John Preston‘s life took a tragic turn when his oldest brother, the family rock, succumbed to post-traumatic stress and committed suicide. The passing of his brother was enough to make John consider ending his career. Instead, he found a new mission: partnering with the Valkyrie Initiative to find others like his brother, and, through music, encourage them to get help and grow.
John told me that, after his father’s passing, his oldest brother became the self-appointed superhero of the family.
“He was a veteran, he was Police officer for 20 years… we had lost my father six months prior; I think it just created a cycle of things that he wasn’t able to handle. And he, like most of us in our community, internalized it. It was one of those things where he had to be the hero of the family, he had to be the patriarch, he had to be superman. So, he kept it all in, and it eventually beat him.”
The Preston family was decimated by both losses in such a short amount of time. John recalled one moment at the funeral that summed up the disturbing and heartbreaking experience.
“When the Marines did the 21 Gun salute and they folded the flag, they folded it stripes out. And that was everything. The flag was folded. Stripes. Out. The whole day, everything that happened, it was so backwards and so wrong.”
“I woke up in the middle of the night singing this chorus, and I got up and wrote this song.”
John had dropped music and was inconsolable for several months. He even confessed to me that since (in his mind) he failed his family, he believed that he couldn’t help anyone else. But passion has a way of breaking through depression. Within a week, not only had he written “Superman Falls” from that chorus, he had an entire album, documenting his journey and the journey of his family through the pain of losing his brother.
Then, the Valkyrie Initiative called him, asking if he would like to donate a song to their Battle Cry album. The non-profit works to successfully facilitate the transition of Veterans, First Responders and their families using jobs and life skills training, animal therapy, systems education, and stress reduction. The CD’s would be burned and given out in exchange for donations to the organization. He saw the artist list for the 14-track album (including Scooter Brown Band, Ryan Weaver, and Dee Rock) and suddenly gained a vision of something far bigger. He called Pacific Records to see if they would pick up the album for official release. They agreed, and he immediately took on the role of producer to make his plan happen.
“My fun in all of this is getting everyone else to believe with me,” John said. “I always call it magic. When I’m striving for something, and something falls from the sky that wasn’t necessarily what I was going after; that happens a lot in life, and I consider it magic. ”
Success Through Struggle
On this journey, one memory sticks out for John more than others. While flying over Camp Pendleton on his way to sign with Pacific Records, he remembered his father training to be a Marine, earning a purple heart in Vietnam, and encouraging his sons to serve. It’s that spirit of service that keeps John moving forward in his mission.
“My goal, ultimately, is to find my brother in the crowd of the veteran community, the person that nobody expects… This isn’t the person that fits the typical stigma of what a tattered veteran is. This is someone that’s dealing with it internally, but he is everyone else’s go-to.”
That internal struggle, according to Preston, can often be channeled to bring about success. It’s all about getting help, and knowing that the diagnosis doesn’t have to mean failure or defeat.
“Ultimately it’s what we do to move through that,” he said. “I have Post Traumatic Stress… You can have that, and you don’t have to listen to what everyone else tells you you’re supposed to do with it. You can take it and do amazing things. Eight of the nine of us on that album are combat veterans. We’ve all seen sh*t. We all have. We’re doing incredible things, and we want to show the rest of the community that it’s possible.”
“Superman Falls” by John Preston is now available on pre-sale. The full Battle Cry album will be available for purchase on March 17th. For more information, you can follow John on social media, or visit the Valkyrie Initiative website.