Thursday 20 July 2017

How writing a song a day keeps the doctor away . . .

Trial separation: Ed
Hamell aka Hamell On
Trial threw himself
into his work after the
end of his marriage
Trial separation: Ed Hamell aka Hamell On Trial threw himself into his work after the end of his marriage

Ed Hamell reacted to the disintegration of his 21-year marriage in the only way he knew how: he kept himself busy by writing a song.

And then another song. And then another one. In fact, he wrote a song a day every day for a year. We know this because he videoed himself performing them in his living room and posted the results on his website www.hamelltv.com.

Beginning on September 12, 2009, the New York-based punk-poet provocateur has now amassed nearly 400 songs, ranging in subject matter from a celebration of the late, great American anti-hero Harvey Pekar to a lament for a down-at-heel stripper.

Hamell's blog for a musician's website (americansongwriter.com) recounts with typically self-effacing wit the circumstances surrounding his marathon songwriting splurge -- and the daily online posting.

"The impetus to this creative puking was two-fold: The movie Julie and Julia, (in which a lead character blogs daily), and the end of my 21-year marriage," Hamell wrote. "Needless to say that shit was the worst thing I had ever experienced. The break-up of the marriage was tough too.

"I felt that it was imperative that I keep busy because idle hands are the devil's playground. If left to my own devices I could turn into one of the two most hideous threats to civilization today: narcotics or Facebook. (I'm serious about at least one of them.)"

One of my favourites is 'Healthcare', which Hamell rattles off on his acoustic guitar while sitting on his living room couch flanked by two young kids (possibly his son and daughter), who shout out "Healthcare! Healthcare!" in unison at the end of each rhyming couplet. For the last verse, he tells the boy and girl to let loose, and they run riot around the room, knocking over the camera for good measure. It's gloriously chaotic and shambolic -- a bit like the HSE.

Hamell, who records under the name Hamell On Trial, picked his favourite 15 of the first 100 tunes and recorded them in a studio, releasing them as the album, titled simply 15 of 100.

Then last September, he played 13 shows in 16 days, criss-crossing the US from New York to Hollywood, with his eight-year-old son Detroit along for the ride to help him sell merchandise after the shows.

Now Hamell is back on the road again. He played SXSW last month in Austin, Texas, and is heading our way for two shows in Cork's Cyprus Avenue (April 6) and Dublin's Sugar Club (April 7).

A tremendously entertaining performer, Hamell plays his acoustic guitar hard and fast, rattling off riffs as if it was an Uzi.

His razor-sharp stage banter, dirty jokes and spoken-word deliveries show just how compelling a one-man band can be on stage. Bald and sporting his trademark thick-rimmed black glasses, he's a hardcore troubadour who channels Johnny Cash, The Ramones and Charles Bukowski in equal measure.

In keeping with the DIY nature of his operation, Hamell has been reaching out to his fans via the internet, and is looking for someone based in Ireland with a driver's licence to drive him to the shows. He can be contacted at http://tinyurl.com/hamellontrial

A documentary on his life is currently being filmed, with the likes of Henry Rollins and his label boss and musical collaborator Ani Di Franco taking part.

Who knows, if you decide to chauffeur Hamell around while he's here, he might just write a song about you. . . and post it online with the other 400.

nkelly@independent.ie

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