Ben & Me
by Logan K. Young
I’ve seen a lot of bands in my line of work. I’ve even been in a few, myself, but that was nine lives ago now. It’s not important. Really. For every show I’ve ever seen, there’s a thousand more that I did not. And for those thousands, there are at least one million I never will.
For the most part, I’ve resigned to this. I didn’t catch Neutral Milk or Oh-OK; I’ll never see Vic Chesnutt at Uptown. Life is cheap, but if you stick it out, it’s sometimes fair. To wit, I’ve since lasted long enough to witness Oh-OK (sans David Pierce) reunite at AthFest. More recently, I made it as far as Zuccotti Park to happen upon what’s left of Jeff Mangum doing “Oh Comely.” As long as you’re alive, chances are you’ll get a second chance.
Benjamin Smoke perished on January 29, 1999. And with his passing, so went whatever remaining providence to see him live, in-person. Be he Robert Dickerson, Opal Foxx or simply “Benjamin,” those are people who died. They were all my friends, each iteration, and they died. Persona non vita.
Granted, I didn’t really know Ben. Nor he me. But growing up one red state away, had the oracles saw fit, we could have been. Of course, being so close only made us that much more apart. True, time has helped heal what circumstance hath wrought, but ultimately, if I have but one regret regarding a single band I coulda, should’ve and would have seen, it’s gotta be Smoke.
In Athens. Cabbagetown be damned.
What does happen to a dream deferred? Well, if you’re from the heart of Davis’ South — like Ben and me — you get used to the breaking. And for nearly twelve months after Benjamin’s death, every time I heard “Chad” or “Abigail” or even “Hank Aaron,” my own heart shattered like so many knees on Sherman’s march to the sea.
Lucky me, then, the great director Jem Cohen came ‘round to sort the pieces from the char. Where there’s smoke, the saying goes, a fire once roared. And the Sunday after Grizzard’s Bulldogs got bested by Dickey’s Gamecocks, at Sanford, was the hottest night on record. That was the first time, you see, I allowed myself over to Benjamin Smoke.
So, it was September 11, 2011, and our eyes were watching Smoke — in Athens, ostensibly. Ten years removed from the atrocity of that original exhibition, I realize that shedding fanboy tears for one gender-bent drug addict sounds woefully undignified, itself. Then again, as my friend from Caledonia was quick to remind me during the end credits, I didn’t know anyone who died on 9/11.
Again, I didn’t personally know Ben. (And unless I’m totally underestimating my reach, he had no clue who I was either.) But if he could have, I’d like to think he would have laid down his life to keep the Towers closed to fire. Dulce et decorum est…
But again, that’s not the point. Really. For one night only, I got to watch Smoke play Athens. Yes, indeed, it was a cheap imitation, a shitty simulacrum, but at least it finally happened. Maybe now I can move on with my life.
From Athens to Cabbagetown, herself, may we all be so lucky in 2012.
Logan K. Young is a contributing writer for BLURT, Dusted and the Baltimore Sun. He’s also written for Paste, The Liminal and Lambda Literary and been published in Paris Transatlantic, Perfect Sound Forever and the Trouser Press Record Guide. Most recently, Young served as Editorial Director for the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon & Film Festival. His latest book, Mauricio Kagel: A Semic Life, is out now.
Art by Margarita Korol.