Strong medicine

Jaimie Hall is onstage at the Magic Stick amid swirls of smoke — both secondhand and machine-made. His mates in the industrial band Haf/Life lay down a menacing wall of chaotic noise that fibrillates in the sternum.

He hunches over like a possessed Quasimodo, flexes his knees, one booted foot forward, and screams into his microphone: “Kill me now because my life is a waste.”

Hall’s multiple piercings glisten. His black silk shirt bears a beautifully rendered skull impaled on a cross. Above the skull is the word “Sinner.” His black do-rag sports another skull.

What sets Hall apart from scores of other anarchic death metallurgists is that he can actually name the 18 bones that comprise the human skull.

Jaimie Hall is a physician.

When he isn’t spewing apocalyptic doom and writing songs with titles such as “Red Meat and Sex” and “Thalidamide,” he is a devoted healer, tending to Motown’s most vulnerable souls for the Detroit Public Health Department.

The juxtaposition seems almost too jarring to absorb.

“I think everyone should be a proud sinner,” he explains. “There are not enough angels with dirty faces. I don’t think you can do good in this society without getting your hands dirty.”

The typical Mercedes-country club trajectory was never an option for this doctor.

A glimpse of his medical milieu makes his art seem somehow apropos. He makes industrial tribal music; he practices medicine in a post-industrial tribal netherworld.

Seated in the foreboding block of a building that is the Herman Kiefer Clinic on a recent afternoon, Hall, 34, is devoid of piercings, save for a single stud atop one ear. His pate, which features two distinct horns of hair when he’s off duty, is harmlessly combed back. He wears a black tunic.

Cramped inside a tiny examination room, he takes a long pull off a bottle of Mountain Dew. Outside, two nurses scold each other over a missing chart. The pace is frenetic. He will see as many as 30 patients today. He will not leave the clinic until everyone in the packed waiting room has been examined.

“They have so many things wrong with them and such limited access to everything,” he says, noting that inmates at the jail, where he also practices, get better health care than the working uninsured.

He calms the nursing spat by promising to start a fresh chart. He is energized yet controlled. His bailiwick agrees with him.

“This is the dark side of medicine,” he says with a broad smile. This old building once housed tuberculosis patients and polio victims. The basement still contains relics of iron lungs. Part of the facility was once the psychiatric lockdown unit, which is sadly ironic.

“We see plenty of schizophrenics,” Hall says. “They’ve got no place else to go.”

He chafes as he describes the frustration of working within the modern health bureaucracy, which is rife with “astronomical headaches” for physicians.

“Nonmedical people are making medical decisions,” he says. “That makes absolutely no sense — especially when you’re dealing with people’s lives.

“If I can tell you what’s wrong with you, but I can’t get you what you need, what good have I done you?”

Hall grew up in what was then East Detroit and attended an all-white high school. He got top marks without much effort, and raised hell without catching much himself.

His stepfather, Chet Hall, was a doctor of sorts — of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He ran with the Detroit Highwaymen motorcycle gang, and he imbued young Jaimie with his rebel sensibilities.

“Growing up, I was around bikers, drug dealers and murderers — all the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Hall says.

He developed fascinations with music and blood and the human body. He also developed a love of learning. He won a merit scholarship to Wayne State and moved to the inner city — a key component of his education.

“It forced me to really open my eyes to everything,” he says.

He got on the conveyor belt toward medical school, and though he was willing to consider other options, nothing pulled him off.

“Once you get over the first hump, it’s a hell of an effort to backtrack, so you might as well keep going and see what happens,” he says.

What happened was he got his degree and traveled extensively, seeking the perfect city.

“I spent 10 years trying to find
a place better than Detroit, but
couldn’t,” Hall says.

Thanks to the eclectic arts and cultural scene, he explains, “We’re truly spoiled in Detroit.”

He tried working in the suburbs, but was repulsed.

“I saw nothing but disgruntled businessmen and bad marriages,” he says.

He returned to the city to practice medicine and got serious about music. One band, Mental Landscape, lasted seven years and made an indelible mark on the local scene.

People were fascinated with his dueling personae. He got a big story in a local daily and was featured on a network morning show. His superiors were not amused.

“Sometimes you’re fighting the system and you don’t realize you’re fighting the system,” he recollects.

Guys in suits convened meetings to discuss the quandary posed by the “punk-rock doc.”

“I caught hell from the hospital,” he says. “I thought I was going to get fired. Fortunately, some of the major players were strong proponents of mine, and everything worked out OK.”

He worries no more.

“It’s to the point now where I’m pretty respected as far as medicine goes,” he says.

So he and Haf/Life have license to write music that employs vocal loops of fanatical firearms instructors and features such lyrics as “burn civilization down/then you’re free of it” and “shoot to thrill and I’ll blow your mind away.”

You undoubtedly wonder how such an articulate, humanistic and socially conscientious person can wallow in such seeming depravity.

Trust me. The man is doing satire.

“I consider myself to be a cynic in the most hopeful sense,” Hall says. “I carry a hope that when things are at their most critical, good things will come out of people.”

His music, he says, is designed to make people consider their own lives from a new perspective. He believes Haf/Life’s debut disc is the best music he’s ever made.

Gory imagery and shocking lyrics notwithstanding, he says, “I could never be a satanist. I love myself too much.”

And he is, in turn, beloved.

A nurse’s aide at the clinic says Hall is a favorite among the patients.

“Everybody loves him,” she says. “They don’t want to see nobody else.”

Jeremy Voas is the editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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