Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. – Victor E. Frankl
In an age when instant gratification is the norm, it can be so easy for us to let life’s events, even down to the smallest inconveniences and irritations, take away from the appreciation of what makes every day worth our thanks: your friends and family that love you, a job that pays the bills, a way to put food on the table, the music and art that you cherish and appreciate. The list goes on for reasons we should treasure the time we have in this life.
One fan from Ohio took the “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff” motto way further than can be reasonably expected. Despite medical ailments that would reduce most of us into smaller versions of ourselves, Jonny Jones always found a reason to be grateful and his beaming personality served as a constant inspiration to everyone around him. He’s one of those people that almost sounds too good to be true. Through accounts of friends and family, by interacting with him you would’ve thought he had just won the lottery.
Little did most people know that he was living on borrowed time and under a dark cloud of uncertainty.
During the Something Else Tour we received an e-mail from his girlfriend Leah Talevich which reads as follows:
I’m believing in my heart this will make it into the hands of someone who will appreciate this story and hopefully its you Aaron. My boyfriend Jonny Jones passed away August 8th of this year 2013. He underwent a heart transplant June of 2011 fr complications of childhood cancer. Jonny was a fighter he lived two years on borrowed time lived life his way and changed people’s lives along the way. Yet the one person who had such an impact on this fighter was you. I would play tech n9ne Pandora on my phone in icu while he was out of it but just hoping somewhere he heard it! Every time music was on it was Tech it truly did help him get through some of the toughest stuff I have ever seen a 22 year old go through. God did he love the rain our favorite, was his ringtone I think on our 180gb ipods we have every Tech song. You are coming to Cleveland in 2 weeks…myself Jonnys brother n his 2 best friends will be there. I would love to tell you Jonnys amazing story if not a shout out to him…things won’t be the same without him there by my side but I hope he’s up on stage kicken it with you.
Thank you, much love
~Life After Death~
The letter was quickly circulated to everyone at Strange Music by CEO Travis O’Guin. We quickly reached out to Leah and Jonny’s friends and family to hear about his story.
Born September 1, 1989 in Akron, Ohio, Jonny spent his life growing in the small suburb of Green, Ohio, halfway between Akron and Canton. His environment growing up was one that every normal kid would want: friends to run around with, a good school and a loving family. However, the normalcy of childhood quickly took a turn for the terrifying when, at the age of five, Jonny was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare cancer in the bone. Jonny would undergo a year and a half of chemotherapy and suffered heart damage as a result of the medication he also took to fight the cancer. As his brother older brother Joshua tells it, the diagnosis and ensuing treatment would set the tone of a struggle in Jonny’s life that became all too common.
When he was six he came down with cancer in his lung and it was in part of his rib. They ended up having to take out like a third of his lung and I believe it was two or three ribs they had to take out. That was when he was like six or seven years old. He always had complications with that, just going back to the doctor with checkups and all that.
Jonny’s worry-free visage would never reveal the fact that he would spend a great deal of his life jumping through medical hoops. Throughout his childhood he was known as a guy that always wore a smile on his face, never held grudges, and found the silver lining in any situation.
Best friend Craig Petkovic says:
He was the nicest dude ever. He could see the good in anybody and if they didn’t really have much good in them, he could find it. I always admired him for that and how strong he was. I could never understand how he did it honestly.
Jonny was definitely well known as a light-hearted guy that liked to party and have a good time. The soundtrack running throughout most of these occasions? None other than Tech N9ne.
Why did he love Tech N9ne so much? None of his friends or family could pinpoint it, but what was for sure is that Jonny really loved Tech N9ne. “Every time I hear the song ‘Riot Maker’ I think of him because him and I used to just ride around in his truck and he had these subs an we’d beat through the town and just go crazy,” recalls best friend Cory Glover, “I’d look over and he knew every single word.” Girlfriend Leah recalls “This Ring” as Jonny’s ringtone, and Jonny’s sense of humor shining through with his selection of “Leave Me Alone” as his ringback tone.
Older brother Joshua recalls Jonny’s iPod:
Jonny had a couple gig iPod. I would imagine he probably had every song, every underground thing, every freestyle that Tech ever did. You look at his thing and there’s pages and pages and pages of songs. He’s got t-shirts, hats and posters. He didn’t miss concerts man. He didn’t miss any of them. If he could make it, he was there.
Jonny’s life continued as is until the fateful day of October 20, 2010, when Jonny experienced failure in the left side of his heart. He was rushed via Life Flight to the emergency room for open heart surgery for an LVAD (Left Ventricle Assistance Device). The operation was successful but any sighs of relief would be short-lived, as the right side of his heart went into failure only three days later and would require another surgery.
Until Jonny was able to get a heart transplant he would be one of the extremely rare cases of someone who had two assistance devices for his heart, one on each side. For months until he got his transplant, Jonny would have to lug around assistance devices everywhere he went. Despite these dire circumstances he remained unfazed: “You would have no idea that he was even going through anything honestly,” Craig recalls. “His mom said at the funeral that she had never seen him cry or nothing through the whole time, never complained.” Friends recall that Jonny would always find a joke or a way to make light of the situation. “You’d be like ‘God damn, for real? You’re going to say some dumb shit like that?'” says Cory.
For months until his heart transplant, Jonny and his loyal girlfriend Leah would have to go through the daily procedure of cleaning the devices that kept him alive – a messy procedure involving gauze, surgical gloves and lots of cleaning solution. During these times Leah would sometimes vent whatever daily frustrations she was feeling to the man she trusted most to hear them. Jonny, as always, was a willing ear, but before things would get escalated he’d be quick to put a stop to it with a simple reminder: “You’re alive, so be grateful.”
As Leah explains:
I would be in a bad mood and he would be like “Why are you in a bad mood? Stop!” You never know. You don’t want to live your last day pissed off. It definitely changed my outlook.
Jonny would finally get a new heart through transplant on July 13, 2011, a day he would go on to celebrate as if it was a birthday, adopting a new motto to his newfound lease on life: “Life After Death.” His new heart would not start beating until three days after the procedure. During the days he was out he would be kept alive from an ECMO machine, a machine meant to keep your cardiac and respiratory functions going despite the inability of your body to do so. While Jonny was out Leah would place her phone on his chest that would play music from a Pandora channel set to Tech N9ne. “I would just sit there and I’ve always thought music was is healing,” she recalls, “I think he could hear.”
Heart transplants are riddled with risk. The most common cause of heart failure within the first year of transplant is your body’s rejection of the new heart. Seeing it as a foreign object in your body, your immune system does everything it can to attack it. This running risk would only reinforce Jonny’s philosophy that life was precious and the days weren’t to be wasted with worry.
Jonny would live out the rest of his life like he lived all the days before the transplant: full of joy, appreciation and love. His last day came on August 8, 2013, not too long after he celebrated the second year with his new heart.
Leah recalls her last interaction with Jonny.
He went to a concert the night he passed away. Previously I had to get a root canal, so I didn’t go with him because obviously I didn’t want to do anything. He texted me “I’m sorry that I can’t be there with you. I’m there with you even though I’m not there physically.”
I texted him at 2AM but he didn’t text me back. which was weird because he would always text. I didn’t hear from him the next morning, which was also weird. He had to take pills five times a day and woke up every day at eight every day to take his meds. I called at eight and didn’t hear from him. Not too long afterwards I got the call from his brother: he passed away on the couch in his sleep.
Jonny’s funeral had been one of the biggest that the parlor had ever seen,as a long line of people gathered to see off the lionhearted soul. The procession that started at 3PM did not end until 9PM, and over 800 people came to pay their respects and say goodbye for the last time.
After reaching out to Leah she made the request to be able to take her and Jonny’s friends and brother to the Something Else Tour Meet and Greet in Cleveland to thank Tech N9ne personally for the music that made Jonny’s bright soul shine even brighter. We had no choice but to oblige. To facilitate and enrich the already amazing relationship between the artists at Strange Music and their fans is one of the greatest privileges of working at the Snake and Bat.
Upon arrival at the meet and greet, the excitement was mutual between the Something Else touring artists and Jonny’s group of loved ones, as the artists had all been copied on the original e-mail and were familiar with Johnny’s story.
While the occasion was appreciated on both sides and the welcoming was as warm as could be, Johnny’s absence still left its mark.
Friend Cory recalls an internal conflict that ran throughout the evening.
There were times where it was like “Oh man this is really cool” but in hindsight, in the back of my head I was like “Yeah, this is great meeting Tech and meeting Krizz and everybody” but in my mind I’m like “This ain’t how it’s supposed to be. This is kind of fucked up that I’m meeting these people and, I mean I enjoyed it and I loved it and I appreciated them really doing everything for us but still in the back of my mind “Man, this is fucked. Jonny should be here with us doing this shit too.” You know?
Despite the sting of Jonny’s absence, the occasion served as a reason for thanks and appreciation from Jonny’s friends as well as the artists that were there to greet them. ¡MAYDAY! even gave Jonny’s loved ones a shout out during their set.
Jonny’s brother Joshua recalls the experience:
That was awesome man. I can’t tell you how much that meant to us. I know it means a lot to Jonny because he was right there with us man. He was watching everything. I know he would’ve given anything to have been there. I know he saw all of us having a good time and that’s what the point was. We were doing that because Jonny would’ve been doing that if he would’ve been around. He would’ve been with us having a good time.
It was sweet just to talk to Tech and kind of explain to him the story and just the fact that you guys passed it down the line. All those guys knew the story, knew what we were talking about and they were happy to meet us. We gave all them guys bracelets. We had bracelets made when Jonny passed and they’re “Rest In Peace Jonny” with his birthday and his death date on there. We passed those out and that’s the picture of Tech, he’s got that bracelet on his hand and I thought that was cool as hell man.
While reflecting on Jonny’s life and what he meant to those around him, there isn’t a shortage of words. He was the type of guy that made everyone feel better around him and provided an example of how we could all be at our best.
We would like to express our thanks for how grateful we at Strange Music are to have heard about Jonny’s story and life and cannot overstate how honored we are to have had him as a fan.
We can only hope to take his example and apply it to our own lives.