a fish”. How can someone weak as a fish, surely drunk, attack you in a way that forces you to kill himself with a knife to defend yourself?

If what Ginsberg wrote in his journals during Columbia, both memories and fictions, has something to do with reality, I don’t really believe that Carr had a good reason to kill Kammerer. If was just the next artistic act that he made without thinking about the consequences.
But I guess, not having proofs, it will be something we’ll always have doubts about.

Here below there’s a video from the movie Kill Your Darling, my favourite scene, the one who planted the seed of interest in Kammerer’s life and death.


Resources:
The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice, Allen Ginsberg
https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8300045
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/06/books/columbia-u-haunts-of-lucien-carr-and-the-beats.html
https://blog.oup.com/2013/07/beats-kerouac-kammerer-carr-kill-your-darlings/
http://newmusictoday.blogspot.it/2013/12/why-do-they-keep-killing-david-kammerer.html
https://www.theguardian.com/news/2005/feb/09/guardianobituaries.pressandpublishing
http://www.chezjim.com/Mom/beatniks.html
http://thebitchyhistorian.tumblr.com/post/80167436575/kill-your-darlings-what-really-happened-between
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_Carr
http://www.sonyclassics.com/killyourdarlings/
-http://www.beatdom.com/?s=kammerer

Share this Post

6 Comments

  1. Hey! I thought this was very well written and you did a wonderful job of providing information. I’ve searched all over the internet for information on Krammerer and it has been so hard to find anything substantial, so that you for compiling it all here! I would love to see more about Kill your Darlings from your point of a view and I am most definitely going to be checking out this blog again.

    1. Thank you very much. Your comment is really appreciated!
      If that’s something that might interest you, I will be more than happy to write more about Kill Your Darlings. I love that movie!
      Thank you again for reading this and thank you if you’ll keep reading my blog!

    1. Thank you! Happy you liked it!

  2. I REALLY enjoyed your article Alessandra, particularly your willingness to challenge some of the accepted narrative about the enigmatic Carr-Kammerer incident. In the spirit of precision, I hope you don’t mind if I offer one small note of correction.

    You’ve shared a small photograph purportedly featuring Lucien Carr, David Kammerer and Jack Kerouac, c. 1944. You’ve correctly identified Kerouac but the other two men are Hal Chase (1923-2006) on the left and John Kingsland (1927-1997) in the middle, two additional friends of Kerouac’s and part of his “inner circle” at Columbia University.

    If you’ve read ‘On the Road,’ you’ll recognize Chase as “Chad King,” the young Denver native whose letters from Neal Cassady are pivotal in bringing the Denver and New York “gangs” together. Chase would later become a respected anthropologist and live as a semi-recluse in northern California.

    Kingsland is a Brooklyn native who briefly lived on 118th Street with Edie Parker (Jack’s first wife) and Joan Vollmer Adams (William Burroughs’ second wife). He also briefly dated Adams.

    If you’re interested in adding to your knowledge of this key moment in Beat history, you might want to seek out Dustin Griffin’s wondeful article “The St. Louis Clique: Burroughs, Kammerer, and Carr” from the 2014 issue of ‘The Journal of Beat Studies.’ It will help bring the various relationships of key figures (particularly Carr and Kammerer) into much sharper focus.

    Keep up the good work and happy reading!

    1. Thank you very much for your comment and for the correction! I had no clue that picture was totally wrong!
      And thank you for the suggestion too, I will definitely read Griffin’s article!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*