Fairies, Methadone, and Foundations:
"He's a modern day Ulysses
for the 20th Century,
He's part of you,
and he's all of me."
- Keith Hemmerling, "Methadone Maintenance Man"
I admit it - I started this whole Weird thing as a lark, fullfilling a lifelong pipe dream to have my own radio show - hell, my own Radio Station. Over the years, I had semi-obsessively collected a monolith of incredibly strange music - thrift store swank and mold from before The Book, when each Cha-Cha or Hi-Fi Percussion record held wonders. Bizarre music, avant sounds, total noise, mutant bulldada kitsch, even Bad Music with its exquisite aesthetic torture. I'd heard it all...but I never thought it would happen like this, when I opened the door and let the Weirdos in.
On Februrary 22 2002, I received "Fairies and Figurines" by Keith Hemmerling. I had just returned from my honeymooon in Amsterdam the day before and while still coming down from The Other Place I eagerly unlocked the PO Box to see what weirdness awaited me. The Box had been opened the previous November, after a few years of quasi-legal pirate broadcasting tracks from my immense record library, and had already seen an amazing parade of freaks, geniuses, and artists getting in touch and crossing the digital divide. This 2-week batch brought us Pizza Gratis (too loud, annoying highschool weirdness), Lounge-O-Leers (top 40 in lounge/cheese stylee), Vibrationland (lofi psych-pop), Wood Records / mwf (bad midi concertos and crazed free-spazz epics), Infinite Ego (shred guitar virtuoso) and Keith Hemmerling.
Most of the submissions we had recieved so far were either homemade DIY CDRs, self-produced CDs, or micro-labels with little to no budget. "Fairies and Figurines" was an anomaly - big-budget CD pressing with a deluxe 16-page full-color booklet. On first listen, it seemed too slick - professional sounding production and studio musicians playing lite acoustic rock, backing an "unprofessional" vocal - kind of a Song-Poem vibe, but not too weird compared to the other shit we've been getting. The songs were unusual, some funny in a Dr. Demento novelty way (I Fell Off The Wagon At The Apple Pan, Mom), others melancholy and street-level (Methadone Maintenance Man, Mermaid, Minnesota, Money), songs of junkies and prostitutes. It reminded me of the Immortal Freddy K - someone who had lived the hard life, straightened up, and finally got it together enough to make their record. We had already received a few discs by outsider singer/songwriters, such as Sherri Elf, Joel Tuttle, and the brilliant Troy Lukkarilla - so I added a few that struck me and thanked Keith for getting in touch.
A few days later he wrote back:
uh...great!!! glad to hear it.
Over the rest of 2002, Keith would send updates about the myriad of projects, films, premieres, and music he was working on - all with the telltale signs of the true Freak - lots o'CAPITAL LETTERS and EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! Being as righetously cool as we are, I encouraged Keith to keep in touch and send us anything new for possible airplay. I'd groove on his songs as they popped up while listening at home, ironically a sort of island of normalcy in the sea of weirdness.
Keith's first video, "A Computeristic Fairytale", was soon online at Ifilm.com - a PowerPoint presentation set to the instrumental music from Fairies & Figurines, illuminating the Illumination Keith recieved after buying himself a birthday present - the painting "Untitled" by Erica Escobar, at the UnUrban Coffee Bar on Pico St., LA, which served as inspiration for the song "Fairies and Figurines" as well as being the cover painting and icon for the first CD Fairies and Figurines. Photos used in the video were also some included in the Fairies and Figurines CD booklet, which upon closer look, were of Keith in different guises - as The Singer/Songwriter, The Lawyer, The playwrite/actor in the character Caulfield Dean (what?). This reality knot was getting tighter.
In December 2002 we received "Honky Tonk Fairy Tale", a downhome country-style CDR w/ the lowest of budgets - Keith singing new honky tonk lyrics over a jambox playing the backing tracks from F&F (or the soundtrack to A Computerisitic Fairytale), recorded live at the UnUrban - the Anti-Fairies and Figurines. I really dug the total lo-fi DIY Honky Tonk style, esp. in contrast to the high production value of Fairies & Figurines. It had the one-take thin-Walkman style that would become a standard as the output increased. The recycling and mutation of previously released material - the same instrumental music from Fairies and Figurines - would also grow into the foundation and complexity of the Keith Hemmerling universe.
The new year 2003 heralded a fever pitch of new CDs, movies, videos, writings - so many that I have been writing and re-writing this very essay for the past four months!
In Feb 2003, we got a nice big box from Keith - 2 new CDs, Any Witch Way and the long-promised 4-CD audioplay of "Law School Suicide", and a VHS tape w/ the concert movie "Fairies, Witches, and Figurines". I listened to Any Witch Way first, a weird blend of MIDI synths, spoken word, and illustrative songs, presenting again the artistic Illumination of Fairies and Figurines described in the song and A Computeristic Fairytale, Erica Escobar's painting and the history of Keith's music, art, collaborations, and work up to this recording. Unlike the previous discs, which were on the normal side (real songs, working in mainstream genres, etc), this was full-on Weird. There's a strange dichotomy between the ultra-peppy commercial background music and Keith's insistent explanation of the epiphany from the Fairies and Figurines painting. Where the previous discs had a potential audience and musical entertainment value, AWW is insular, almost self-indulgent, yet reaches out to communicate to the listener the beauty and revelation that can be found in Art and the people around you. I imagined discovering this in a record bin or thrift store and the wonderful strange ephiphanies I would recieve. If I had come across this by accident, it would have been one of the top-shelf treasures of the Record Vault. hmmm, there might be more to this Keith cat after all...
"Fairies, Witches, and Figurines", the 90-min live concert film, is what really sent me over the edge and down the Rabbit Hole. Like most of my favorite art, I didn't get it the first time around - I was bored and distracted on a weekday afternoon, expecting a full-length set by Keith singing fairies and honky tonk songs, so I scanned past the other performers, sampling bits here and there, stopping at the Keith parts, then hurrying through some more. The folk trio doing "Methadone Maintenance Man", a song I recognized from the Weirdcast, was really cool, but I foolishly thought that there wasn't enough Keith. It seemed like any lame Folk night at any lame coffeehouse anywhere - I could go into town and see prententious neo-bohemian shit whenever. Sure, the production value was weird in an sloppy, amateur cable-access way - unnecessary video effects that have nothing to do w/ what's going on, bad camera work, unfunny and uninteresting random "real" bits, blah blah and more blah. I don't think I made it to the end, probably stopping somewhere during Critter Jones.
I returned to it a few days later, after having MMM stuck in my head, and actually paid attention. It hit me after a few songs and bits - it's all Keith and Keith is everywhere. Like those pointillistic 3D drawings from the mid-90's that you can only see by crossing your eyes, my mind slowly came into focus and was washed over by the Keith Hemmerling Experience. Every performer, every section, refers to Keith, covers Keith's songs, or is related to Keith in some way. The wimpy folk act sings "Therapist Spells The Rapist", the poet analyzes Keith's oeuvre, etc etc. and while the night is a "Tribute to Keith" as one guy puts it ["The E True Hollywood Story - Keith Hemmerling" who is the True Hollywood Story...], the P.O.V. is through the subjective filmic Keith, freaking out on late night coffee while watching over his Coming Back party.
This new understanding lead me to tackle the toughest trip so far...Law School Suicide, the 4-CD studio audioplay of Keith's Off-Broadway play (?) describing the journey of fictional alter-ego Cauldfield Dean (pictured in the CD booklet to Fairies and Figurines) and his Muse Allee from the top of Monticello Mountain, Virginia through the folk music coffeebars, sex shows, jails, and music biz of New York City. An unbelivebly weird and difficult sonic experience, with bizarre unending monologues, free jazz/funk background music, 4th-Wall busting "bad" editing, and much, much more...I still haven't comprehended most of it, even after listening to it nightly while falling asleep over the past 6 months. Some sections almost defy conscious attention, lulling the listener into a dull trance then commenting on the bewitching artistic sorcery taking place. Art as Shamanic storytelling as Insanity...the Manic Impression.
I had to draw the line there (at least w/ this story) - since then, at the time of this writing, he has sent us 2 more CDs: Jigsaw Puzzle Personality, an intimate solo acoustic set and recitatation of Keith's library, and The Vortex of Your Tattoo, an Email play about videos made of photos of Erica Escobar's Fairies paintings. We also received his amazing, classic autobiography/diary/poetry book Manic Impression, which illuminates much of the Life Behind the Music and answers the ultimate question of Where All This Comes From. He has also added many more movies to Ifilm.com, and promises the 4-CD set of Fairies, Witches, and Figurines. In addition, this creative Mt. Everest is underwriting and producing award-winning films and documentaries, acting, and helping charities through The Hemmerling Foundation, with more music, plays, movies, and books to come!
Unbelieveably, each new work is weirder than the last, and in some kind of artistic Ourobourus explains, refers to, mutates, expands, on the previous released work until it becomes a holographic mosaic where each song or video is connected to the rest yet each also has a depth and history that connects on different levels - kind of like life, or more, like Keith Hemmerling's life. And with each new project coming into WeirdCentral, I became more drawn into this artistic mythology. What began as one of many CDs that came through the PO Box (eccentric "personal" lyrics over standard folk/rock arrangements ala Freddie K or Shari Elf) has morphed into a fractal oeuvre pulling me into his Wonderland of Fairies, Methadone Maintenance Men, Montecello Mountain, Lawyers, and the Apple Pan.
"We'll live through myth. The myth that is our common language that let's us get things done. I lived in my own world for so long I became another one" - Keith Hemmerling from Manic Impression
I was always most attracted to those bands and albums that had something beyond the music, beyond the songs. Since Sgt.Pepper's the album became to mean more than the music contained within the grooves, but a congruence of artwork, music, lyrics, themes, etc that imparted a Message, and the best create a mythology that encompass an artistic universe..."concept albums" in the extreme. An early example would be The Beatles' "Glass Onion", where John sings about The Beatles and comments on previous songs, becoming a meta-song about "The Beatles". Parliament-Funkadelic would be another, with the story of The Mothership, Dr. Funkenstein, Sir Nose, and all the characters inform the songs and concept albums, each of which form chapters in the overall Epic of the Funk.
Keith takes this set core of musical/artistic/personal objects (Therapy, Erica's paintings, Pico St and the UnUrban, Allee, the Deuce), all taken from his life, and permutates them into pure myth. Through his "fragile voice" and "Humpty Dumpty Heart", he conveys and communicates his unique human and artistic experience through the dance of mystery and revelation, with each video, play, or CD explaining or shedding new light on the previous work, while containing its own questions, obfuscations and weirdness, confounding the outside (non-Keith) audience once again. His work is extremely personal and revealing, each song has an entire life and story behind, but presented as the work itself. One can always dig deeper, and Keith is willing to explain it all, but the explanations just entice one further down the rabbit hole of the soul. Keith Hemmerling is in many ways the ultimate "Outsider" musician and artist, the King of Weird, having been through Hell, Heaven, and Back Again.
- Erik Amlee
Northampton, MA USA
UPDATE: and just when you thought you'd heard the weirdest, along comes Fairies, Witches, and Figurines - the first volume of a 5-CD soundtrack to the bohemian concert film of the same. This first disc is the background music played between sets during the filming of FWF, most of which didn't even appear in the film, and, no foolin', it some of the weirdest shit I've ever heard. Jaw-dropping Bizzaro-world Weird.
What we have are 19 studio demos of Keith's songs recorded in the 80's for publishing/songwriting deals, some produced by Keith and his longtime collaborator Rick Pasek, others recorded by studio musicians and singers in the cheesiest of bad 80's AOR EZ-listening jingle style. It's like song-poems taken to the next level - rather than studio musicians transforming lyrics into full songs, the song-poet is in the studio writing the music and producing the session! Some of it reminds me, appropriately enough, of Brian Wilson's unreleased solo album Sweet Insanity, unique wacked-out personal lyrics over super-slick bad 80's synth-pop. The music is so commercial, yet the lyrics are so weird, and the dichtomy can be unsettling, particularly on the creepy stalker/rapist new-wave of "Yabadabadoo Gonna Grab A Dab of You".
Keith's play "Law School Suicide" is compressed into single-size with two versions of "The Lawyer On The Edge", one w/ Keith's emotional and impassioned vocals, the other more late-night Miami Vice w/ some studio dork. We get early versions of hits Therapist Spells The Rapist and Methadone Maintenance Man, all pepped up w/ that nose candy energy, exactly the audio equivalent of finding old photos of boring square Dad dressed like Boy George at the 1983 Junior Prom.
It's amazing that these songs have been around for so long, running through Keith's head over all the years. Usually musicians and songwriters obssess about the "new" and current, reflecting pop music's ephemeral topicality, yet Keith's debut CD is filled w/ songs from 20 so years of songwrting and struggling - again, the seemingly straightforward weird has a lifetime of meaning behind it.
Rounding out the collection are love songs, All That Remains and If I Could Talk To You, the epic cowboy/whorehouse tragedy of "Billie Lee, and truly strange un-novelties like "Psycho Siamese Twins", "Queen Elizabeth Is Not A Prostitute", and "3 Wishes" - mental pop from the funny farm. Really weird and wild stuff, I can't wait for the other 4 Volumes!
FAIRIES, WITCHES AND FIGURINES
Call It A Collaboration
Play Full Album
UPDATE: We at Weirdsville! are deeply saddened to learn that Keith Hemmerling passed away on September 6, 2005. We hadn't heard from him in quite some time, which was very strange after almost constant communication and endless stream of CDs and DVDs. We wondered what he happened, maybe he gave up the whole music thing after all, and kept searching online for any hint or clue. Unfortunately, a google search came up with a site listing the tragic news. RIP Keith Hemmerling, Weirdus Rex and Saint of Freaks.
KEITH HEMMERLING LINKS:
Keith Hemmerling CDs are STILL AVAILABLE!! through CDBaby.com.
Keith Hemmerling films are online at Ifilm.com.
Steady Diet of Books blog - a nice puzzled review of Keith's magnum opus Law School Suicide.
FEATURED ALBUM ARCHIVE:
Freddy K. and the Breeze - Random Enforcement
White Zombie - Soul Crusher
E Pak Sa - Encyclopedia of Pon-Chak
Keith Hemmerling - Fairies and Figurines
Bobb Trimble - Jupiter Transmission
William Hung - Inspiration
Dufus - 1:3:1
Jandek - Live at Instal.04
The Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra - Chariots of the Gods?
Ralph Records 10th Anniversary Radio Special