When Brian Took His Life
From Brian’s Funeral
Photos by Jake Warga
(This piece aired on PRI’s This American Life, 03/15/2003)
Notes from Jake Warga, 6/11/01
“No one will really know what Brian was thinking or feeling. The only tools I had to make sense of what he was going through was a recorder and my ear. I soon realized that if I could not change him, then I was going to document the experience. In July of ’99, I went to visit him after he attempted suicide, I clipped a mic on him and simply asked: why?
I’m not a professional radio producer… I’m a friend. I chose radio because I don’t think it’s important what Brian looks like, his emotions come through in his voice. When you close your eyes, you hear Brian, but you can see anyone. Maybe someone you know, maybe someone you love, maybe yourself. Television robs you of that potential connection, that potential intimacy.
One night last month, his brother called me to say that Brian was dead. None of us could say we didn’t see it coming, but that did little to soften the blow. I flew down the next day and the two of us worked on taking care of things. I gave him, and their cousin, a tape of the story. They were touched and thanked me greatly for doing it.
This is the second version of the story. The first cut I made was for Brian. In the ending, I simply stated that I didn’t know if he were getting better or not. It was my way of reaching out to him, now it has been my way of closure. He asked that no one we knew hear the tape unless he were dead, then he wouldn’t care.
When I moved to Seattle last year, a friend and I did a story called “Street Dogs” that aired on KUOW. I called the station and they asked me to shape “Brian” to 23 min. This is the version here. It hasn’t aired yet. I had to do most of the work over again since I had little idea about how to edit without blundering my way through – so I turned to the Internet and found transom.org. I used a lot of their tips in editing, and though I still don’t know exactly how it works, I didn’t loose any files this time.
In this second version of the story, I talked more about how his death affected me. Because it is a personal story for both of us. I’ve experienced the loss of people older than I, but never a friend. And in the end, this is still, and always will be, a gift to my friend Brian.”
A Note From Transom
We at Transom think this is a strong story for many reasons. It is intensely personal, as Jake says, “a gift,” but it reaches out too. It stops you. It has identity.
We also feel strongly about this piece because it proves the point of Transom.org. It was made independently with the help of tools found here and now stands on this stage. We think this is important. We hope Jake keeps making pieces, so that someday he can say he *does* work in public radio.
Jake Warga – I’m afraid I don’t have much to contribute about my career in Radio as I don’t actually work in radio. This is the first story I’ve produced, one of three (Editor’s Note: more will be featured on Transom.org in the future). Another story I did with a friend (Matt Perry) was about homeless street kids with dogs here in Seattle; “Street Dogs” aired on KUOW in April.
I love the radio and grew up listening to old time radio shows on KNX 1070 in L.A. each evening in high school. Then in college I gained a healthy addiction to NPR. After college I worked on feature horror films in Hollywood as a camera tech; it’s then I started bothering the sound department for information and tips. I ended up falling in love with MiniDiscs.
Next I moved to Seattle for no reason in particular aside from going back to school for health science. I tired of that after 6 months, though chemistry was fun to learn. With my Mac lap-top , the cheapest mixer I could find, ProTools Free, and a rainy day, I retreated and started editing. Now I’m waiting to start grad school in the fall for Visual Anthropology. Ideally, I will travel and write, documenting people and cultures as I go.