Ive written and rewritten this over and over again this entire weekend, not sleeping much, really confused, trying to find my way through the hollowed out part of my heart. The only conclusion I can reach is that there is really no good way to say goodbye.
This is the last portrait I shot of John, never in a million years would I have thought that this is the narrative that would go with it.
I first met John a million years ago when I was a kid in college. One of my buddies from school had gotten a summer job at Concord New Horizons, affectionately termed “the venice film school”, the old lot was off Abbott Kinney where those silvery faux industrial looking condos are today, right by those train tracks that go nowhere. Gio pulled me onto the crew, it was my very first paid day in movie land as a set lighting guy, early in the morning after exchanging hello’s he gave me a walkie and said “come to the lighting shed, I want you to meet the Best Boy” and standing there in the morning fog, hours before that marine layer would burn off, was John Pedone.
He was leaning up against the shed that he and Gio had painted a big yellow Omega on. Through his defining chuckle I get “so you’re the new guy, heh heyh heh” the way that only John could say. They took mercy on me and I didn’t have to wrap any banded cable and allowed me to work on set with them. That was the beginning. I cant remember if I was 19 or 20.
It didn’t occur to me at the time that John would become such a great and unique friend, although it should have because he welcomed me with an open hearted warmth that I only extend to my closest and most respected friends. Anyone that has ever worked in production knows that indescribable fleeting type of friendship that you make with your coworkers, that friendly but standoffish Im a freelancer and so are you and we might not ever see each other again but are in this totally intense thing so lets have fun kind of vibe. Its the same for film production, rock and roll tours and I bet the circus too. I never had that with John, right off the bat it was like hanging with someone I had grown up with.
I lived in LA for a bit not long after that and thanks to one of the greatest friends I’ll ever know, have returned ever since to wallow in this quasi vicarious beach life that I could just never seem to commit to full time. Out of all the cross country drives, extended stays and cheater continental flights, I cant recall very many trips where I didn’t see John for a night of drinking or a weekend camping.
As time progressed, so did our careers, one of my fondest memories was mixing a movie that John was shooting, and having those commiserating moments that only two frustrated department heads could have, except our bitch fests would always end with a smile, no matter how fucked the situation, we were having fun together and we were, as they say, living the dream. Sometimes you suffer a nightmare but its never scary when you have the right company.
For years it was always Gio, John and I, I wouldn’t go so far to suggest that we were a team, but we certainly comprised some kind of unit, wether it was hanging out around Gio’s kitchen table, or sitting around the dimmer board on Studio 60 where the two of them always made me a welcomed guest when I was in town.
Around my 30th birthday, I had one of those amazing eight month long lost weekends that Brian Wilson would be jealous of. At some point during that blur the three of us rolled out to the high desert and on the way out, while Gio slept with his face pressed against the back window, John told me all about Burning Man. At that point he had been a few times and had invited me before, but I didn’t really understand what it was all about, as it is unquestionably the most misunderstood event in the world still today, let alone back then.
By the end of that weekend I was sold and two weeks later I was in the middle of nowhere, cranky from the altitude and the lack of humidity standing in a will call line casually chatting up the guy in front of me while silently trying to make sense of the dust I had heard so much about, I wasn’t quite sure how to clean it off and I was already pretty dirty having been outside for twenty seven seconds… “This is your first time, shit, Im missing my son’s first birthday to be here, fuck, he wont remember it”. Those were the first words ever spoken to me at Black Rock City.
What had John gotten me into?
Saving an endlessly long pontificating discussion, there is a certain bond that you make on the playa that is wholly unique. Making friends out there I began to slowly understand the bond that combat photographers and journalists would always reference. The friends Ive made out there have in every way impacted my life but John was the first guy I knew back from the world who I hung out with at the trash fence at 2 AM.
We were already great friends, we had known each other for years, but something changed out there, suffering the dust together redefined our friendship in a way I wasn’t expecting or can effectively communicate. It’s like John, who was already the most full of life guy, was *truly* alive out there, and he was proud for me to see it. And then he invited me in to the core of his world, the shit that he lived for, the circumstance that made him the happiest. It was and epic thing to step up to and be a part of.
Once I thought we had reached the apex of awesome years later, John, an avid skydiver, invited me up for a ride in the skydiving plane, with that same quirky smile, “c’mon, it’ll be fun, heh heyh heh”. I have had few, if any, life defining moments like that one, and there is no gift that anyone will ever give me that will compare to what John did for me that afternoon. I cant even sit here thinking about it without a huge smile on my face.
I flew with John two years in a row, both of us sharing the fear together, sitting in that plane together, getting beaten around in the wind, making eye contact and locking in there, with a smile to mask the anxiety, those moments are absolutely burned into my soul.
You never know how alive you are until you think, in that moment, that you might die. John Pedone took me right to that edge for the first time and we both looked over it together. There will never be a greater gift and never from a more incredibly unique person.
My gratitude is endless.
The thing that made John so special is that he had hundreds of friends, and all of us are telling our own version of this story today. Different details, different characters, same story.
The impact he had on all of us on a personal one on one basis is staggering to think about. Add that to the contribution he made to the arts, the talent he brought to the motion picture industry as a light operator, a camera operator, a director of photography, a still photographer, picture editor, lighting designer, stage designer, costumer, puppeteer, stilt walker, clown, huggie bear, and then putting together the monument of Mystical Misfits, it’s a staggering legacy.
The last time I saw John, we talked about motorcycles. I was out at Pro Italia looking at a Moto Guzzi they had in the show room which had just sold like an hour before I got there and I was all frustrated. John had just moved into a new house in the valley, he had invited me by a few times and figured Id try to stop in on the way back to town.
“No Im off today, come on over”.
Burning Man last year was pretty intense for both of us, for entirely different reasons. We both drove off the playa about two weeks prior, so we sat around and had that traditional first talk back in the real world. Did you see this, did you see that, did you ever bump into so and so, how many times did you jump out of the plane, what did you think of the pilot, how was it landing in the plane, how was it jumping out of the plane, was there any resolution to x y and z drama, how did it go with the equipment rental returns, etc, etc.
He was super excited about the big garage at his new place, paced around the freshly packed place with that playa dust smell still in the air.
Yeah, Im pissed that we didnt get the street sign this year, someone grabbed it on thursday, but check these out from a few years ago.
We gossiped and gossiped and gossiped like we were in high school, exchanged all the playa tales that we could until the conversation naturally ran out of steam.
Yeah, that was my last burn.
You always say that.
No, that was my last burn, Im not going again.
At the time, that seemed like Santa not coming to Christmas, plus I had heard it before, pretty much every year for the last few years.
There was one afternoon in late August, hanging around his camp at a scheduled happy hour where we both kinda sat around and talked about the amount of people that were drinking at the Misfits Bar in comparison to the year prior. The previous year, he hosted the Waldorf Mystoria and it was the greatest thing at Burning Man and I don’t say that casually. He designed a 3 story steel tower with a fucking functioning chain elevator. The happy hour parties at Misfits 2010 were impossibly insane, the addition of a drum kit was extra special fun for me. Last year, the camp had a different layout and the ground floor was kinda blocked off from the street and as a result, there were significantly fewer people hanging out at the bar.
“I kinda like it” he said surveying the crowd, “its way less crazy than it was last year”.
I was expecting the madness to repeat at misfits and I had to let that soak in. Then it hit me, I suggested “We should build a castle next year”.
“Mystical Misfits Castle?”
“Yeah man, fucking C A S T L E, it’ll be insane. We can make a slip and slide moat around the front and put two chain motors up for the drawbridge, when the party gets too insane, raise the drawbridge and we’re good
“?We talked about this for a long time that afternoon. “Yeah well, this is my last burn, so Im passing the torch to you, build the castle”.
I was never officially part of his camp and this seemed like an unlikely scenario.
We briefly revisited the Castle theme for Misfits 2012 in the garage that afternoon, interjecting the fun class structure that could be instituted among the camp members. While it was all just fun talk, it was turning into a better and better plan by the minute.
We were also starving as a Castle Serf and jumped in my car and cruised Ventura looking for a spot to eat. We wound up in one of those horrid “classy” dives that I dont even know how to explain right now to anyone who doesnt know LA. That shitty bar by the Universal Lot, I think its called the Casting Office or some shit like that, in a strip mall with a horrid yellow sign, worn patent leather booths whose shine was lost decades ago with carved wood railing all over the place, edges smoothed from years of drunk handling. Nicotine stained glass chandeliers hanging on a chain with the wire not woven in between the chain links, just hanging down to the lamp, nicotine stains still on there from like 12 years ago when they outlawed smoking. We didnt go to that place but one of the other 200 places just like it. This is the restaurant that everyone in Boogie Nights hung out at. This is the bar that Vic Vega goes to to have a confrontation with Butch that only Jules can break up. It’s THAT place that no amount of daylight through the front window can properly illuminate, just perma dark, perma shitty, the core of pulp, the heart of Los Angeles style. We had a drink at the bar, which obviously was red, and then grabbed a table for soup, salad and exhaust on the sidewalk on Ventura at 5pm, just to catch some sunlight. Castle talk continued.
When we got back to the house, we lounged in the back yard for a long time, I told him about the bike I didnt buy that afternoon and we devised cool things to do with ten grand that neither of us would ever do.
I can’t believe you are into cafe racers.
He needled me with this all afternoon. And then got into a long story in typical Pedone style about the last bike accident he had, an incredible story of evading law enforcement and crawling out of an ambulance with a torn open leg to sneak his bike out of the ditch and walk, limp, it away from the scene of the accident, turning over the engine which luckily started right up just far enough from the scene to make a clean getaway. “Yeah, that was the last time I had a fast bike, Im getting a harley next”.
In the middle of the story Bachman came bounding out, named after a character on a pilot that he was working on when he got the kitten. He was so entirely proud of the fact that a) Bachman would come when called, like a dog and b) Bachman had figured out how to walk so the bell around his neck wouldnt jingle. Little guy was a true predator at heart and a truly awesome cat.
John absolutely loved this cat.
I was pretty burnt and having taken a million pictures of John over the years and just didnt shoot a bunch of pictures that afternoon. The thought that I wouldnt have another chance never crossed my mind. We talked about more BRC stuff, he had a date that night, I had a date that night, we went back in the house, he handed me a bumper sticker that says “Im kinda famous at Burning Man” and as I started to walk to the door he commented that he was going to check out the new Harley the next week. I sat on my dumb phone in the car and watched his red truck pull a u turn in front of me. The last thing I noticed as he pulled forward was that “Im kinda famous” sticker on his tail gate and after he made the U turn, he smiled and waved as he drove by. It was close to 7, the orange socal sun was low, right on the tree line and his eyes were as bright as I had ever seen them in the sunset. That was the last time I would ever see my good friend John Pedone.
A few weeks later he sent me some pictures of the new bike and I was cautiously happy for him. We didnt talk for a while after that, conversations were still in the “No Im not going” direction, and then there was the big ticket fiasco.
The big ticket fiasco. Fuck.
I was absolutely resigned to not go after that shit. I was so done and was deep into figuring out a trip to Mongolia with my usual campmates which was going all fine and dandy until someone (ahem) didnt want to take a train from russia, as if that wouldnt be the craziest shit ever, but that is a whole different story.
Smack in the middle of fuck bmorg, the phone rang. It was John.
“Hey, we got some tickets allocated for us. I want to build the Castle, will you do it with me?”
“Ha, I knew you’d go”
“Will you come? Here’s the code for the private sale, you gotta buy the ticket before this weekend, it expires Sunday”.
For the last three years John had invited me to go up a week early to help him build the steel, two flatbeds worth of pipe, which he would drive up from LA. This is the kind of dedication this guy had to an event that most people go to without even filling a car with fun stuff for other people to play with. He brought two flatbed trucks and a show power generator for the sake of everyone’s entertainment.
The first year he asked I couldn’t conceive of it. The second year I totally wanted to do it, but had a scheduling conflict and absolutely couldnt. The third year I had my own camp and obligations to my camp mates and didnt want to complicate things. I’ll come up 2012. I was sooooo looking forward to being out there with him and 400 other people building the most beautiful thing ever. I was really bitter on going this year but there was no way I was going to say no, the circumstances were perfect AND it was really looking like he wanted to go forward with the theme we joked about, and then talked about more seriously. Ironically, I was going to send out invitations to my birthday party tomorrow morning and was totally looking forward more than anything else in LA to the next conversation about the plan for the camp and all the associated logistics. I celebrated my birthday last year in LA with John and three other people and it was the first time I had fun on my birthday since I was 9 years old.
I called Gio just this afternoon and told him to keep the night open and we spent ten minutes just randomly talking about John and all the fun we had last year.
I remember a night last summer hanging upstairs at Misfits with Paige and Braydon, John walked up the stairs, “Come on, we are all going to do Greeters, hop in the stake bed with us” John kinda turned his chin up and gave me that half a grin as he tilted his head beckoning towards the door.
“Fuccccck Im exhausted, there’s no way I can pull a greeters shift at 3 am, get me next time”
After spending the day in a daze today thinking about Adam Yauch, walking around the city, going to all the places that I had some connection to the Beastie Boys, when I saw the phone ring, the last thing I wanted to do was answer it. It was Gio, we had just spoken a few hours ago so I figured he had forgotten something important to tell me so I reluctantantly answered the phone.?Ive known Gio since my first semester in college, I had never quite heard his voice like that. His lead, “I have horrible news, I didn’t want you to find out from someone else”
You can say a word a thousand times until it loses all meaning and just becomes a sound coming out of your mouth, a series of notes, a beat, not communicating anything. But not this one, not in that moment or the many that followed.
On 4 May 2012, heading North on Coldwater Canyon with the sunset over his left shoulder, John Pedone was killed when a woman made a U Turn in the middle of the fucking street and turned into his motorcycle.
This is the last picture I took of my great friend, confidant, endless source of joy, laughs and inspiration, John Pedone:
You changed the world for so many of us, you effected my life like no one else, I’ll miss you forever JP.