Kool Kat of the Week: The Flaming Heart: A Tribute to Buster the Human Blowtorch, aka Todd Kelly, as The Chamber Holds a Second Reunion

Posted on: Nov 24th, 2012 By:

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

By Torchy Taboo
Contributing Writer

“Todd was a Fire God on stage blowing his Soul of Fire for the world to see.”– Bry-baby, Chamber regular

 Back by popular demand, Mon Cherie has put together Chamber Reunion II, another gathering of the misfits who frequented one of Atlanta’s most notorious nightclubs, on Sat. Nov. 24 in Hell at The Masquerade. [Ed. note: read our Kool Kat interview with Mon Cherie on her Chamber memories and the first reunion here] It just wouldn’t be The Chamber without the presence of its favorite fire-breathing clown. However, due to his previous dinner arrangements with P. T. Barnum, Gypsy Rose Lee and Freddie Mercury, Mr. Todd Kelly will not be on the bill. I thought a tribute was in order.

Todd “Buster the Human Blow Torch” Kelly walked into my world in 2000. He strolled up to me in the Star Bar and introduced himself. His face was familiar; he had been in the front row of most of my Dames Aflame shows wearing a bright yellow motorcycle jacket. It caught my eye. My roommate had been hanging out with him in the witching hours after the “legal hours of operation” of a variety of Atlanta bars…the tales of mischievous behavior (to say the least) had been numerous at that point. Diminutive of stature, yet a flamboyant and verbose one-man cult of personality, not unlike myself, we became immediately lifelong comrades. He spent the evening regaling me with the amazing details of his fiercely colorful life.

Todd worked as fire performer and pyrotechnician for a myriad of bands including My Life With The Trill Kill Kult, Glitterdome and Impotent Sea Snakes (iss) just to name a few. He traveled constantly and spent the better part of 2001 in California where he became engaged to another performer from iss. Alas love’s misfortune brought him back to Georgia by the beginning of 2002. We took up right where we left off. Neither of us the type to waste much time, within days of his return, we began dating. He set the tone for our story by showing up for our first date in a knee-length REAL snake-skin jacket. He took me to The Chamber and promptly changed into his stilts and 7-foot-long silver sequined pants, tailcoat and top hat.

When Todd was not on the road, he worked a regular gig at The Chamber, either on stilts or doing his fire act, which I assisted as “safety” waiting back-stage with his fire-box full of fire-extinguishing paraphernalia in case of mishap. He taught me how to blow fire, and since we were both known for our snake acts as well, we soon began performing together. He was the consummate showman, yet never minded if my skimpy costumes upstaged his signature leather pants. But that’s who he was with everyone.

“The first time I saw Todd perform was at The Chamber. When he strode onto stage to the anthemic, ‘Du Hast,’ the energy in the room elevated immediately and then hung, palpable and frozen, in mid air. The audience, knowingly or not, fed him their every expectation, desire, anxiety, and Todd took it all in and let it go in a wildly cathartic and decadent rush of fire – a fine mist of fuel over an open flame. His act, although straightforward, was a bold, arcane ritual, and Todd was the Magus, sans turban, clad only in tight, red leather pants. In that room, he was more than fire-breather. He harnessed the frenetic energy of the room and focused it outwards into blazing spectacle. He was the transformer.” – Aileen Loy, creative impresario.

“Long before joining up with the Impotent Sea Snakes and when I first moved to Atlanta, I met Todd Kelly. We were both fixtures at The Masquerade and part of the core family of friends that hung out and/or worked there. We enjoyed many times together. I adored him. I just did not realize how beloved he was (to others) until I signed up with the band. We traveled the U.S.A. and Canada – this close quarters living bonds people in ways that can never be broken. ” – Mon Cherie, Chamber performer and promoter, and organizer of The Chamber Reunions I and II

“I never had to give Todd much direction. I’d tell him the theme for the event, and he would deliver. He was a natural at sideshow.” – Howie Stepp, manager at The Chamber

“Todd was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. I got to know him through working with him at The Star Bar and in the band Greasepaint. He had an incredible gift for being empathetic and understanding while still being objective and non-judgmental. In the few years I had the honor of knowing him, he left a lasting impression. There are not many days that pass that I don’t think of him and miss him. The world would be a far richer place if Todd Kelly was still in it.” – Joel Burkhart, musician and fellow member of Greasepaint, co-founder of the band AM Gold.

Todd Kelly and Torchy Taboo.

“Todd had the soul of a rock star and helped me become one, in my own mind at least. He could steal the show and be totally humble in the same breath, blow you out of the water and totally supportive at the same time. I’ll never forget or be able to repay his support of my photography and my singing. If I listed the people he introduced me to or the doors he opened for me, you would think I was name dropping or bragging… or you knew him too.”  – Keith Martin, photographer, musician and singer/guitar for The Stumblers.

“Todd Kelly was a jack of all trades who mastered every trade he tried. He was willing to do anything to help a friend and was so well liked you felt like the ugly girl whenever you were out with him. A rock star who gave up the stage to help a brother, we hosted Yer 15 Fuckin’ Minutes karaoke together three nights a week and worked even longer hours together after our regular schedule. A gentle soul, he even took time out to stilt walk and breathe fire for my son’s 8th birthday. Little known fact, I stole the name ‘Blue Rat’ for a headshop I opened on Cheshire Bridge, the “R-A-T” stands for “Rotknee, Alex and Todd.” I promised him we’d open something we could put our name on. Rest in peace, brother, I finished what we started. Loved that man, still do.” – Rodney Leete, wild-man on the mic, musician and emcee, Atlanta’s Best Amateur Comedy, Yer 15 minutes of Fame Karaoke. 

Torchy Taboo and Todd Kelly.

My favorite story Todd ever told me was about how he’d injured his hands very badly while trying to rescue his 15-foot-python, Junior, from a burning tour bus. When he found that his injuries made it impossible to hold his fire torches a few days later at his next booked show, he duct-taped them to his wrists and went on. Ever a man of his word, the show must go on.

Even after parting ways, we remained fiercely loyal to one another, sharing responsibility for our pets during each of our extensive tour schedules and even working together a few more times. Todd Kelly left us in 2004. He is remembered dearly by everyone who ever knew him.

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Kool Kat of the Week: David Spencer Has Gotta Dance, Gotta Swing, & He’ll Teach You How, Too, at Callanwolde This Spring

Posted on: Mar 1st, 2011 By:

“Dancing is like dreaming with your feet,” goes the famous quote by Constanze. If that’s true, David Spencer has spent his life in dreams. Since he was a little boy, he let his feet guide him, and they haven’t led him astray from becoming a sought-after high school date to professional ballroom dancing shows and competitions. For the past 30 years, he’s also been a ballroom dance instructor, and he currently shares his secrets to fantastic footwork at Allure Ballroom Atlanta, near Cumberland Mall, and at the Atlanta Ballroom Dance Centre in Sandy Springs.

However, aspiring and seasoned ballroom dancers wanting to hone their moves will get to practice in top-hat style this spring as David leads a pair of Thursday night 10-week classes for beginners (7 PM) and continuing dancers (8 PM) starting March 24 at Callanwolde. For those not versed in vintage Atlanta, this magnificent Gothic-Tudor-style mansion in Druid Hills was completed in 1920 and once belonged to Howard Candler, president of The Coca-Cola Company and son of its founder Asa Candler. Now it’s a cultural arts center and special occasion venue listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but one can only imagine the Gatsby-like grand gatherings that happened here in days gone by.

ATLRetro recently caught up with David to find out why he has such a passion for ballroom dance and also get a preview of these special Callanwolde classes, which represent just a few of the visual and performing arts seminars at the mansion this spring.

1. How did you first get into ballroom dancing and is there any story behind that?

I was very fortunate to have a mother that would sit and watch all the old, classic movies with me as a child—everything from musicals to horror films. We would pile up on the sofa or the bed and watch with a big tub of popcorn. By the age of 7, I made the decision that when I grew up, I wanted to be Gene Kelly. It is no wonder that I teach dancing for a living now. Oddly enough, with Mr. Kelly as my role model, tap dancing is the only form of dance I have not studied—yet.

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