Jon Wayne and Thom Wilder bring a story of redemption back to Fargo
“He can’t remember every single detail of his past few months, but he knows this makes three times this summer alone that he’s overdosed. But there’s no celebration in cheating death, no victory dance or celebratory lap. Maybe there’s no victory to celebrate. Maybe, deep down, he wants the easy way out.” -Thom Wilder in “One More Trip: Jon Wayne’s Journey from Addiction to Redemption.”
It’s been almost a decade since Jon Wayne began his journey on the path that took him out of the depths of darkness and far from the Minneapolis basement where that third overdose found him coming back to life with a needle still in his arm and a vision of his mother having to one day face the grim news of his untimely death.
It was a journey that would bring him a newfound strength and purpose and result in touring across the country with his music and band getting stronger and more successful. Along the way, unexpected new friendships with musical heroes, rekindled trust from old friends, and newfound love have brought him joys he never envisioned for himself, and have given him many victories to celebrate.
One could guess that those without a personal connection to Jon’s story or even those who don’t necessarily call themselves a fan of his music will feel a sense of joy upon completing Thom Wilder’s authorized biography of this Minneapolis-based songwriter and musician.
This inspirational story of redemption gives the kind of honest and at times, shocking glimpse into a world of addiction that only those who have firsthand experience can offer.
I highly recommend it to anyone searching for deeper understanding of a serious problem that is affecting not only our community, but communities across the country. Timely, yet timeless, the struggles illustrated in this short and easy-to-read biography provide an unfiltered look at a life that could have easily been lost at many points along the way.
I caught up with Jon ahead of a tour that brings him back to Fargo, where he originally moved to from his hometown of Jamestown, for a performance at the Aquarium on November 24th. Appearing in support of the book, he will be opening the show for his friends in Useful Jenkins. This appearance will feature his side project, Wayne Suchy, which sees him uniting with dear friend Ben, from the legendary North Dakota Suchy family. The doors open at 8:30 and tickets are available for $8 plus fees through ticketweb or at the door for $10.
High Plains Reader: One of the things that struck me most about the book is how Thom makes your addictions come to life in the form of personification. Was this a technique he chose to employ or something based on your experiences?
Jon Wayne: This whole process began about three years ago, at a bar in Evansville, Indiana. My main musical project, Jon Wayne & The Pain, was playing a show there and I guess we caught the attention of a guy who was just passing through town for the night, who ended up digging our music.
His name was Thom Wilder. He did some more research on the band, looked up our stuff online and found some of my lyrics and an old writeup on our website, which talked about me being a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. I received an email in my inbox about a week later and he was asking if he could write a book about my life story.
Immediately I was a little hesitant, but then I thought about it a bit more and I agreed to it.
This entire book was written off of phone recordings and interviews between his home in Chicago and my place in Minneapolis. To answer your question: Thom talked at length with me about the stories of early childhood and my drug-using career.
I think after we had spoken for a while he got a much clearer picture and had asked me if my addiction ever seemed like it had an actual voice. I thought about it and said yes it did definitely seem like a voice -- a woman's voice. The kind of woman that you want to hang out with because she's so sexy with but all your friends are telling you she's trouble and know you shouldn't.
That voice kept telling me for years that I could make drugs and alcohol work if I just tried harder, or used a different combination of substances, or took a break, or found a religion, or got a new job. The list goes on and on as to how I tried to make it work as a successful junkie but I failed at every turn.
It's like the old analogy - you can take a cucumber and make it into a pickle, but you can't make a pickle back into a cucumber. I was beyond human aid.
Thom is a very creative person who was able to take my stories without any added BS and make them come to life on the page. He has such an amazing way with words.
HPR: In reading the book, it seems like there were several moments in your nearly decade-long journey into the depths of addiction where you almost hit rock bottom, but there was this time when you were staying in Colleen’s basement and had a true rock bottom moment. What was that moment and how did it affect you at the time?
JW: I actually did hit rock bottom several times over the years. I was in and out of sobriety but yes, the memory of staying in my dear friend Colleen's basement was one of the darkest.
I had overdosed several times in the couple months I was staying there. On each occasion I was alone. I would wake up on the concrete floor and not know where I was or how long I had been unconscious.
It's crazy to think that some people do heroin only a couple times in their life and die from it. I have to believe that the reason I was spared was to help carry a message to the people still suffering from addiction. I’m convinced that is the reason I'm still sober.
HPR: Do you feel it was because of that fear, of your mother having to attend your funeral, that has helped you keep your sobriety thus far; or is there more to your strength?
JW: God bless my mother and father, I put them through so much. They are absolutely amazing examples of grace and love. To regain my relationship with my parents has been such a blessing.
At first in early sobriety, fear was definitely a huge motivator in keeping me clean. Also once you get over the physical addiction to alcohol and drugs there's a few months that life just automatically seems to get better. Physical health improves, you don't need to commit crimes to support your habit, family starts talking to you again.
These are all amazing gifts to regain in sobriety, but at some point fear won't be enough for someone to stay off the sauce. At some point life begins to get a bit gloomy and grey. In my past attempts to get sober I always became very uncomfortable in my own skin and ended up using again.
This time I ended up finding a very specific way to get sober and stay sober. I found a way to live on spiritual principles and a way to attempt to help the still-suffering addicts and alcoholics that cross my path.
HPR: One of the terms that comes up multiple times in not only this book but in conversations with many artists, musicians, performers, and creators who struggle with addiction is “drug-prone work zone.” What are the special challenges that your profession brings to your recovery from addiction?
JW: I have worked in a “drug-prone work zone” for over a decade. In sobriety, I’ve had people buy me drinks, throw rolled joints onstage, been offered countless lines of cocaine in backstage green rooms, and even, at one show in Fargo a few years back, a guy hugged me and then tried to hand me a bag of speed saying "Thanks for the great show man!" I quickly handed it back to him, thanked him and said I appreciate it but that stuff isn't for me anymore man.
Having said all this, I really don't think that circumstance or work environment has as much to do with staying sober. I believe that if you can find a way to find a spiritual experience, you can and will have the desire to drink or do drugs removed. At least it has worked that way with me.
HPR: What can fans of John Wayne and the Pain music expect to get from a Wayne Suchy performance that is different than your full band Jon Wayne and the Pain show?
JW: Wayne Suchy is a collaboration between myself and Bismarck native Ben Suchy. We have traveled the world together on various songwriting missions, the most recent of which was a trip to Thailand and Myanmar in southeast Asia. We will be playing a bunch of the songs we wrote on that trip at the show at The Aquarium and bunch of other tunes as well. Ben is one of my favorite songwriters of all time. He is probably the best songwriter you've never heard of. We will be mixing it up with funky folk, elements of bluegrass and a bit of reggae influenced songs. Get there early to see us! We play at 9pm!
HPR: Will you and/or Thom be available before or after the show to autograph copies of the book?
JW: Yes, Thom and I both will be at the show and will be happy to sign books after the Wayne Suchy set.
HPR: After the local release at the Aquarium, will the book be available at local retailers?
JW: The book is available on Amazon and at other online locations.
IF YOU GO
Useful Jenkins, Wayne Suchy
Friday, November 24, 8:30pm doors, 9pm show
The Aquarium, 226 Broadway N 2nd floor, Downtown
Tickets online, $8 at ticketweb.com, $10 at the door
by C.S. Hagen
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