Interview | ‘Mourning Son’ Dave Navarro Discusses His Mother’s Murder And Overcoming Fear
Dave Navarro, the former guitarist of Jane’s Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers, has delved into a new artistic endeavor, and one that’s more personal than any music project he’s been involved with. In 1983, when Navarro was 15, his mother Constance and her friend Sue Jory were brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Riccardi. Navarro explores this tragic event in a new documentary, Mourning Son, which he produced with director Todd Newman.
Navarro is the centerpiece of this film, which also marks his first foray into filmmaking. In addition to being on camera as the narrator and investigator of this horrible tragedy, he did all of the legwork and research and was involved in the lengthy editing process. The end result is a story of hope and survival after a very dark tragedy. Navarro opens up about the journey this filmmaking process sent him on in this exclusive interview.
CraveOnline: What was it like to bring this story out in the open for everyone to watch?
When we first started the project it was just me and partner Todd Newman. We did this about as independent as you could. We literally got in the car with video cameras and started shooting a film and funded it ourselves and there was nobody else involved in the project, so we got to edit it. It was a pretty personal, safe journey. At the onset we weren’t really aware that it could have some helpful value to others. We were just making a project and seeing which way it went, and as we got going, it became clear to us that this could be a helpful film for other trauma survivors, other people who have lost loved ones, other victims of domestic violence.
It’s already proven itself to be pretty rewarding. We’ve received a lot of thanks from people who can identify — and sometimes they don’t even identify — with something that’s tragic. They identify with loss, and that’s the underlying theme that speaks to people, or at least the ones that have seen it and gotten back to us.
How did this tragedy impact your life, and did it have any impact on your music?
I definitely focus on some of the different ways in which I attempted to deal with things, and maybe some exploration in terms of drug addiction and things of that nature, some more harmful avenues of living that ultimately didn’t work for me.
I find personally the music element of my life was one of the most positive elements I could have focused on, and it gave me a creative outlet. So we talk about that to a degree, but by no means is this a music film. It was more like a cautionary tale in terms of “Ok, here’s a pretty tragic thing and there’s a number of ways in which you can turn to deal with it,” and I turned to a lot of those things and found no peace. So ultimately I had to face it head on.
And also in the sense that it’s not really going to ever be something that ever goes away from your life. If you’re a trauma survivor, it’s more about learning how to cope, and learning how to live, and learning how to love and move beyond it.
What message do you hope this film sends about domestic violence?
One of the messages that I also wanted to convey, which I think we do, is that I’ve seen things that are very difficult to imagine, the worst case scenario. Our brains don’t typically want to go there, by and large, so I wanted to let people know that, “Yes, the unimaginable can happen and there are warning signs, and it’s imperative that steps be taken to protect yourself.” We definitely get into a couple of organizations that I work with like Nomore.org and Linda’s Voice.
We didn’t get into the timing of the specific crimes in the film, but back in the early ‘80s there was no Internet, there weren’t the resources that we have today, and there wasn’t the information that is available today. I would just urge anyone who finds themselves in that type of environment, or even if you know someone in that type of environment, to help get that information.
What actually changed for you after all those years of not knowing where he was, when John Riccardi was finally behind bars?
I haven’t thought about that. Other than the knowledge that a killer is apprehended – that alone is a pretty drastic event to take place. The only thing that really changed is that it began a new chapter in the journey of moving forward. Because at that point it wasn’t really about him. It was really about getting our lives back. And so certainly we were happy.
Having lived for years in fear of not knowing where this killer was and if he was hunting you, how does that impact you today as we live in a world with terrorist acts like San Bernardino?
I can’t determine the level of somebody else’s fear, so it’s hard for me to compare what I feel to what everybody else feels, but it’s a different kind of fear. In today’s climate in the world and what’s happening with mass shooting and terrorism, it’s a different kind of fear. That’s a fear of the unknown. At this point it’s more likely than a natural disaster, so these are global elements that affect us as communities and as human beings. These are fears that we can all connect and identify with and find some common ground with one another.
I would say that it certainly affected my perception of personal fears. After having faced all the things that I’ve faced with my family, and going to sit face-to-face with the killer, and walking through those fears, walking on stage in front of a live festival audience really isn’t that big of a deal. It puts perspective on the things that we typically find fearful in our personal life for me. It doesn’t make the festival audience any less scary, but I can take a breath and say to myself, “You’ve walked through much more difficult and challenging things than this. This is going to be a cakewalk.” And center myself and calm down.
What role has social media played in allowing you to connect with fans and find balance in your life?
I don’t know if I’m the smartest user of social media. I don’t really think about it that much. It’s become this element in my life that is there, and that’s a way to reach people. I use it to communicate with my friends and to be funny and to be random and to share things that I think are interesting. It’s just become an extension of myself in a weird way, like all my social media platforms have just become another limb. I have two arms, two legs, and social media.
What has digital distribution opened up for Mourning Son as a way to connect directly with a large audience?
We had a complete finished product before we even knew how we were going to get it anywhere. We hadn’t even though of that. So then we got our distributor onboard and we talked about different options and how we would get it out and I was like, “Listen, I don’t need to do the festival circuit. I don’t need to do theatrical screenings. What I want is this thing to live online because I feel like that’s where it’s going to get the most eyes.” So our distributor helped get us on DirecTV and on iTunes and all of those platforms where content like this lives. It’s great because I can just tell the people who are interested online like, “Hey, if you’re interested in this film, here’s where you can see it.” I mean this is a self-funded independent films, which is certainly not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch of the imagination.
We didn’t do this to make a buck. I don’t even know if we’ll recoup, and that’s not even the point. To me this was an artistic project and something we wanted to do. On a technical side we were really interested in making a feature length film and we happened to take on probably the most difficult subject matter we can imagine and the most difficult genre, which is documentary storytelling.
What did you learn about filmmaking from this endeavor?
In the process of making a documentary I discovered at a certain point you have to just say this is done, because it can go on forever. You can literally make a documentary film forever. Someone says something, all of a sudden you’ve got to chase down that footage and talk to people to verify what that person said. And then they say something else and then you need to find the archived footage to back that up. And then you go in the archive house and you find something else that’s great, and then you put that in there and then you need to find somebody to talk about that, and it will never end. We discovered that the hard way. No one told us how to make a movie. We just went and did it. So it’s been great to put this online and just say, “Ok, here it is world.”