Hard to believe, but it’s been two years since the death of Joe “Zippo” Kelley. I’ve been listening to Zippo Raid’s Punk Is In Season disc a lot lately and I smile every time. I’ve made some wonderful friends these last two years and Joe is our common link. Sometimes it seems strange to me, because at the time of his death I hadn’t talked to Joe in years.
I’ve gotten to know his awesome parents, Joe and Marie, and a lot of other people from other local bands. I’m richer for that. It would have been a million times better if I was making these new friends with Joe still around, but there’s no use in trying to figure out God’s master plan.
We fell out of touch after college because I let my demons turn me into a recluse for a long time. What’s done is done.
There’s a great lesson for all of us, though, one that has gotten clear as the months have gone by. The soul of a person who lives to the full and impacts so many people for the better never really dies.
Joe’s presence has been at every local rock show I’ve been to, most notably the handful of benefit shows in his honor. He’s very much with us whenever we listen to his music.
One of my favorite songs on the Punk Is In Season disc is about Greg Walsh, drummer of Zippo Raid, Pop Gun and other acts. I’ve known Greg for almost as long as I knew Joe. We worked together at my first reporting gig in Swampscott and Marblehead, Mass. The first time I heard the opening lines, I laughed till I hurt:
Greg couldn’t make it to the fuckin’ show
It was rainin’ wasn’t even fuckin’ snow
What else can we say
Greg is a fuckin’ pu-sey!
Greg knew how well that lyric nailed him, and during the chorus you can hear him gleefully chanting: “Oye! Oye! Oye!”
That’s the Joe I remember. He could poke fun at you and make you feel like one of his best buddies in the same breath. In fact, if he needled you, you knew he liked you. When you hung out with him, you always knew you were in the presence of someone with a heart of gold.
That’s how it was at Salem State, when we’d stand outside the then-commuter cafe smoking cigarettes and talking about Nirvana. He could take to people effortlessly, even a guy like me who often had trouble knowing how to act in front of other people.
It’s been said that when you went to a Zippo Raid show, everyone who showed up was in the band. That’s just another telling example of how welcoming a presence he was.