The last few years have seen tragedy in the music world. Many musicians who were completely irreplaceable and profoundly influential have been lost to us, leaving voids that cannot be filled. But a different kind of tragedy reared its ugly head this week. Scott Kelly of Neurosis took to Facebook to announce that he is guilty of cruel transgressions against the people who depend on him the most, his wife and children.
This is not the tragedy of a brilliant artist whose flame had gone out, like Mark Lanegan, Eric Wagner, Neil Peart, or Chris Cornell. No, this is something much darker. It’s learning that an artist you had great respect and admiration for is not who they portrayed themselves as. It is a deeply disturbing sense of betrayal that a person you once thought you connected with on an emotional level was actually hiding a monster behind their mask.
Formed as a snarling and austere hardcore band in the mid-1980s, Neurosis quickly went through fascinating and rapid evolution into something else entirely. The Oakland-based act created an astounding artistic statement that was radically different from most punk or metal offshoots at the time. Using atmospherics, different quiet/loud dynamics, and entrancing visuals, their live shows were quite unlike anything anyone had ever seen before.
Their albums were challenging and uncompromising. It isn’t hyperbolic to say that they single handily created the genre we now know as post-metal. Mastodon, ISIS, Cult Of Luna, Pelican, Mouth Of The Architect, and countless other acts owe much of their musical trajectories to the influence of Neurosis. And at the forefront of the band was Scott Kelly.
It is a deeply disturbing sense of betrayal that a person you once thought you connected with on an emotional level was actually hiding a monster behind their mask…
Kelly portrayed himself in a manner that most other metal frontmen didn’t in that there was a contrast of ferocious anger and caustic vulnerability. He was a tough-looking punk guy in an Oakland Raiders jersey who was heavily inspired by Joy Division’s Ian Curtis and tragic country legend Townes Van Zandt. His screaming vocals sounded like an Iron Age barbarian chieftain, but his soft vocals had the sound of an old wise traveler nearing the end of his life’s story. He was also fiercely devoted to the hardcore punk ideals he had grown up with, as Neurosis took their art very seriously and never wavered in their strive for purity of vision.
They made a conscious effort not to tour unless they wanted to as a means of devoting their efforts into creating music. Much of this seemed to be the direction that Kelly wanted to head in. But there was another side that we were not privy to. As it turns out, Kelly was quietly dismissed from the band in 2019 on account of allegations of abuse of his family.
Out of respect to his wife and children, Neurosis opted not to reveal the terrible reality of what was happening. But Kelly himself decided to confess and announced that he was permanently retiring from his musical career and insisted he would work to redeem himself from the reprehensible treatment of those closest to him. His statement, unfortunately, is full of manipulative language which seems to speak to a very malignant sense of narcissism. He even implied that ‘The Scene’ bears some responsibility for enabling his behavior.
His statement, unfortunately, is full of manipulative language which seems to speak to a very malignant sense of narcissism…
His now former bandmates were less than impressed and issued their own statement largely rebuking the pseudo-redemption Kelly was supposedly promising everyone. I – like many other of his fans – I was shocked and dismayed. How could someone so respected be this way? How could a man who was so passionate about the togetherness of the underground heavy music community behave in such a horrible manner to his true family?
Sadly, for those of us who love stoner, doom, and similar genres, we have come across these kinds of characters before. Nick Oliveri was best known for his work with Kyuss, Queens Of The Stone Age and Mondo Generator. While he continues performing to this day, his career is overshadowed by the fact that Josh Homme, who is now also dealing with a testimony of domestic abuse, kicked him out of QOTSA in 2004 on account of some brutal alcohol-fueled incidents with women and fans.
Another bad actor is the infamous Bobby Liebling of Pentagram fame. While his drug addiction and moronic, career-destroying behavior were well known, he went beyond the pale when he assaulted his elderly mother in 2017. Indeed, I have spoken to many fans who express difficulty in listening to The Lost Art of Keeping A Secret or Forever My Queen the same way they used to. I don’t blame them.
His now former bandmates were less than impressed and issued their own statement largely rebuking the pseudo-redemption Kelly was supposedly promising everyone…
What I find especially tragic and ironic is that so many people get into punk, metal, or hard rock precisely because they are running from difficult family situations that are exactly like the ones Kelly has created for his family. He apparently learned nothing from the culture he supposedly loved so much.
The world can be an ugly place, and heavy music is often used to address that ugliness. But we do not need that ugliness interjected into our communities. We cannot tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia and many other retrograde behaviors, and we definitely cannot tolerate violent and depraved abuse of innocents and loved ones. No matter their legacy, no matter their influence, no matter how those musicians might have made us feel at some point in our lives, we cannot let them off the hook when they embrace the evil so many of us ran away from in the first place.
My deepest sympathy goes out to Kelly’s family, BUT NOT HIM. If you or someone you know struggles with domestic violence, my heart goes out to you, and it is my hope that you find the support and safety you need and deserve. Peace.
Scribed by: Rob Walsh