You’re wholly right that “Kill Your Darlings” was a tired, ludicrous reading of the story of the murder case; and like all the other terribly inaccurate readings that have been put out there, it was based almost entirely on Allen Ginsberg’s versions of events. And Allen had an awful lot of reasons for revising the facts to suit a narrative that served his ego and his agenda far more effectively than it did the truth.
First off, the facts of the case: David Kammerer did not begin his obsession, as you have rightly suspected, when my father was an adult: it began when my father was only twelve or so, and Kammerer was his Boy Scout troop leader (and the fact that my father later killed Kammerer with his Boy Scout knife is not something that any psychologist or detective I know would ever dare to call a coincidence).
Thereafter, Kammerer used that position of trust to convince my grandmother to allow him unusual access to my father. You have to remember that my grandfather had abandoned his wife and two children (my father and my aunt Barbara) when my father was only four: Kammerer therefore became the first really sympathetic adult male influence in the life of an angry and very confused boy, and he used that position to leverage even greater access to him. That access included such things as trips to Mexico: private trips. And when people began to “talk,” Kammerer tried to still such talk with such classic predatory behavior as pretending to court my grandmother: a young mother in fairly high St. Louis society who had been abandoned by her husband, and was therefore in a very uncomfortable position.
There are very few moves out of the child predator’s playbook that Kammerer did not use — and all before my father was even out of high school, most before he was out of junior high. So the idea that their relationship was an example of “the love that dare not speak its name” between a young man and an older man is farcical: it was prolonged, sustained child abuse, begun at an age when my father was looking for an adult man to be intimate with, and when Kammerer could sexualize that relationship with ease, since, like most such victims, my father had very little idea when it began of whether or not such was standard behavior in all such surrogate relationships or not.
It has to be said that my father, whose feelings about Kammerer were as classically conflicted as is so often found in the victims of early child abuse, did not quite know what to make of Kammerer’s continued attentions. Part of him was repulsed by them and wanted to flee, and part of them remembered his sexualized but close relationship with this surrogate father as the only experience of both intimacy and kindness from an adult male that he had known as a boy, and he unquestionably felt flattered — and trapped. And escaping Kammerer became, for a time, a form of adolescent rebelliousness — nothing more lethal than that, for he had no frame of reference to understand that there was any other way to relate to such a person, and that, in fact, he was not just being rebellious, but was playing with psychological fire, in both his own mind and in Kammerer’s.
And he was not to gain such understanding — not fully, at any rate — until he went to Columbia; and he did not even gain that understanding in his early days there, when his association with Kammerer led him to friendship with Bill Burroughs (a friend, though how close is argued, of Kammerer’s) and Allen, a homosexual who my father, who had long since learned to manipulate homosexuals, had no trouble making into his friend in a very adoring way. And it was this heavy crush, intellectual as well as romantic, that Allen developed on my father — which would endure for the whole of their lives, though it was never made physical — that led Allen to develop the deliberately distorted version of the murder story that he periodically propagated in an attempt to (successfully) injure my father as retribution for his failure to return Allen’s affections.
So what brought my father to any kind of clarity on these issues, while at Columbia?
More than any other single relationship, it was his friendship with Jack Kerouac. Because Jack, despite Allen’s similarly vindictive attempts to portray him as at least bisexual and probably, in his heart of hearts (according to Allen) gay, was very much a “man’s man,” a lower middle-class football player whose friendship was my father’s first serious introduction to the “fraternity” (although I hate to use that word, as I, like all the males in my family, have always despised those organizations) of real male bonding. You can see this if you look at photos of my father before and after he met Jack: he evolves from being very much the blond, smooth-faced pretty boy to a darker, mustachioed adult man, very concerned about projecting just that image; and it was largely the friendship with Jack that brought that on. It was Jack with whom he shared heterosexual laughs and pursuits (and sometimes women), and it was the friendship with Jack that made him begin to see not only the inappropriateness, but the psychologically devastating and indeed criminal nature of his relationship with Kammerer.
All of these were experiences, it is very important to remember, from which Allen was very largely excluded; and when he was included, it was often in a role to which Allen was unaccustomed, one in which his homosexuality was dismissed or even openly mocked. People do not generally realize that, even within that small circle of friends, there were jealousies and factions; and as much as the murder case reinforced the bonds of the friendship between among them all, it also highlighted those divisions.
And certainly, the State of New York agreed: for although he refused to accept the exculpatory explanation of “an honor killing,” the judge in the case did accept that Kammerer had put my father into a psychological pressure cooker out of which, after going on seven years of stalking and abuse (and we all know how long such years can seem, to young people), he finally burst in a fit of explosive violence. And this was NOT a judge who was homophobic or inclined, as I say, to let criminals off based purely on anti-gay explanations.
Again, when my father went to Columbia, initially he fell in with Burroughs and Kammerer, who he’d known in St. Louis and Chicago and points in between, and soon he fell in with Allen, who fit the pattern of the kind of men he was used to relating to. But then he met Jack, who opened up a different world for him — a truly heterosexual world, in just the way that Allen had wanted to open a homosexual relationship to him, but had failed (the scene where my father and Allen make out in the movie is just one of the many that had no basis in anything other than Allen’s fantasies). Now, one point that cannot be stressed enough is that Jack, in the movie as in Allen’s narrative, is an insignificant character, both terribly cast (although Jack Huston has proved himself a fine actor, the only real shining light in “Boardwalk Empire,” he has neither Kerouac’s solidly-built, linebacker’s frame, nor his plainspoken ability to move among factory workers, lumberjacks, and intellectuals with equal ease) and is only onscreen for brief moments: all of which, again, fits in with Allen’s version of how he would have liked things to have been. But they were not. By the time the murder occurred, Jack’s friendship, not Allen’s, was the most important of my father’s life; Allen and my father would forever be close (with very stormy periods caused by Allen, who periodically told his version of the murder to some newspaper or magazine, for reasons I will explain, but it was Jack, again, who introduced my father to the world of being, not simply the love object of adoring gay men and certain women, but a “man’s man” — an experience my father very much enjoyed, and which would be the hallmark of his career at UPI, where his reporters and fellow editors, nearly all men (although he was very graceful with the women there, too) felt deep but distinctly platonic love for him; where he became the kind of safe father figure he had never had, had wanted Kammerer to be, and, interestingly, could never be for his own sons.
But then, during that period before the fateful night, my father’s relationship with Jack deepened; his physical image changed, as did his attitude and interests; he began to much more actively pursue women with Jack, and to distance himself, not only from Allen, who felt the sting, but from Kammerer — who was driven nearly insane by this move toward independence and a new way of life on the part of his sex-object. Thus when the confrontation was forced — and I don’t think anyone really knows for sure who forced it, because both had reasons to — you had, now, not a boy and a man, but two men facing off, and moving in different directions: one a pedophile who was getting older (toward that time at which pedophiles classically become seriously violent, because they know their behavior, if they keep it up, will not “pass” in society at large, but will raise eyebrows and alarms everywhere), and one a young man moving into a new life that did not include the predator for the first real time, but a young man who was, nonetheless, uncertain of his ability to break free by force of character alone.
Importantly, in the aftermath of the killing (a fact that, again, is not addressed in the film, that is indeed scarcely touched on) my father went, for counsel, not to Allen, but to Jack: and it was Jack who advised him to get rid of the boy scout knife (which I think the court was right to think at least suggested some level of premeditation on my father’s part, or maybe it would be better to call it readiness), after which the two planned to go to the top of the Empire State Building and jump off. Now, they were Romantic young men, and this was bravado, of course; but even the suggestion of truly close friendship that it implied, along with his own exclusion from the cover-up, was yet another thing that made Allen near-crazy; and his invention (and invention it was, according to everyone else, including my father) of the jailhouse “Judas” scene, in which my father was shaking and terrified, and reliant on Allen to help him, was nothing but another of Allen’s fantasies. In fact, my father, as court and police records demonstrate, was entirely fatalistic about his punishment: not unafraid, but resigned, and at times, in court, almost detached. This is not the image that the movie suggests, but it is the true image that Allen needed to replace with the narrative in which he played some sort of crucial role in “rescuing” my father.
Now, we must, of course, address the issue of why this narrative was so important to Allen; and the answers here are not simply personal: they are philosophical (if we can apply so lofty a term to them), and they are disturbing. Allen very soon became, not only a militant member of the gay community, but a fringe militant member: a representative of that extremist wing, repudiated by most of the gay community — even the activist gay community — that believes that all men are inherently gay, but most are simply too repressed to embody it. This is a belief that all of us have heard from somebody, in modern times, in a didactic position — I remember hearing it from a gay English professor I had at Kenyon College — but that doesn’t make it any more psychologically or sexually unsound. Indeed, if we accept the contemporary majority view that some men are simply born gay, we must of necessity accept that most men are not; but Allen never did buy into that. Neither, apparently, did John Krokidas, the writer-director of of “Kill Your Darlings.” And if you come from that school, you need to believe in Allen’s philosophy: with the increased recognition of gay rights in so many states, and the probable acceptance of nearly all parts of the mainstream gay platform in the near future throughout the country, if you want to maintain the militancy of the cause, you have to assert this essential homosexuality of all men. Most members of the responsible gay community will acknowledge, with great regret, that this extremist wing, which had its roots in people like Allen, still exists.
But here is the even darker side of it, and it is very telling when you turn to the story of my father in particular: Allen was also an early proponent of the North American Man-Boy Love Association, NAMBLA, which is now acknowledged by just about everybody save its few remaining members to have been a cover for pedophiliac criminals. Indeed, Allen once defended NAMBLA by making the statement, and I recall being absolutely stunned when I first read it, that “to consider pedophilia a crime is ridiculous.” And yet this is the man (although I doubt the “research team” of “Kill Your Darlings,” which could not even be bothered to contact any of us for information concerning the story they were trying to tell, discovered any of this) that John Krokidas chose to use as his revealer of truth for the film: someone who never believed that there was anything inherently wrong with the sexual stalking of children in the first place. And if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know, not only about Allen, but about the filmmakers, I fear further illumination from me won’t do any good. What Kammerer was doing was not criminal, was not even morally wrong, to such people; what my father did, on the other hand, was a horrendous betrayal, not only of his relationship with Kammerer, but of the philosophy that Allen and his friends espoused. So what are they going to do but portray Lucien Carr as the “Judas of the Beats”?
However, It is terribly necessary, both from the family’s point of view and especially from my own, to understand that my father learned only one thing from his relationship with Kammerer: that he did not want to be gay. He did not, however, learn not to be abusive, whether of his friends, of women, or, critically, of children, most especially his own and most especially (as is typical of abusive parents, who generally pick one child as their victim) of me. My father fit perfectly “the cycle of abuse”: of all the terrible things that Kammerer did, perhaps the worst was to teach him this, to teach him that the most fundamental way to form bonds was through abuse. My father was psychologically abusive of all his friends — most especially Allen, who took a perverse delight in any attention that he received from him — as well as of my mother, and of my brothers and myself. For my brothers, this came in the form of psychological belittling and terrorizing; for me, it took that form, but also the form of often extreme violence, as well. In short, although Kammerer did indeed turn my father into an abusive monster, my father did not have the strength of character to seek out the kind of professional counseling that would have prevented his embodying such monstrous behavior himself. I could give several speculative explanations for why my father chose me for his violent outbursts; but my mother remembers quite clearly his repeatedly saying, from the time I could speak at two years old, that he had to get me before I got him — and that was his exact phrase. What terrible fantasies must have been lingering in the man’s mind, that he could find so young a child a threat? What aspects of his terrible relationship to Kammerer had been left unresolved by killing him?
Again, I can speculate, but the main thing is this: that my father was considered a hero at UPI was more than outweighed by the fact that he was considered a terrifying monster at home. He did not, in the end, “kill” Kammerer by depriving him of life: for he did not perform the elementary psychological task of killing him in his mind, as well, of finally cutting the connection between them. Indeed, so terrible was this lingering belief system that, when I confronted him many years later about his extreme violence toward me, after I had entered therapy, he at length asked (after denying that such violence had occurred for as long as he could, then conceding it), “Doesn’t that mean that there’s a special bond between us?” And I remember that my blood had never run quite that cold: because I thought, “No, it doesn’t mean that; but it does mean that there’s still some terrible bond between you and your own tormentor.” And that was a realization as frightening, in its own way, as anything he’d ever done to me.
I guess what I’m saying, in sum, is that you’re right to consider my father the victim of a sustained campaign of criminal child abuse, and that is the real story behind “the murder that united the Beats.” The irony about the movie, of course, is that the true story, insofar as I have pieced it together — and that’s as close, as I say, as anyone connected thinks it can be to reality — would have made a far more interesting tale: but it would not have served the sexual agenda of John Krokidas, of Daniel Radclliffe, or of the very extremist wing of the gay movement that they have demonstrated themselves as representing. A pity, but that is the disease of our times — the subordination of truth to agenda. It has stymied history, personal and national, and it has stymied politics. It may just be the end of the nation, for as James Madison wrote so long ago, only the “diseases of faction” can destroy a democracy.