Capturing Traditional Beauty in Unexpected Modernity: Catching up with Jon Riggs

As I parked the motorcycle at the side of Jon’s private street, and bent to take the bottle of wine I had brought for dinner out of my fork-bag, I noticed the rips in my work-boots. I work for Costco, and steel toe work-boots {mine are Doc Martin’s… of course}, are required, and provided. The fact that I also ride a motorcycle, 100% of the time, makes it stand to reason that I am going to wear those boots often. In fact, I don’t even own any other shoes. There just never is really a need.

This usually does not bother me, whatsoever. What you see, is what you get.

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However, I am not often having dinner with Mr. Indigenous GQ, George Clooney-esque, fashion model, actor, film producer, director… the enigmatic Jon Riggs, and his fiancee in their beautiful, south Chandler, Arizona home. As I made my way to the door, bolstering myself up, and preparing to not seem too star-struck, I tried to forget about the rips in my shoes. What you see… is what you get.

Jon answered the door, shook my hand, and took the bottle of Apothic Red that I had brought. It seemed safe, and as much as I wanted to take a bottle of Ashbrook Cellars, Geronimo, my wife and I only bought two bottles of that limited edition, and…. well, she hid them. So Apothic Red, it was!

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Jon introduced me to his lovely plus one, who took the wine to let it chill from the Phoenix motorcycle ride it had just survived. Jon and I then sat in his family room, chatting, and as per usual, weaving one of my interviews into….. a conversation.

“I grew up poor”, Jon began, “and in high school my mother relocated our family to Phoenix in hopes of better opportunities. My first passion, was cars, and even as I worked other side jobs – I knew that there was something else out there for me, and I pushed for my own business in car restoration.

My past, hanging out with the wrong crowds, putting too much effort into my business and not enough effort into my home life, took a toll, and when the economy tanked back in the early 2000s, I lost my marriage and my business. I was at rock bottom, and I was depressed.”

I found myself thinking, as I listened to the tale of another artist’s rise from obscurity, how similar so many creative people are, how similar their lives are. And how different the reality of those lives are from the idea of that life, that a person might have… dreaming…. about a different world…. like the stars…. from a distant place….. The similarities did not stop there.

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“You remember MySpace, right”? Jon asked.

“Sure. Of course”.

“So one night, I messaged Adam Beach. I told him everything, and explained how I had aspirations to try my hand at acting. I asked him if he had any advice. Over the next few weeks, I periodically checked back with him, eventually sending him my contact information: hoping against the odds that he would respond.”

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The connections were obvious. I had sent similar messages to both Ken Lamberton, the acclaimed Arizona writer, and Stephen Ashbrook, the legendary Arizona musician. Both eventually responded, and both took a role in my first release on Ghost Writer Press: Spirits of Jerome. Neither asked for anything from me, instead, offering their expertise and support to another creative soul on the journey. They were in every way, just regular, real, good, people. What you see, is what you get.

“About six months later,” Jon continued, “I was bringing in the groceries, and my phone rang.  ‘Hey buddy, yáʼátʼééh.’ Who is this, I asked. ‘It’s Adam Beach. I got your messages, sorry it took so long. What can I do for you?’ ”

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Everything that got me started, from the advice to always believe in my dream, to pursuing education in Meisner Technique, to my first video camera, which he sent unannounced, because I had told him I couldn’t afford one, came from Adam Beach. When I asked him why he had bought such a wonderful gift for me, he answered, ‘ This is what I do. This is how I give back. Do something with it.’”

Everything I went on to do, is thanks to that one person believing in me, and having a desire to give back to his People. This example guides me in wanting to do the same thing. Which is why I go so far out of my way to go back to the Nation, to support activities and creative projects, to bring a bit of the small platform I have back to the Nation and try to do some good.”

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As I am prone to do, I found myself thinking about the parallels in the artistic community. Things that I as an independent writer was able to learn from film personalities, fashion models, music people… all of these creative minds, pounding away at the daily job of pursuing their dreams. One thing, that comes up often in these circles of aspiring artists, is projection. I asked Jon about the reality of faking it until you make it, as a creative dreamer.

Of course. It is an aspect of Manifestation correct? And I am a huge believer in Manifestation. You have to believe something into existence, and work on it daily, continually believing in your purpose. You have to, through hard work and effort, believe it into existence.”

If you had asked me, ten years ago, or many, many times along the road of the last decade, if I believed in the concept of Manifestation, I would have told you no. I would have told you that it may work for other people, but it never works for me. Then, one day, after a few months of really awful, seemingly continual tragedy, I made up my mind to start my own small published business. That was March of 2017. And here we are.

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So, Jon, there for a while, it seemed like you were everywhere. You were in Sante Fe, then Shiprock, then shooting a fashion series in Sedona, then back in Phoenix. You were a jet setter…. then poof…. you vanished! Where did you go? What happened to Jon Riggs?”

This became one of the more intimate parts of our visit, where Jon’s fiancee joined us and we talked about the division of public and private life. We talked about the need to step back from what we are doing in our creative worlds and realize there is another world that needs our attention. We talked about the need to take time to settle, to establish roots, especially when you move, before leaping off again without a solid foundation in family and commitment. We also talked about how that seven month hiatus, has costs. Social media is an amazing tool, and one that is completely free, and gives almost infinite access if used correctly…. but it is continual. Networking, on all levels, can be almost a full time job in and of itself, and disappearing for a half a year? Can be an eternity for an industry that moves at the speed of light.

 

My project Untold Darkness, was one of the first things effected by this break. When you are pushing a project, and trying to get people, and studios, and crews, and funding attached to it, you become a wheel spinning within wheels. Everyone has a timetable. I wrote the script for the project, a cultural/ horror/ suspense project bringing traditional Dine’ myth and folklore to the screen via stories, real life interviews, and reenactments. It had potential either as a series, for perhaps a studio like Netflix or Hulu or even as a feature film. Now, in many ways it about reestablishing those connections and moving forward with the project. Some people have moved on, others have come about. But we are getting very excited about the future of Untold Darkness!”

You also have a pretty awesome photo shoot coming up, correct, with JBA Luxury Motors? What exactly is the vision that you try to bring to these photo shoots?”

 

It kind of boils down to ‘What is a Native American’, I think. I am Dine’. I also like Armani. I like Gucci. I like nice cars. I can still be Native, and traditional, and still love what I love. This is the spirit that I try to bring to my projects. It is about breaking stereotype and breaking expectation. There is something fascinating, and ultimately beautiful and timeless, about colorful, traditional Dine’ fashion juxtaposed with the completely unexpected modernity of luxury cars and big city lights. Cultural freedom is about pushing against those expectations and being free to flourish and grow and be yourself… without having to sacrifice your traditional culture.”

Its almost like the focus has shifted to What We Are…. from Who We Are.

Can it be difficult, at times, being Dine’ and living off the Nation? Does it changes people’s perspective of you? Does it make giving back…. different… or difficult?”

“For me, the most important part of giving back to my People, is not taking from them. The Nation is poor, but they have big dreams. The children have stars in their eyes just like any other child, but the opportunities are infinitely different. I do not believe it is helpful to take from my People, I believe it is far more beneficial to bring something of the voice that I have back to them, to support them, to help push their endeavors. In this way, I am able to give of myself in a way that is immediately helpful to my aspiring People.”

Eventually, we moved into the living room, for a more in-depth actual interview, on camera. I find myself laughing even as I write this! Folks, I am a writer. I am quite the character. But, friends, I am completely camera shy, and Barbara Walters I am not. LOL. Jon, perhaps a blooper reel is in order. A I blush, sheepishly. Enjoy my friends, and be gentle! Jon was a fantastic coach, and I am always thankful for a new opportunity!

As I walked away from a wonderful evening with two beautiful new friends. I found myself once again, staring down at the rip in my boots.

My new book…. support a great cause…. check it out on Amazon.com

 

Never once had Jon made a reference to the tear in my leather boot. Never once, did he make me feel like less, for being a jeans and work-boots kind of dude. That is who I am. What you see is what you get. But, as nervous as I had been in a lengthy interview and friendly chat with a man of impeccable taste, never once had that nervousness come from him. In fact, it could be said he was equally concerned, his very ideology, asserting: ‘Do not judge me. I am Dine’ and I like nice things’, was on his mind. In a weird way…. Jon in Burberry and wearing a Rolex juxtaposed with me in a quirky, comic-book character take on a western shirt, jeans, and ripped work-boots, set up exactly the kind of surreal environment that was fitting for our conversation.

Because in the end….

 

Keep the Greasy Side Down My Friends.

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