Julian Kelly: A Few Moments with the Genius Songwriter of “Fish of Plenty”

By: Gloria Barker

When Julian describes her childhood, she often does so in vague terms. I felt that she dodged many of my questions about how her love of music came to be. “I felt isolated,” she finally said after a long pause on the telephone.

While some adoptees feel a sense of gratitude towards the parents that raised them, Ms. Kelly has a different perspective. She says that adoption shouldn’t be about being beholden to your adoptive clan. “I think people expect adoptees to be grateful because they subscribe to the fantasy that adopted persons are always going on to a better life. Yet, sometimes adoptive families aren’t accepting, they don’t understand our grief, and they don’t make space for us to celebrate the ancestry of our original families. Not all people that adopt are good people—the public needs to understand that.” Ms. Kelly notes that her parents were fantastic, but their relationship was often strained.  Ms. Kelly makes it clear that her grief ruled her life for a long time, and one only need to listen to her first album titled The Family Reject, to understand the kinds of issues she grappled with. “Just yesterday I spoke with my adoptive mom on the phone, and she told me, “considering all the things you’ve had to deal with, you did good. She always has to get that insult in there. I corrected her and told her that I’ve done good—period— not just ‘considering the things I’ve had to deal with.’ I think she wanted me to be a banker, or to be totally focused on making money to the exclusion of everything else, but I became my own person—and even at 33, it’s hard for her to accept that I don’t want to be the version of myself that she tried so hard to mold me into. I want to be true my ideals, not her ideals.”

Her latest album, “Alive” is very different. In her new album, Ms. Kelly seems to be encouraging people to speak openly about politics, and to get to the bottom of our internal and external conflicts as a species. “My husband is transgender, so as our president destroys these important bills protecting trans people, I’ve been asking myself lately if this really is the land of the free? As an adoptee, the government is preventing me from having my original birth certificate—something that every other American citizen can do, even people in federal prison. The government will not allow me to know the names of my parents, and now my husband can’t use certain bathrooms without fear. How is that freedom? Who is it freedom for? If you can’t walk down the street without fear of harassment or violence against your person, you are not free.”

Yet, “Alive” somehow manages to be a powerful affirmation for Ms. Kelly. “I wanted to show people that even though we don’t live in a just world—even though we’re all forced to walk through difficult pathways, you can come out on the other side with love in your heart. You can be a whole person. You can always be a whole person again.”

Kelly is no stranger to trauma. After her biological mother abandoned her, she formed a very close therapeutic relationship with a therapist in Los Angeles, who also subsequently abruptly terminated the relationship in a way that Kelly feels was unethical. “I was hurting so so much because I just really wanted her to love me, but instead of finding a middle ground in order to keep my best interest at heart—she re-traumatized me by terminating in a way that gave me no choices, no voice, no opinion…nothing at all. I was treated like an object. Those were very dark days for me and I didn’t recognize myself. I did and said things that were so out of character, because I really was just falling through my life, asking anyone who’d listen for help.”

Yet, Kelly found her way back, and Alive is proof. “When I started to make music again, I really came back to life. I found a new therapist named Jamie who was incredibly good to me. He was patient, kind, and ethical. He was everything that you could hope to find in a therapist. When I first started working with Jamie, I was so fearful that I couldn’t even tolerate being in the therapy room alone with him for long periods of time. Yet, he found ways to make me feel safe. In many ways, I owe that man my life. He literally saved my life. Then, I found a female art therapist after that who said, “Okay, I think you’re ready to sing again,” and she was right. These two amazing people really validated my worth. They were able to see beyond the traumatized version of me, into the best of what I could be. They never labeled me with a diagnosis or limited me, or berated me. These people gave me unconditional love, unconditional positive regard—and that was what brought me back to life. I remember the day I terminated therapy. It was a huge celebration. My husband, my friends and I got together and popped a few champagne bottles, because we all understood that it was an end of an era. I was really and truly healed. Granted, I still have my imperfections—but I’m whole.”

Alive is filled with powerful ballads. As many reviewers before have mentioned, it is obvious that Julian is living these experiences and singing from a place of truth. One song called “Fish of Plenty” really stands out for Kelly’s use of metaphor and imagery. Julian represents songwriting at its best. She is truly one of the best songwriters of our time. Her talent is highly sought after, yet still she manages to find time to volunteer her time and donate to the causes that she feels are worthy.

Another stand-out song is “At the table”, in which Julian gives listeners a taste of what it might be like for humanity to put aside our petty differences, and sit together for one meal. “I think we’d realize that we’re all human, and we all just want to be happy and to be loved.”

Julian’s album is available on iTunes at:   https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/alive/id1209325770

You can also connect with her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JulianMKellyMusic/

 

 

 

 

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