THE FINAL SPIN
Rodney Wiley, 1968-2020
The life of the party has moved on to the afterlife.
Rodney Wiley, aka DJ Rodney O, died last weekend after a bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 52.
Although, friend Dave Levy might say, he wasn’t 52, but more like 24 and a half on his 28th rotation.
Not to suggest that Rodney’s was a case of arrested development. Far from it. Rodney just knew who he was, was grateful for the gifts life presented, lived hard and lived well.
He was born in Van Nuys on June 21, 1968 and spent his youth in the San Fernando Valley, graduating from Birmingham high school.
And as he said in a video tribute made by his pal Jordan Burns (who used to drum for the punk band Strung Out – one of his many friends from the music industry), his original dream was to become a professional snowboarder. So he moved to Mammoth during the 1991-1992 season and got a job as a liftie.
But before he’d left the Valley, he’d become interested in DJ’ing thanks to friends DJ Aero and DJ Ice and bought some of his own equipment.
He learned on vinyl – no tech shortcuts.
His first gigs were house parties. At his house. Which the cops kept busting up.
One day, then-Mammoth Lakes Police Sgt. Paul Dostie says to him, “Why don’t you go make something of yourself?”
The context being: You throw really successful parties and you clearly have an audience. Can’t you get hired someplace where these parties are legal?
Rodney listened. And Ed Hurley hired him at Ocean Harvest (where the Red Lantern is now located).
Hurley, among others, immediately saw that Rodney had that gift of being able to read a room. “And if it wasn’t working, he’d switch it up on the fly.”
“It wasn’t about his taste in music,” said Colleen. “It was about his ability to read a room and understande the vibe.”
Greg Alexander, former owner of Whiskey Creek, said that when Rodney first broke
onto the scene, Mammoth was a live band, rock ‘n roll town, and Alexander almost exclusively booked live music on the weekends. But there was an issue when the band tooks its breaks: the dance floor would clear out and the bar area got ridiculously crowded and the fire marshals would give Alexander a hard time.
So he initially hired Rodney to DJ on weekends (expanding upon Wild Wednesdays) to keep people on the dance floor and disperse the crowd a little better.
So there’d be 45-minute band sets and 15-minute Rodney sets.
In pretty short order, said Alexander, that formula was flipped. 15-minute band sets and 45-minutes of Rodney.
Rodney was the party.
But what made him truiy compelling was his character. As Mike McKenna, a former bar manager at Whiskey, said this week, “He was the coolest guy in town and also a truly nice person. A rare combo.
From friend Dave Levy:
“I met Rodney in Mammoth in 1995 as a visitor through some friends of a friend. We liked each other immediately … in that 20-something year old dude too cool sort of way. I moved to Mammoth the following Fall (‘96) and my wife and I landed at Mountain Shadows Condos, where it turns out Rodney also resided. We hung out here and there in the months that followed, mostly at Ocean Harvest and such. By the following summer I was working as a Bike Park Ranger at MMSA. In late summer I went over the bars at speed and blew up my shoulder, requiring several weeks in a sling. Meanwhile, I’d scheduled a firewood delivery and many of the pieces turned out to be oversized, thus requiring another hand split to be usable. Furthermore, they needed to be thrown up to our 2nd floor unit deck and stacked.
So I’m out there one afternoon with a maul in my one properly-usable hand trying to split the big pieces when Rodney rolls into the complex. Seeing this rather pitiful sight, he asks what exactly my plan is, revealing of course that I had none. He then proceeds to spend the next couple of hours splitting those pieces, and then playing catcher on the deck and stacking our wood. Perhaps not so much a remarkable story, but the casualness with which he instantly shifted into “well let’s do this then” mode is very indicative of how he rolled. He was always down to help in real time, and yet always surprised and humbled when others acted the same towards him.”
Brent Truax at Sierra Nevada Resort echoed Levy. “If you needed help, he helped. It didn’t matter the nature of the help required or the time of day … he was happiest when others were happy.”
Rodney met his wife Colleen on the Millennial New Year’s Eve, 1999. She was cruising the scene with a friend and they ended up at Ocean Harvest, where Rodney was working.
Little did Colleen realize that her friend had an ulterior motive – she had a thing for DJ Aero, who was visiting that night.
So the friend disappeared with Aero and Colleen was abandoned in the DJ booth with Rodney.
“I fell in love with his sincerity, kindness, sense of humor and spontaneous ‘live for the moment’ approach to life,” says Colleen.
And Rodney of Colleen: “You’re the yin to my yang.”
They dated a year-and-a-half before they moved in together. And then lived together another 12 years before Rodney proposed – which caught Colleen by surprise.
They were married at June Mountain on June 27, 2015.
As Rodney said in an interview with The Sheet last November after he’d received a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, “Of course, I’m freaked out, I’d like another ten years, fifteen years. But … I’ve also lived one of the best lives anyone can live. I got to be a professional DJ. I surfed around the world. I’ve lived 100 years in 50.”
This wasn’t just Rodney deluding himself into acceptance. This was really how he felt. As Colleen said, “Even in his early 30s, he would say that if he died tomorrow, he’d be okay with it as he had already lived a great life.”
Truth be told about Rodney’s musical taste? Here’s a clue from his wife:
“On roadtrips, when the Sirius XM was on and he was controlling the radio, he’d play reggae and hip hop.”
And Mammoth’s Reggae Festival she says, was Rodney’s favorite local festival.
He is survived by his wife Colleen, mother Patricia, older sister Sheri and brother-in-law William Brown, as well as by his dog Moorea, a German Shepherd mix. His father Douglas preceded him in death.
Colleen says she’s hoping to host a celebration of Rodney’s life for the local community sometime in June, Covid permitting.
If you want to honor Rodney in the meantime, heed his words: “If you’re laughing and smiling, you’re the winner in life.”