Alex Sebley is a photographer and visual artist who lost his friend, John, to suicide. Teaming up with musician Misty Miller, Alex created a video featuring John and talks to us about the process of creating it and the personal impact of his friend’s death…you can watch the video below.
Misty asked me if I would like to make a video. I wrote the screenplay for a short film – and we started shooting; however after 3 days I felt I couldn’t go further in making the video I wanted without a major commitment from the label. That week I was looking through some old footage I had made previously and this video with John came up. I put it together and it worked for me, so I offered it to Misty.
The footage was filmed a few weeks before John took his life. It was John’s idea to dress up as a zombie, covering his face and hands with flour and paint, and then head into town. The video was shot in a conservative suburb and in retrospect could be seen as a critique on the small town mindset we sensed around us, but to be honest we weren’t aware of this meaning at the time. John and I were fans of Horror films, in particular Romero, and their influence is obvious.
I went to see John’s mum, Janice, a few weeks ago with the finished film. I had only seen her twice since John had taken his life. I didn’t really know Janice when John was alive. I was worried how she might receive the video but we sat and watched it together. Afterwards we held each other and cried, and she thanked me and it felt good.
I hadn’t thought about the timing of this film but then I received a call from a friend who pointed out that it was completed ten years ago to the week that John had died. I had been unaware of this synchronicity. Meaning I would have been making the video during the same week I was now editing it, only ten years earlier. On watching the final edit all the way though I found myself overwhelmed with grief and wept. At the time of his suicide, I had been unable to do this, feeling more angry than sad. It is apparent to me now that there is an inter-connectedness at work.
Part of coming to terms with John’s death is the fact that I felt complex emotions in relation to John while he was alive and afterwards. I don’t think it’s helpful to portray a sanitized version of anyone – there were things he did in his life and death that hurt and angered me. These things stay with me as much as the positive and keep the memory of him. I think the worst thing we can do to someone we love is forget them.
As far as I am aware people’s reactions to the video have been positive. Many wanted to know if the song was written for John. It wasn’t – even though the lyrics are quite pertinent Misty had never met him. The song is about something personal to her, yet it resonated with the video thanks to its simplicity, honesty and the beautiful voice.
John was handsome with dark features, doe eyed, a large head and robust frame. He often talked about his supposed Gypsy heritage, though I can’t say in all certainty this was true. But he undoubtedly felt a connection with that way of life, and at his funeral a song about a gypsy, Rambling Boy, by Donovan was played. He lived in the small coastal village of Emsworth, famous for its oysters until 1902 when the visiting Dean of Winchester was poisoned, and home to the author P. G. Wodehouse.
John was born into a working class environment, something he was proud of but although his parents worked tirelessly for him I was aware that John felt he lacked opportunities through no fault of his own. In spite of this he could have achieved anything he put his mind to. He had what is sometimes called an infectious personality. It was in him to lead, which can be a lonely position to hold. He was dazzling bright, intelligent, profoundly deep and challenging as well as one of the funniest people I have ever met. No amount of words can sum up how much he made me laugh, suffice to say that sometimes I’d laugh so hard my sides would hurt. He loved music, art and gardening. He was a very talented musician and taught me to play guitar. And I was fortunate to join his band. His record collection was extensive. Some 2000+ vinyl. He could talk about the musicology, legend and history of the records. Breaking a particular song or sound down to its component parts, he would often describe sound visually. We would talk for hours like this.
John suffered from a long standing pattern of self loathing, self analysis and found himself unable to receive the love given to him by those who cared. A terrible waste of an extraordinary young man and his talent. Whatever I feel about his choice to die, and the tears and anger I felt afterwards, should I not respect his decision? Could it be that he felt a resolve to take his own life beyond my understanding? Our culture does not sit well with that estimation and neither do I. In truth, I feel a sense of guilt. If I have learned anything from John’s death, it is to be a better, more engaged person with my surroundings and loved ones.
A friend once said to me, ‘people never die when they’re in your thoughts’. I think of John often, so i guess he isn’t dead. not to me, anyway. He’s still provoking reactions in me from beyond the grave. I think he would have liked that. I am poorer without him.
Wait by Misty Miller, video directed by Alex Sebley