In Memoriam: Sean Johnson, 1973-2006

| July 26, 2006

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 instincts—to 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 care—is 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.

Comments (4)

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I was thinking about Sean today so I googled him and found this page. I can't beleive that this is the first time I have seen this. I really miss him, and have been thinking about him a lot lately. Its almost five years now and I still keep hoping to bump into him on the street or see him in my local bar.

I have to beleive that there is a war in heaven and God needs generals. I love you Brother.

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Posted by Frederick Williams on 01/17/2012 at 5:19 PM

I first met sean when i came in to Rite Aid aka Eckerd at the time to apply for a job, he was working in the photo lab and needed someone else to work there, I was there from 11/05-6/06. He was a great guy, very nice, handsome! I never was attracted to black guys but if i was alone with him, well no comment! ;) After I left that job I traveled a bit and came back only to find out the guy/ friend I worked with died in a car accident! It wasnt the greatest year for me because that same year I lost my grandfather! I was shocked to find out he died and was no longer around! I loved his smile and his laugh! He complimented me on my work and how I was like the guy that hired him for the job! He always took the time to talk to me and chat! We shared jokes and made each other laugh! When I first got hired on, I always had to call him about random things regarding the machines at the photo lab when a problem occured but he always assured me that everything is okay and was patient enough to walk me thru everything! He also gave me a copy of his music, I have somewhere, I have kept his cd for years and have still held on to it. Its the only thing left from him that I have to remember Sean! He was a good hearted soul and always made time to show he cared! I never remember people I worked with but he stood out for me in ways noone was ever like! Sean was himself and never tried to be something he wasnt! I loved him for that and so many other things! He has a special place in my heart, I wish I had a chance to tell him how much he meant to me! But I will always cherish the memories and the times we shared! The world has lost another great soul but will never be forgotten!

Posted by mourningsean on 07/20/2010 at 6:30 AM

Sean was an amazing person.He was the one cousin that I could count on to always be himself and not care what others thought about him.. I miss him so much we all do. We are all blessed to have had him in our lives. I believe that he is watching all of us and waiting for the day when we shall see him again. He touched everyone he met in some way and left behind many amazing memories. Sean was so talented. I miss him more and more each day.

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Posted by princesslena26 on 05/02/2007 at 11:38 PM

This came as a HUGE shock to me. I lived above Sean for several years at "The Lakes" apartment complex and hung out with him a lot between 2001 and 2006. I moved to Elizabethtown to finish college in March of 2006 and hadn't heard from him in quite a while and his number was disconnected, so I googled his name and found this. I worked on this guy's car, gave him a lift when he needed it, and hung out frequently. This guy was always positive, no matter what the situation was. He was always willing to help a friend out in any way possible. He was never pessimistic or down. If you ever needed to talk to somebody or get help with something, this was the guy to talk to. He didn't gossip or spread rumors, and anything you had to say could be said in confidence.

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Posted by Sephiroth on 02/26/2007 at 4:46 PM
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