Portrait: Seth Johnson
So today is Seth Johnson’s birthday. He means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I thought I would take this opportunity to tell you about this dude, share some stories, and wax poetic about what he has meant to me as I’ve made my home in this city.
In late summer, or maybe early fall, of 2014 I had been in Indianapolis just a short time, and was still trying to make some friends around my neighborhood. I was planning on heading up to a show at the erstwhile record store Vibes, and noticed a guy named Joe had posted in the event page looking for a ride up from Fountain Square. I ended up writing back to say I could get him up there, and we set a time to meet before the show. On my way to pick up Joe and “his friend”, which would end up being Seth, I remember being nervous like I was going on some sort of first date. I was having thoughts like, “Should I change the music?” and “Should I clean my car?” I ultimately decided that if these dudes who were headed up to the same weird show I was were going to get upset by the other weird music I was playing, then the issues at play were already out of my control. On the way up to the show, I don’t remember exactly what the three of us talked about, but I remember feeling like I was in my element before we had really gotten very far.
I remember that show being good, but the only artist I remember seeing specifically was John Flannelly, who is another one of my favorite people in the world, although that’s a story for another time. After the show, Joe mentioned he had other plans, and Seth had caught wind of a house show just picking up. I offered to go with Seth and we set out on what became our first adventure in the city.
When Seth and I set out, we were in the car, and he gave me the address of the house. I put it in my phone and then handed it to him and said, “Mind manning the GPS?” His response in that moment was a pretty pointed, “I can’t do that!” which to me, I took to be him feeling anxious about holding my phone or something. It was actually endearing, even though I misunderstood the situation. I ended up navigating to a pocket universe of a neighborhood whose street shapes didn’t give a shit about the nice grid of most of the city and instead took their directions from Fall Creek. I still have no earthly idea where that house was, and I probably never will. The house itself was trippy as hell too, with at least one wall covered in a mirror, and a main door that led you to almost directly behind the performer, or, in layman’s terms, exactly where I didn’t want to be as a newcomer to a scene on my second stop populated mostly by people I had never met.
That second show ended up being one of the strangest experiences of my early time in Indianapolis and included an interrogation over beer that I assumed was fair game (Look, my house show etiquette was developed in Bloomington, where anything goes is mostly an understatement, and any beer left unattended is for the common good.), seeing Sirius Blvck rapping over one of those 5-CD changer systems that I had as a kid in my bedroom, his vocals louder than the beats themselves, and a general feeling that what I was experiencing that just had to be weird by all standards, and would have been if I had already lived in Indy a lot longer. I don’t remember the details of what happened after we left to the letter, but I do remember having a feeling of camaraderie with Seth that I hoped would lead to us hanging out more.
Some other moments from that first year or so that I got to know Seth:
My brother thinking Seth was weird for using his magnifier on his phone, maybe assuming Seth just really liked to see the individual pixels of his phone’s screen.
Seth correcting my direction one night when we were making a cigarette run in a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with, saving me a long walk to nowhere.
Learning that he hates to be yelled at from across the street, even if you’re being nice.
Sitting on my porch for several hours while my brother Brandon basked in one of those pools you can get at Family Dollar, and cracking what felt like endless jokes.
Over the course of the five years that I’ve gotten to know Seth, what I’ve seen is the development of a fixture in our community and music scene. This guy can talk to anyone and listen with an open ear, and pull stories from their words that cast a bright light on myriad things to love about our city, and people in general. His enthusiasm about things in the city ranging from Public Transit, the Pacers, resources for the visually impaired, to music of all kinds has given him a voice that rails against the typical angst and ironic detachment that often comes with living in the Midwest. He has the kind of voice that improves the quality of life for everyone here by making you feel good for doing just that.
The person you will meet if you run into this guy in the wild is something to behold. Seth is the kind of person who will listen generously, but also fails to take any unnecessary shit from people who are careless with their words and thoughts. He is the kind of person who will keep you believing he can see the world clearer than you, even though a lot of his life is based around his inability to do just that. In short, he’s a person who can make you appreciate the fact that you are here and alive, and that what you care about matters. We need more Seths in the world right now to keep us in line and help us see all of the amazing things happening right under our noses in our community.
Right now, Seth and I are sitting ten feet apart in my yard, having a beer and listening to music. He has no idea what I’m working on. He’ll probably be a little pissed when he reads this.
Happy birthday buddy.