If you ever read the satirical column, "Fatuous Twaddle," by the late journalist Jamie Kelly, you might end up laughing, or get riled up, which is probably what he would've wanted.
Kelly, who wrote for the Missoulian's Entertainer section from 2001 to 2009, had a funny, contrarian and absurdist style that delved into the quirks of life here in his hometown, in addition to music, baseball, politics and more. He made fun of environmentalism, microbrew (or "Guppy Slimer") and fancy parties, his own personal life, and local controversies, such as the terror of Starbucks opening in Missoula. A column about something serious, like the financial crisis of 2008, would match genuine outrage with bizarre wordplay and "Simpsons" references.
His mother Helen Kelly has gathered about 50 of his columns, plus a short story and a feature article he wrote about a missionary trip to Kenya, for a new volume, "Fatuous Twaddle: A Collection of Writings," that's out now.
She sees it as a way to remember the best of her son and his life's work, while serving as a reminder to reach out and help people struggling with mental health — Jamie Kelly killed himself in 2014 at age 46 after struggles with depression and alcoholism.
The "Fatuous Twaddle" name, which roughly translates to "pointless nonsense," came from an angry reader during his days at the Montana Kaimin, the University of Montana student newspaper.
"I think he just loved it," Helen Kelly said. Enough so that he turned the critical feedback into a brand. In his first "Twaddle" column from Oct. 11, 2001, he writes: "It'll mostly consist of my observations about this town and its goofy but friendly people," adding "… yeah, I can be a bit fatuous with my twaddle. But that's my license."
His mother sifted through hundreds of columns that spanned his various interests. He was a baseball fan since his stint as a Little League pitcher. He was a talented pianist who could play jazz and rock. He loved pop culture and skewering conventional wisdom. He wrote an entire column in the form of an obituary for a squirrel he ran over with his car.
He was an outspoken libertarian, meaning that he targeted progressives and conservatives alike, but Helen Kelly left those pieces out of the collection, along with anything that was too issue-specific. ("The book was a way to preserve his humor," she said.)
As she revisited the old columns, she could see some of them differently, such as the sensitivity and pain he shielded with sarcasm. In 2005, a reader named Alice wrote to him saying that she was going to pray and fast for him, since he seemed so "sad and cynical." He responded in a typically fatuous way by cold-calling restaurants and UM students looking for the key to happiness. He concluded with a faux-inspirational bit of wisdom: "Personally, I think of life with this perspective in mind: In 100 years from right this very moment, a century will have gone by."
He made fun of environmentalists, which likely made him no friends, and religion, which probably gleaned some anger, too. He liked to call God by the "pet name" of "Fred," and mocked the idea of action-movie star Mel Gibson directing a film like "The Passion of the Christ." (He thought it should be called "Lethal Weapon V.") Despite his writings about faith and atheism, later in his life he found spirituality at First Presbyterian Church — where Norman Maclean's father preached — and became close friends with its pastor, Brian Marsh, whose tribute closes out the new book.
Kelly wasn't just a writer. He picked up piano as a freshman in high school as a way to stand out among his three other siblings.
"Jamie had a way of putting all of his emotion into his playing," Helen Kelly said.
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After spending three years majoring in the instrument at UM, he switched to journalism. He was concerned about his career options if he stayed with music, but the dual expertise made him one of the rare music journalists who played in the community that he covered.
In college, he wrote for the Montana Kaimin, and then joined the Missoulian as a copy editor and page designer, eventually working his way to the arts section as a reporter and editor.
"He loved being a journalist," Helen Kelly said, and she believes it was "the best part of his life."
After switching from entertainment to education, he wrote features on students and teachers that were earnest, in contrast to the deliberate silliness of the columns. In 2012, he won an award for for Best Short Feature Story from Montana Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Contest. It was for a completely uncynical article about the "Superheroes of Kindness," a group of little kids from Missoula Community School who visited an assisted living facility.
His personal life, meanwhile, was always difficult. He "really began struggling" with depression during college "and it was a lifelong battle for him. Alcohol became a way of coping with the depression, but of course that ends up being a lethal combination. In the end, he couldn't get a handle on that," his mother said.
The humor was a counterpoint to the depression, in his writing and in person.
"He was such a complicated person. He really was. When he was happy, he was the happiest person in the world … all of his friends and all of his family remember when Jamie was up, and having a good time, there was nobody that was funnier or that enjoyed himself more than he did," she said.
The humor was "a big part of who he was, you know, but the flip side was when he went down, it was to a very dark place, and he really, really struggled," she said.
He took a buyout offer from the Missoulian in 2012 and went back to school to get a paralegal degree, graduating in 2014. While he succeeded in learning an entirely new set of skills, he found it unfulfilling.
He struggled to stay sober, despite an earlier attempt at treatment. He had difficulties staying on his medication. He wasn't writing, or playing piano, both of his most important creative outlets.
In August 2014, the day after he saw one of his favorite artists, Paul McCartney, play at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, he shot himself.
Helen Kelly said a child's suicide is nothing she ever fathomed going through. After several years, she began to felt ready to comb through his columns again, and thought the book could remind people of his talents while also raising the issue.
She thinks it's important to talk about mental health and suicide, especially because Montana has the highest suicide rate in the country.
"We have to reach out to people we see are depressed, you know. Thinking that it can't happen … it can and it does, and it does a lot more than it should. I think we are, at least as a society, starting to address the reality of it," she said.