The picture of David Kammerer
Sometimes 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.
Allen Ginsberg, in his journals from 1944, describes him as
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.
and as the conversation between the two continues, then Ginsberg writes:
Ginsberg then keeps talking to his friend, while both Carr and Kammerer go sit at the bar, and, after a while, they leave.
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.
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“.
Food- fighting over it; meat- wildness.
Ripping Burroughs’ coat off to festoon room.
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.
“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.”
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.
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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.
“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.
“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.
–The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice, Allen Ginsberg