Happy Birthday, Joey Jello!

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l-1As I sit down to write, my whole being wants to mourn. But I can’t do that. Because I love Joey, and celebrating life was his reason for being. So that’s what I choose to do today – celebrate the life of Joey Jello. For my newer readers, this is the life that inspired me to take charge of mine. Joey Jello is my brother, and I will always love him.

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I remember August 18th, 1984 pretty clearly considering I was 6 at the time. I remember sitting in the hospital waiting room with my aunt. I remember my dad walking down the hall in a weird paper gown saying, “It’s a boy!” But mostly I remember how small he was, and what it felt like to hold my baby brother for the first time.  I’d wanted a big brother so badly, but this tiny one would do.

Of all the things I thought about what the years to follow would hold, I never imagined that little peanut would grow up to be Joey Jello. On my trip to Austin, I revealed the origin of the Jello name and later felt as though I’d pulled back the curtain on the wizard. I’m sure everyone who knew him probably heard a different story, so I won’t spoil that for anyone else.  But I’m thankful to have been in on the secret.

So who was Joey Jello? I can only tell you who he was to me. He was my baby brother, but he was also my big brother. He cheered me on in life, & his memory keeps me going every day.

Almost from day one, he was larger than life. By the time he was two, he was already writing songs, telling tall tales and making us laugh. We all just knew he was going to be a rockstar when he grew up, one way or another… and he was.

He was the guy who made stuff happen. He fell in love with freak bikes, and even though he lived in Nashville, TN which is full of hills and inhospitable to non-drivers, he started a Nashville Rat Patrol and got people excited about building tall bikes and riding them all over this crazy town. These are the bikes he loved and because he also loved people (regardless of the number of times he said he “hated people”), he created a community built around that love.

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This is Joey riding “French Toast.”

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The story on this triple decker is that one of the wheels wobbled, so it had been named Michael J Fox. When Joey fixed it, he rode down the street yelling, “I cured Parkinson’s!!!”

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Joey’s caption read, “A bike so big, it could only be named ‘Texas.'”

But that wasn’t all he was. He lived free, chasing every new experience with his whole heart. If he was interested at all, he was completely in. That was the thing that I admire and strive for, that he lived every moment fully. For a while he was a ballroom dance instructor – he was particularly talented at tango even though he was tall. He baked bread for a while. Once he went to Colorado to feed Bison (or something about Bison – haha). He started and played in several Nashville bands over the years and recorded two albums with The Wrong Kids. He was a punk, an anarchist, a warrior, a loyal friend, brother, son.

He had a lot of tattoos, but one of my faves was his Mom tattoo. He got it for our mom’s birthday one year. He said he went into the tattoo shop and asked for the biggest cheesiest Mom heart they could do. He teased Mom for a while about when she was going to get her “Son” tat. It was hilarious because our mom is just not the kind of mom who would ever get tattooed…

Hmmm, maybe we underestimated her.

Hmmm, maybe we underestimated her.

His most famous tattoo was the neck piece, and the title for this blog. It said NEVER BETRAY backwards so he could read it in the mirror. He got it not long after he stopped dancing, and I think it was a reminder to never try to fit himself into a box for anyone or anything. He never did fit in the box, but he also realized something that most people don’t – that NO ONE fits in a box without cutting off parts of themselves.

That’s why it’s time to be real. To be totally me. To follow my passions. To write; to run; to enjoy my husband, my boys, my life. And that’s the best way I can think of to celebrate the life of Joey Jello!

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