Sean Johnson, known as DJ Old School in clubs across Raleigh, spun his way into my life years ago, a friend of a friend who gradually became an irreplaceable star in his own right. From early morning coffee excursions to late-night drinks, Sean was Sean, and that meant he had an uncanny ability to read people and feed them with wit and love. He died in an auto accident on June 20. Since that morning, a new love has risen in the hearts of those who knew him. And that love is a true love of each other, the greater love that Sean always espoused.
This is not a eulogy. This is a roll call. Some may want tears and rended clothing, but looking back on the life and times of Sean Johnson, he would scoff at the idea, shaking his head and brushing away the heavenly equivalent of sorrow. So, no: This is a reminder with a prime example. This is the loss of a dear friend, punctuated by a greater need for caring and underlined by passing time.
I’m not sad anymore. I no longer feel the need to look for news or scrabble for information. Sean Johnson is dead. He died unexpectedly and left an ocean of fallen eyes and whispered confessions behind. And, as the wind blows between our souls and our words, I believe everyone who knew him knows that it was just the never-ending march of mortality taking its next soul. We’ll all join him soon enough.
Regardless, there are times when, sitting at the Jackpot door, I see jeweled reflections of people coming in from the sidewalk. If it’s KG, I put a Bud and a shot of Jäger on the bar before he gets inside. But when it was Sean, all of us knew to grab a Guinness and a glass and have it ready. Twice in one night, last Friday in fact, I saw him walk in the door and, for a second, my heart jumped. Everything felt normal. I expected him to float in the door with a crate of music, or just to raise his arm in traditional high-five prep. But it was someone else. It’s always going to be someone else.
For every person who took the time to open up to Sean, he planted seeds of joy in the ground their heart had to offer. I’ve seen him hug people that, otherwise, probably wouldn’t give a black man the time of day. I’ve seen him command a table of young women just with his rumbling laugh. That still rings in my head.
I hear slivers of his range in the din of the bar every night. I turn. Only recently does that feel good. The root of these emotions, after all, is love. I loved that man, and I loved what he did with his life. I loved his sheer fuck-offery for anyone who didn’t think he could snag a shift at the Jackpot while making a mash-up of Streisand and King Tubby and still playing what the emo kids in the bar wanted to hear. Sean Johnson could do anything, and he’s still making this hard heart smile. He was an individual and, in Raleigh, he’s also a catalyst, even though he never meant to be. An untimely end bullhorns the beginning of humanity’s most important lesson: how to actively love those who will follow him someday.
And so here we are. We’re minus one amazing friend, confidant, DJ and role model. One more leaf has fallen and settled gently at the base of the tree we all cling to. The feelings of disbelief are ebbing and, for most of us, Sean’s death is now a final entry in his story. We’ve managed to make it through the hardest times.
I witnessed such an outpouring of love and truly heartfelt nurturing after Sean passed. Those instinctsto sit down and chat, to coax the crying head onto a shoulder, to look directly into the eyes of another and let them know that you careis the best gift he could ever leave any of us. I want everyone to know that.
It’s purity for me now, having known Sean. It was a nearly perfect time in my life when I look back and realize how much he touched me and so many others. To be honest, I have the utmost faith in him now. He’s still working his magic here with us. His friends stepped up and organized shows and dance parties after he died. They raised money for his family. He brought people together and, in that sense, worked miracles. If he can just convince my grandfather that hip hop is good music, then I’ll know he’s working miracles up there, too.