‘He left us with his art’: Utahns still mourning Joey Kirk, graffiti artist and Heavy Metal Shop son

(Courtesy of Kevin Kirk) Joey Kirk, son of The Heavy Metal Shop owners Kevin and Angie Kirk, died Nov. 1 after being struck by a Trax train at the Murray Central Station while he walking to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

Like all memorial gatherings, the one for Joey Kirk was sad. But it was also celebratory.

Joey’s parents, Kevin and Angie, who own the beloved Salt Lake City independent record store The Heavy Metal Shop, greeted and hugged Joey’s many friends who showed up that night at the Beehive Social Club. Some they hadn’t seen in years. Some Joey had only told them about.

There were two cakes, one a frosted nod to Joey’s graffiti tag, MOST. The phrase REIGN IN PARADISE KING MOST adorned the club’s marquee, backlit for everyone cruising down State Street to see.

Small kids, oblivious to the mournful tone of the night, ran up and down a skate ramp in the back, injecting some joyful chaos into the room.

And everywhere, there was Joey’s artwork. Portraits of friends and girlfriends on the walls, sketchbooks and journals for people to flip through, a drawing on a jail release coupon, a MOST tag someone had duplicated in tribute.

Joey packed a lot of art into his 26 years, and he surely would’ve loved being at what was essentially a posthumous gallery show.

Joey was struck and killed by a Trax train Nov. 1 while walking at the Murray Central Station, on his way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

According to police reports, Joey was wearing headphones and apparently didn’t hear or see the train approaching from behind.

The accident is still under investigation, according to UTA spokesman Carl Arky.

‘Known everywhere’

The Heavy Metal Shop is one of those places locals like to point out to out-of-towners who think nothing unique or cool could ever be in a place like Salt Lake City.

It’s endured past the glory days of amazing indie record shops — though many of its customers are buying the shop’s iconic branded shirts, caps and hoodies instead of music.

“We get a lot of road crew guys and people in bands,” Kevin Kirk says. “They’re all metalheads. Tourists will do a lot of selfies in front of the store. People will even want pictures with me.”

The store celebrated its 30th anniversary in October with a party that saw Kevin stage-diving and crowd-surfing.

It’s turned into a bittersweet marker of time, Kevin says now as he and Angie sit in the store’s poster-plastered back room. Just days after that party, they lost Joey, who grew up along with the shop.

Stickers he drew as a little kid are still stuck on the shop’s front counter. Kevin took Joey with him to concerts, where he saw the shop’s Ramones and Motorhead posters come to life. Together they went to the Warped Tour, Joey small enough to be carried around on his dad’s shoulders.

Joey figured out how to play songs just by listening to them, and at age 12, “put a little band together,” Kevin Kirk recalls.

A favorite of Joey’s to sing: punk classic “Sonic Reducer.”

But Joey wasn’t very comfortable on a stage, so he turned his creativity toward visual art. When the Kirks lived in the Avenues, young Joey would paint stencils on the sidewalk. When caught, he’d deny it — even when the paintings were self-portraits, and he had dried paint on his hands. His first arrest, when he was 13, came as a result of those sidewalk stencils.

He moved from there to graffiti art, a notoriously illegal and often dangerous form of expression — but one that would get him noticed.

He traveled around the country hopping freight trains and leaving his MOST “tag” — a graffiti artist’s elaborate signature, usually spraypainted — wherever his wanderings took him.

Neither Kevin nor Angie know why Joey picked MOST as a tag — he never told them, they never asked. But he spread it as far and wide as those trains rolled.

“One of Joey’s friends told me that people usually hold onto their tag for just a few years, but Joey was known as ‘Most’ for over a decade,” Kevin says. “So he was really known everywhere he traveled.”

It wasn’t unusual to not hear from Joey for days at a time while he was traveling. But Kevin and Angie started to worry last year when the silence stretched longer than normal, and his friends hadn’t heard from him, either.

“We started to think something had happened to him,” Kevin says.

They’d heard he’d been in California and Oregon, and so drove west to look for him, spending days searching and talking to other people who hopped trains, some who turned out to know Joey.

Along the way, they saw his MOST tag everywhere.

“After about five days, Angie’s phone rings, and it’s Joey on the other end wishing me a happy Father’s Day,” Kevin says.

Joey was in Oakland, about an hour from where his parents were searching at the time. They picked him up and brought him back to Salt Lake.

They could have seen it as a lot of unnecessary driving and worry.

“But just going to all those places where we saw he had been, it was beautiful,” Kevin says.

“And we met so many people, strangers to us, who knew him when we asked about him,” Angie adds. “It was like he made a new friend wherever he went and he kept them. He had two girlfriends who both told us he was the love of their lives.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A spray-painted tribute to Joey Kirk ("MOST") on 700 West in Salt Lake City. Joey, was hit by a TRAX train and killed on Nov. 1. Friday, December 1, 2017.

‘He left us with his art’

Many of Joey’s friends, known and unknown, have since left tributes to him all across the country. His parents have heard reports of RIP MOST tags showing up in Oakland; in Eugene, Ore.; in Dunsmuir, Calif.; in Kansas City, Mo.; and even in Atlanta.

Locally, tribute tags began showing up as soon as word of Joey’s death began circulating.

“There are people who just knew him as MOST, they didn’t know him as Joey,” Kevin says. “I saw tributes to him driving from the airport. I figured someone went out and did it right after the memorial. We have no idea who.”

RIP MOST tags are still plastered around Salt Lake: An elaborate tribute across the street from the Summum pyramid. On a freeway overpass. On the outside wall of an Arby’s. On dumpsters in coffee house parking lots. And, likely, plenty of others.

Some of these may already have been painted over. But more will certainly show up.

Sometimes Angie or Kevin will go driving to look for new ones. It’s another way to feel connected to Joey, and grieve his loss.

“He didn’t accumulate a lot of material stuff,” Angie says. “He left us with his art.”

They’ve both gotten tattoos done of Joey’s artwork, with some of their son’s ashes mixed into the ink. They spend time in his sparse bedroom and let their feelings and memories wash over them, and post photos of Joey through all the stages of his life to the Heavy Metal Shop Facebook page.

And they’ve asked UTA for Joey’s cellphone in hopes that they can access any photos or thoughts he may have recorded.

Spokesman Carl Arky told The Tribune that UTA can’t release any evidence — or comment on the incident — until its investigation is complete.

The day after Joey’s death, Kevin found a half-smoked cigarette on their back porch. Kevin, who hasn’t smoked in 20 years, believed it was Joey’s — and possibly one of his last. He slipped it into a baggie and held onto it.

After the memorial, when some friends of Joey’s were helping him load his truck, Kevin realized what to do with that last cigarette, still in his pocket.

“I wanted to smoke this with you guys,” he told them.

“So we’re standing out there on State Street passing this around — I’m sure it looked like we were smoking something else,” Kevin recalls.

“But you know what? That cigarette tasted really good.”