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Don't get me wrong I love meeting Kelly here. It's a great place to watch him in action and provides an environment as dubiously sinister and sincere as Kelly himself. Centerfolds is like his second home, and the dancers adore him. They come over to say hello while we finish off a pitcher in the pool room, and he smacks their asses, grabs their boobs, and makes lascivious jokes while they sit on his lap.
At our most recent confab, on an unseasonably chilly Thursday night in mid-October, a leggy brunette named Hunter comes over to tell us that some guy at the club just told her that her name means "whale vagina" in German (which would only be true if her name was Wal Scheide). I attempt to console her by telling her that my full first name, Nikina, means something close to "fuck us" in Arabic. Kelly attempts to console her by suggesting she persuade the guy to buy a lap dance, then dump a vial of fire ants down his pants.
"[Centerfolds] has been everything for me," Kelly tells me after Hunter goes back to working the floor. "It has a dark energy to it, much like myself. This is the first thing I've had for myself in 11 years, outside the band."
Kelly definitely has a "dark energy," despite his friendly demeanor. He looks the same offstage as on torso and arms covered in webs of tattoos; dreadlocked, forked black ponytail hanging to his waist; eyes adorned with black makeup to resemble the eyes of an Egyptian pharaoh; painted black lips constantly curling into big, devilish grins. When he feels he's telling me something important (which is pretty much any time he speaks), he grabs both of my hands in his, leans into my face and looks me dead in the eyes.
The music Kelly makes with Blessedbethyname is heavy, intricate, and personal. The band's latest album, Phallus in Viscera, is a conceptual odyssey about finding the truth of the self through suffering in five acts. Sonically, it's a metallic merging of gritty, atmospheric guitars; throbbing rhythms and battering-ram beats; haunting, hissing synths; and Kelly's vocals, which encompass everything from a festering whisper to hair-raising screams that strike as suddenly as a snake. Lyrically, the album's a philosophical apocalypse that digs into love, sex, suffering, death, birth, and the self with an ethereal eye. Kelly calls Phallus in Viscera "in and of itself a masterpiece for what it means to me."
And good things are happening for Blessedbethyname, a band with a fierce local following that's been blowing minds at Valley venues for the better part of a decade. Kelly has a reputation as an intense, disturbing artist. He's performed with four broken ribs and a hyperextended arm, he's cut himself to shreds onstage with razor blades, and he's planning to have his two young daughters bathe him in bull's blood at the Blessedbethyname show on October 27.
Such acts may be pure performance to others, but what still makes Blessed's show so compelling after 11 years is that it's not a performance. It's an exorcism of Kelly's minions, of mental demons, and there's no line between life and art for him. He purposely dives head-first into darkness because that has been the educator of his life and the catalyst of his music. He frequently talks about "the value of despair."
"I find any type of peaceful living or safe indulgence to be such a blind approach to what one's capable of. My life is a piece of art in the moment. And that's never safe. Never," Kelly says. "Every now and then, the Tree of Rock needs to be watered with the blood not of those who write songs, but those who live songs."
And the songs he's lived sound like epic nightmares. Phallus in Viscera is the catharsis of a man who has been to hell and back. Listening to the 33-year-old singer's stories, one gets the impression that he should be dead a dozen times over already.
Most people who've been in the local metal scene for any significant amount of time have heard this story: Back in 2003, Kelly shot himself in the chest. He was sentenced to five years' probation and wound up in the county jail for six months for skipping town while on probation. People speculated about why Kelly shot himself, guessing at everything from relationship issues to drug problems. But nobody really knows exactly why Kelly did it except Kelly, and he never really talked about it, he says. Until tonight.
"I was arguing with my girlfriend, and I put an empty gun to my head and screamed at her, 'Is this what you want?'" Kelly recalls, leaning forward over the table and simulating with his index finger pointed at his temple. "And then I heard one of my daughters say, 'Daddy, don't.' And I realized, at that moment, what I'd done. I thought, 'I am now the creator of that memory in her head.'"
Later, knowing his girlfriend had loaded the gun, Kelly says, he took the firearm into the bathroom, held it to his chest, looked at himself in the mirror, and told himself, "Okay, motherfucker, if you're gonna threaten to do it, then you better really do it. Let's see what you're made of."
And he pulled the trigger.
I ask Kelly if his intention was to kill himself.
"No," he says, emphatically. "I did what had to be done to see if I could handle it, and I did. It was very much an honor thing to me. I was a person who punished himself in a way you could never imagine."
To comprehend this sort of logic, one has to understand Eddie Kelly. He's a complicated creature. "I am able to objectively see who I am and know what I've done," Kelly says. "Through it all, I look at these two little girls of mine, and they see me. They get it. They've given me the opportunity to give them the truth about everything."
And to Kelly, real truth is born of suffering and self-dissection. If something can't be stretched to an extreme, it's not worth doing.
For example, Blessedbethyname recently took a road trip to Hermosa Beach, California, for a music awards ceremony. The band was nominated for "Best Live Act." Kelly recounts the whole crappy experience, from band members flaking out and being late, to the ceremony being torturously sucky (they didn't win), to arguing with the woman who was supposed to put him up in her house, to ending up in one of the worst ghettos in L.A. County.
"There were just rows and rows of the most desolate, despairing, dirty homeless people," Kelly says. "And I saw my salvation there. I told Madio [Blessed's bassist] that I was not leaving California until I had an experience. So I told him, 'Hey, I'm gonna go down there with the bums, I'm gonna buy a big crack rock, and I'm gonna smoke it.' And Madio said, 'But you've never done crack,' and I told him, 'I am tonight!' And I went down there, and I was taking a piss next to some homeless guy, and sure enough, he asked me if I needed anything. So I told him I did, and we walked over to this other guy and bought a crack rock. But I didn't have anything to smoke it in. And this guy pulls out the dirtiest, nastiest pipe you could imagine, and we smoked the crack out of it."
At this point in the conversation, a few dancers come over to talk to Kelly, and one starts showing me pictures of her family's tiny village home in Thailand. I go outside for a smoke break while Kelly's chatting with the hotties.
When my conversation with Kelly resumes, back inside Centerfolds, we talk about good things in the future. Kelly and Madio recently had lunch with Cradle of Filth bassist Paul Allender, who called Phallus In Viscera "fucking brilliant" and expressed his desire to make the video for the song "Masochist." Kelly has plans to go into the studio next month to lay down some new tracks, and there's been talk of touring. Kelly also plans to shoot the video for the song "Harlot's Memoirs" in Centerfolds, and involve some of the staff and dancers. "I want it to be indicative of the positive psychological aspects of this industry," Kelly says.
One thing Kelly does not plan to do is perform in Phoenix again until 2009. Blessedbethyname's show on October 27 will be the last for a long time. "It's no longer a challenge to express yourself. It's no longer risky," Kelly explains. "Now, [Phoenix] is not the place I can go to achieve a direct connection with that I'm doing and those who understand it. This band was never safe to listen to or be a part of. And now that I feel the people are safe, I need to go somewhere else.
"The good thing is, now I know I'm somebody who has earned the right to speak, and hopefully, some will listen," Kelly continues. "I've lived it, I've earned it, and I don't give a fuck what anybody thinks."