Driving to the funeral of a Copper Center teenage girl whose death was alcohol-related, Ken Johns, of the Glennallen area wondered what he could do to curb the use of alcohol among young people.
“The song ‘Staying Alive’ came on the Anchorage radio and I thought maybe I would try to use that song to put it in perspective,” said Johns, a current board member and former president of Ahtna Inc., one of 13 Alaska Native regional corporations established under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.
“‘Staying Alive’ is about positive things you can do, but the song also says ‘going nowhere.’ There’s a lot of negativity in that.”
The lyrics of the hit song written by the BeeGees in the 1970s for the soundtrack of “Saturday Night Fever” seemed to fit the message Johns wanted to get across, especially the chorus: Whether you’re a brother/Or whether you’re a mother/You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
The song’s infectious disco beat also seemed a good background for delivering the message that a sobriety-led life can be filled with joy.
Johns took his idea for a music video with a sobriety message to Bruce Cain, Ahtna’s vice president of administration and finance, and Cain pointed Johns toward Paul Gray of Soldotna. Not only is Gray’s weekly television show, “Exploring Alaska,” seen across the state, the nation and in other countries, but he also has dedicated his efforts to programs with an Alaska Native perspective.
“I told him exactly what I wanted to do and he put it together,” said Johns.
Gray understood that Johns’ vision was for a video that emphasized “the positive things you can do in life to help you succeed and be a better person, but if you fall under the influence of alcohol, here’s some of the roadblocks you’ll probably encounter,” said Gray.
Cain also pulled in the participation of Liana Charley-John of the Ahtna Heritage Foundation in Glennallen, and she involved Amanda Maxin and the Ahtna Heritage Dancers.
Through Charley-John’s input, the project expanded to include two songs.
“(Johns) wanted the ‘Staying Alive’ version, and as we were working on it, we started to look at who our target audience was: young people,” said Charley-John.
Thinking disco a bit outdated, Charley-John suggested using the rap song “Stand Up” by Ken Johns’ nephew, Samuel Johns. Born out of the 27-year-old musician’s personal struggle with alcohol, the lyrics seemed to connect with the purpose of the project: There’s a lot of problems in this world/But anybody or anyone/It doesn’t matter who you are/You can have a solution to anything/It’s up to you to let it out/Let’s not point fingers but put our heads together/Everybody stand up with your faith.
Samuel Johns agreed with the connection.
“It’s pretty much about all the problems that were going on in my life,” he said. “Most of my lyrics are against alcohol.”
When Gray was asked if he could re-do the video, switching the rap song for the disco piece, he offered another solution: one video with two songs.
For inspiration, Gray turned to his Baha’i faith, which forbids the use of drugs and alcohol unless there is a medical benefit.
“To see other people see the benefit of living without alcohol is a powerful manifestation of people’s freewill to choose to be their best,” said Gray. “That’s what made me thrilled to be part of this.”
The final product is script-free. The six-and-a-half minute video combines music-backed scenes that draw comparisons and, through the comparisons, deliver the intended message. Based on positive feedback since the video premiered in Anchorage recently, Charley-John is encouraged about the impact it will have.
“Kids are going to see what we talked about as we developed it, the good times you have in your life versus the negative, the sorrowful grief, the hurtful things you bring in when you bring alcohol into your life,” said Charley-John.
For Ken Johns, the video is just what he had in mind, including the scene of a group of smiling, happy youngsters walking down a school hallway with “Staying Alive” playing in the background.
“It starts with a positive. They look like they’re having fun,” said Johns.
• To view the video, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQBF96yhDuA.
• Ahtna can be contacted in Anchorage at (907) 868-8250 or Glennallen at (907) 822-3476.
• For more information on Paul Gray and Exploring Alaska, visit www.exploring- alaska.com.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.