14 April 2008
The Kelly Family - A Glowing Tribute
The first time I ever heard of The Kelly Family, it was as a chronic insomniac in Los Angeles, years ago. Chronic insomniacs see a side of life that others aren’t necessarily privy to, as evidenced by my late-night-TV-purchased Tony Robbins tapes, and my rather advanced knowledge of celebrity astrological signs. During one such long night, I was flipping channels when I heard a sound so terrible that I had to stop and take notice. What I saw defied description, but I shall attempt anyway: Imagine a group of tone-deaf fashion-challenged hobbits singing songs while crowds of Germans scream. Enter: The Kelly Family.
The Kelly Family are an actual family. Their parents and the first few of the kids emigrated from the US to Germany back in the 1970’s, and in some Von Trapp inspired frenzy, created a family band. They couldn’t sing or play instruments, but with their now imported “Can Do” American spirit they got on stage anyway and showed those Krauts a thing or two about Positive Visualization.
They immediately became a huge hit with German audiences; an audience with such discerning tastes as to make David Hasselhof bigger than Elvis. They played their little hearts out all over the parts of Europe that also had large beer drinking populations, until finally they had a bona fide “International Hit” with a song called, Alien
The lyrics of Alien, which are to say the least puzzling, describe an encounter with an Alien so completely intoxicated with this planet’s atmospheric differences that she starts hanging out with a member of the Kelly Family.
But the song is catchy and there’s a bit that you can sing along to, even if you are German. And it was on the strength of this that The Kelly Family decided to take a stab at the American market via late-night ads that boasted, ”Millions of German fans can’t be wrong!” (History might beg to differ, but let's not open up that old can of worms!). And right at that moment, I became fascinated with them. And I think in the back of my mind that long night back in 1997, a seed was planted that led me to travel to Europe in search of them. I kid myself that there were other reasons.
And lo and behold, long story short, I ended up at a Kelly Family concert in Antwerp with my European husband who realizes he’s just a pawn in my Kelly addiction. As we were seated in the impressively large auditorium, we looked around us and began to notice that we were the only normal people there. The other people were all just a little …odd. We couldn’t put our finger on it either – was it a shared bad fashion sense? Or a pasty look that they all had? Or maybe they looked like they were members of “The Family”?
And as we began to listen to conversations around us, we noticed that almost everyone besides us were German. They had actually come from Germany to see the Kelly Family perform in Belgium – like they were the Grateful Dead or something.
But the excitement in the room was tangible. And when they came on stage, the room became one high-pitched scream. There were bouncers stationed to deal with the hoards of people rushing the stage. And I’d like to be able to report that those people rushing the stage were teenage girls, but no. From what I could see, the crazed fans ranged in age from about 30 to about 65. I couldn’t tell if they were at a rock concert or a faith healing. And perhaps neither could they.
But those Kelly people played their hearts out. They jumped around the stage with their fuzzy hair flying, dodging gifts that the fans were pelting them with. The drummer seemed to be in some sort of a trance.
As the concert wore on, it began to walk a fine line between rock concert and confessional performance art. Between the songs, various Kellys would tell us personal stories meant to pull at our collective heart strings. One introduced a song by telling us of a little girl in Berlin who couldn’t be here tonight, because she had cancer. The entire audience responded by holding their lighters in the air for the duration of the next song. At one point a fan in the balcony shouted, ”Ich liebe dich!!” to which the Kelly object of her affections responded in German-accented English: “Stop shouting. I can’t hear myself think!” – a pretty rude remark, I thought, but rather than putting the audience off, it seemed to endear them even more. Talk to us like we’re scum, Kelly Family!!
One Kelly, who seemed to be making regular trips off stage for a few sips of something, at one point grabbed the microphone away from another Kelly and asked the audience for a round of applause for the sound guy (who was presumably holding the bottle) who had just got married. As the audiences’ cheers died down, he started to sob as he said into the microphone, “I used to be married. But my wife left me. She took the kids and she just left. She never explained anything. People ask me why I drink.” Thankfully the rest of the Kellys broke into spontaneous “music” and cut off his mic.
When the Kellys finally tried to leave the stage, the fans simply would not let them go. They did about 8 encore performances. Beatles, Madonna, Led Zeppelin and any other “rock stars”: eat your heart out.
We left the concert feeling rather confused as we clutched our new Kelly Family T-shirts. “Don’t these people know that they’re not huge stars?” We asked ourselves.
And here’s the thing: They don’t. because in their world, they are. One day hundreds of years in the future, they will have a past life regression and bask in the fact that they were once rock legends, because no one around them is telling them any different. The Kelly Family are truly having the Last Laugh because in their world they are the most talented musicians ever. And hundreds of German fan sites would bear that out.
…And I got to see them live!