I keep looking at the last texts Kelly sent me, they have a mystic significance: His last words to me are Thursday 2:44am, “Sleep now my friend”.
It’s funny how close you can get to a person without meaning to; how a person can become a fixture in your life without you even knowing it. That’s what happened with my friend Kelly Gray.
Kelly lived a hard-knock life and was one of those people who always seemed to be just on the verge of getting their shit together. Kelly was way too nice and easygoing to have attained material wealth or power- but music and friends were his wealth, and making people’s worlds a better place was his power.
Every week for years I looked forward to seeing Kelly, sharing a drink and having a conversation with him. On slow nights he would sometimes be the only person in the audience. When one friendly face is all you need to see, for me that face was often Kelly G.
Kelly has supported the local music scene since the 80’s and is more a fanatic than supporter. I doubt there’s many local bands over the past 3 decades that Kelly hasn’t seen religiously. It makes him a touchstone for all of local music- not only is Kelly’s passing a great loss to his friends, but also a great loss for the music scene and its history.
There’s still more questions I want to ask him. I want to ask him about all the shows he’s seen, about the old venues, more questions about the evolution of music in VB. Only a person like Kelly would be able to answer those questions- and now, suddenly, that person is gone.
On May the 10th Kelly texted me a link to a song he wanted me to learn. It was “Overkill” by Colin Hay. I asked him to give me a week. A week went by and I learned the chord progression, but not the lyrics. After some obligatory shit-giving, Kelly was gracious and told me, “Just take your time brotha.”
There was no way I could’ve guessed that I’d never get the chance to play him the song. There was no way of knowing that his train was coming- that I should’ve busted my ass and learned the damn song before he had to leave.
There was no way of knowing that him explaining to me- that the colors of the Steelers is not black and yellow, but black and gold!- would be the last memory I have of him in person.
Kelly put together an charity event last month for a friend who needed help with medical expenses. Musicians and local businesses rallied to him and repaid his many kindnesses with their support. It’s fitting that this act of compassion for his friend was in many ways his last goodbye to all of us. His benefit for Melissa was actually his farewell party.
I take solace in the fact that he knew he had friends that cared about him and that he still seemed to be enjoying life and music to the fullest.
Kelly I promise to keep your memory alive in music- in the many songs in which I’ll inevitably think of you when I play them. You made my world a better place while you were in it.
Sleep now my friend.