The music community is still reeling from the news that musician Søren Kierkegaard died last week after a month-long hospitalization. According to a note found on his person before he was admitted to the hospital, Kierkegaard planned to overdose on enough drugs to “swallow the bitter drink that life has become for me.” Interestingly enough, the toxicology report found no drugs in his system.
Kierkegaard began his musical career in Copenhagen after spending an unprecedented ten years at university. Friends and classmates who knew him have consistently reported that Kierkegaard just wanted to have a good time and couldn’t care less about the direction of his studies. Indeed, the first recorded instances of Kierkegaard are from this youthful period and make up the early bootleg EP known as “The Seducer’s Diary.” These songs have the common theme of young lust – seduction followed by complete abandonment.
“Kierkegaard was the biggest super senior of all time,” recounts classmate Johan Engel. “If we wanted to know where the party was, we always hung out with Kierkegaard. Although, the end of the nights could get pretty sad and self-pitying. He would always buy us booze, though. That’s why we really didn’t mind if he was always playing his guitar whenever we were hanging out, even if we all thought it was a little weird. Especially when he’d sing songs about your authentic self and the aesthetic, ethical and spiritual spheres of life as ways to live. Dude fucking racked up girls, though.”
Kierkegaard recorded his first album and self-released it during his final year at university. Presented as an ode to his idol Socrates, Kierkegaard titled the record “On the Concept of Irony, with Constant Reference to Socrates” which he later offered as his senior thesis. University staff, believing they had soaked him and his family for enough money and unable to stand the prospect of retaining him for another year, decided to pass the theology major, despite the completely irrelevant medium of his thesis.
“I remember he was constantly talking about this guy named Socrates,” recalls former bandmate Stephen Oyster. “He couldn’t get him out of his head, wanted to create something in that style, I guess. I just figured he was somebody real obscure from the Village. Somebody aggressively DIY, you know? He played me some of his records, and they were all right, even though I couldn’t help but notice they were recorded by some guy named Plato.”
The record found moderate success on the college radio circuit. It was at this formative time immediately following his graduation that his relationship with Regine Olsen, his fiance, began to rupture. Kierkegaard broke off his engagement with Olsen when he returned from school, believing that he would never be able to devote his life solely to music if he stayed with her. Ending his relationship with Olsen, he secured both ample time to devote himself solely to his musical career and a constant internal spring of fresh emo lyrics whenever he was running dry.
Kierkegaard had no problem finding suitable bandmates with plenty aware of his debut album, especially after his best new music status in the eyes of the monthly society of musically inclined farmers that called their meetups the Pitchfork Society. Calling themselves Dizziness of Freedom, Kierkegaard’s band began to play all across Copenhagen. Gathering increased recognition, especially after the Pitchfork Society finished the harvest and had more time to give them a full-length feature, Dizziness of Freedom signed to a major label and set off to record their debut studio album.
The critical and commercial favorite of Kierkegaard’s canon, Either/Or has been certified diamond by the RIAA. Crediting the philosopher Elliott Smith with inspiring the title, Either/Or is a sprawling double album that features two different personas conversing with the audience on how to live: either hedonistically or ethically. In terms of genre, the album is all over the place with intricate melodies and catchy choruses. “The Seducer’s Diary” features some of Kierkegaard’s most fun music, pop punk with joyous choruses, heavy chords, and enchanting beats. Meanwhile, the Diapsalmata features Kierkegaard at his most melancholy and just as emo as Weezer circa Pinkerton.
“Everyone wanted us to launch a world tour after that album,” remembers bandmate Daniel Peterson. “But Kierkegaard had other ideas. He wanted us back in the studio to record a follow-up album almost immediately. We had no time to enjoy our success. That’s really when it stopped being Dizziness of Freedom and started being Kierkegaard.”
As Dizziness of Freedom retreated back into the studio to record their second album and avoid the press (according to Kierkegaard “the evil principle of the modern world” in a memorable interview with music magazine Solitary Stone) the band became increasingly fragmented with Kierkegaard facing off versus the other members. Kierkegaard insisted on tinkering and often began playing every instrument on recordings. Eventually, this forced longtime drummer and friend Nils Hensen out of the band in a legendary press conference where he denounced Kierkegaard as, “a self-centered, self-pitying bastard that needed to grow up.” Interestingly enough, when pressed for comments on his drummers’ denouncement following his resignation, Kierkegaard merely replied, “I agree.”
Within the same year of Either/Or’s release, Dizziness of Freedom released their follow-up album Fear and Trembling. Fans of Kierkegaard initially turned on by sound of The Seducer’s Diary EP where he talked about hooking up with women and other hedonistic pleasures were turned off by this concept album that depicted the Biblical story of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac.
Ex-bassist Hans Hansen said, “It was an album I really wished I hadn’t been a part of. And in reality, I wasn’t. My name might be on the liner notes but, man, Søren played all those parts. I missed the days of playing simple pop-punk about girls and dancing, man. I wasn’t down for all this biblical shit. Let me tell you, concept albums about biblical stories meant to deeply explore your spiritual faith in order to prompt you to question the life you’re living aren’t what people want to hear.”
With the band increasingly in tatters due to Kierkegaard’s heavy-handed approach in handling all elements of production, Dizziness of Freedom took to the stage in Copenhagen on what was meant to begin their first ever world tour. Kierkegaard imagined himself at this particular time in his career as the Knight of Faith, a central character in Fear and Trembling. Dressed in all white and burning a cross during the concert’s climax, the record company immediately dropped Kierkegaard from the label following this first performance and the world tour never left Copenhagen. Many have argued that Kierkegaard’s actions were a deliberate attempt to free himself from the responsibilities of a major label and a tour that would take him out of Copenhagen. Dizziness of Freedom was finished.
It was during this period when Regine Olsen, Kierkegaard’s former fiancee, married another man. It was in this spiral that he decided to self-release the previously recorded “If You Marry or Do Not Marry, You Will Regret Both” cut from Either/Or as a single, against the wishes of his manager. The single was a critical failure and the Pitchforkers skewered Kierkegaard as a washed-up musician who would never have another hit.
Finding solace in his studio, Kierkegaard began recording his next project solo. The first project entitled “Leap of Faith” was Kierkegaard’s biggest hit as a musician and became his only song to top the charts.
Kierkegaard emerged back into the public with newfound commercial success. The album recorded during these sessions, “Concept of Anxiety,” once again featured critical success but did not produce the same commercial buzz as did “Leap of Faith.”
Upset that his entire body of work was being reduced to the catchy “Leap of Faith,” Kierkegaard moved from “Concept of Anxiety” sound to record a series of albums that Kierkegaard collectively referred to as his Xanax albums. Critics wrote these albums off as largely forgettable. One notable release during this period was Kierkegaard’s album only consisting of introductions to rock operas, “Prefaces.” While a unique take on the genre, many criticized the album for containing eleven good ideas that didn’t go anywhere.
Many musicians that worked with Kierkegaard during this time period in the studio insist that they never saw him abuse any prescription drugs designed to reduce anxiety. One musician who asked to remain anonymous further said, “Did you even read these lyrics, anyways? He’s not any less anxious, that’s for sure.”
After this downward spiral, Kierkegaard was also involved with several high profile feuds that began to take their toll on his mental health. Feuding with Hans Christian Andersen and Georg Hegel, Kierkegaard found himself angrily attacking them as sellouts. While both Anderson and Hegel enjoyed popular success, Kierkegaard felt constantly ignored by the audience and took this anger out on both these individuals that he considered popular phonies. Kierkegaard recorded several diss songs towards Hegel including “Merely An Experiment In Thought” and “The Hegelian Cud-chewing Process.” Meanwhile, Hans Christian Andersen, in response to Kierkegaard’s antagonization responded by collaborating with Randy Newman for a rerelease of his “Short People” complete with a music video designed to depict the differences in height between the tall Andersen and the diminutive Kierkegaard. It was a smash hit and further humiliated Kierkegaard.
Following all of these events, Kierkegaard suffered a spiritual crisis where he began to despise his previous work and decided to center his music around his religious beliefs. Longtime fans became alienated from incredibly religious sounding songs. Furthermore, in what was orchestrated as a comeback special, a fan shouted out for Kierkgaard to do one of his old songs “Most Men Pursue Pleasure (with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.)” In response, Kierkegaard began a lengthy diatribe in which he became enraged that the audience hadn’t already turned its back on his previous recordings and refused to continue playing. This would be his last concert.
The one bright spot towards the latter stage of his career came with one of his final albums, “The Sickness Unto Death.” Recorded completely on his own without any other musicians, “The Sickness Unto Death” was well received musically as an album that hearkened back to the early days of Dizziness of Freedom.
“Lyrically, it’s shit. But musically, it’s quite good,” said former bandmate Henry Schell. “But, I mean, lyrically what is this ‘Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self’ That needed an editor.”
The final line of Kierkegaard’s suicide note reads as follows “To be a musician is the most terrible of all torments, it is-and must be-to have one’s hell on earth.” Kierkegaard spent a month in the hospital before his death where, even if he had consumed a dangerous amount of drugs, enough time would have passed to flush his system completely clear. Indeed, it appears that the actual cause of death was an allergic reaction towards medicine he consumed meant for another patient. When told that he was ingesting medicine likely to kill him, he merely lifted lines from his suicide note and declared how life had “become a bitter drink to him, and yet must be taken in drops, counted one by one.” The nurses, annoyed by both his whiny nature and holier-than-thou attitude, did not choose to intervene.