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Goodbye Ben Bernthal
Posted March 14, 2016 by Seth Johnson

 

On Wednesday, I went and said goodbye to a good friend of mine named Ben Bernthal before his move to Japan. Over the past few years, Ben has brought a smile to my face time and time again, whether it’s been through his bands (Memory Foam, Accordions, Peter and the Kings) or simply through his kindness. In fact, I even remember the first time I met him over two years ago, when I was new to Fountain Square (it was in the Bonesetters’ kitchen at an after party, Carrington knows).

With this in mind, I decided to reach out to some of Ben’s close friends, asking them to write up goodbye messages to Ben.

Chris Dance

I have known of Ben Bernthal for years. I saw him in a basement with the Accordions and again at Big Car when it was still in the Murphy Building. He had a powerful way of belting out his poetic language while delicately balancing his posture on a toenail. I had never seen anything like it.

Almost two-and-a-half years ago, I was asked by him to play for a project he said would be a "psychedelic soul band.” Two-and-a-half years from that point we have a giant stack of recordings and memories and people that I will never forget.

He is and will always be a bit of an enigma to me, and I like it. He is a magical person, who has helped to grow a community of diversely beautiful and talented people. He is the bible holding the couch up; just a really solid guy.

Dan Snodgrass

Dear Ben,

My globetrotting brunch friend, best of luck in your travels abroad and many musical favors to you! Thanks for the shirt off your back and the songs you've shared with so many of us throughout your tenure in Indy. I'm sure you'll return with many stories to revel in over beers and dances!

Be well,

Dan

 

Duncan Kissinger

Hey Ben,

Wish I were a better roommate and friend. Hope you find what you're looking for. "Junkyard" is still my favorite song.

- Duncan

Ben Leslie

Ben's music always evolves or changes before you get a chance to really indulge in it. So, I suppose him moving is another example of that.

Andrew Malott

I've been a fan of anything Ben has been a part of for years, from Accordions to Memory Foam, and including side projects like Consumers (EP in a Weekend). It's been such a joy getting to know him over the past few years. Ben is the kind of person who is just great to be around. I was honored to get to play guitar with him in Memory Foam. Like many people, I hope Ben comes back to Indianapolis at some point. It's a brighter place with him in it. But so is any place where he goes. I wish him all the best in his journeys and hope that safe travels bring him wherever he goes.

 

BC Nelson

Hey Ben,

I can't articulate how glad I am to have had a chance to play with you and everyone else in Memory Foam.  I've never been good at farewells so I'll just say best of luck in Japan and don't ever stop making music. 

 

Derek Johnson

Have a wonderful trip.  Looking forward to your return!

 

Lisa Sullivan

Ben,

Before we became friends, I was always drawn to your songs. What a joy it was to be your roommate and experience coming home to your voice and music filling the house. Watching you perform a song that I've heard from its birth is an honor, and I thank you for it. Your passions and creativity will always impact the lives and imaginations of those around you. Blessings on this journey, dear friend, you are loved and will be missed.

Warmly,

Lisa

Jason Neuman

My first memory of Ben is faint. I went to see my great friend and a favorite songwriter from my college days, Arrah and the Ferns, at the now-defunct, and much missed Earth House. The Accordions opened. This was a strange band I thought. A little guy with a mustache playing accordion and instruments I wasn't even sure of. The name, it must be accordion based. What is this? Autoharp? A memory that didn't last. Hung. Swirling around before I lived in this city. Years later, we met. I'm not sure where. How and where in this small neighborhood was never important. But Ben was always outside of the typical drunk, bar encounters. Conversations always seemed more immediate and of more significance than most drunken nights out in a small neighborhood.  I left town and reemerged with a need for residence. I moved in with Ben and his then girlfriend Wendy. Over the next two years, from one house to the next, I lived in maybe the most inspired, and creative time of my life. I lived with poets and a musician. I was inspired to craft my longtime love of writing into something more focused than I ever knew how before. The inspiration came from something that seemed more genuine than I was used to. There were instruments abound and I would, oftentimes reluctant, wake up from naps to the same songs being rehearsed midday from my poet, musician turned teacher housemate. Sometimes I would be frustrated, but I always knew these songs were inspired and heart felt. I wanted more. I began learning guitar. So did Ben. He always told me he didn't understand guitar. The notes weren't laid out like the piano he was used to, from a long line of Lutheran organists before him. One winter, we were snowed in. I had learned some bar chords. We formed a band for a few days. JC Neuman and the housemates. Ben played drums. His first instrument. One he would reform and change what I understood to be percussion with Peter and the Kings. We played surf rock in the middle of the winter. I felt inspired again. He was a musician who picked up guitar much faster than I could or ever will. It was a new instrument to him, but like any natural and practiced musician, he added it to his arsenal. A gifted songwriter.

For the next couple years, I heard the same songs rehearsed and tweaked day in and day out. Sometimes, the weeks would pass without practice, but when he picked one back up, something new had inspired him. Travels to far off countries or cities. Or just a new experience had inspired Ben to change the shape of the song. In and out of my dreams, these songs took shape. And on the last day in the city, he played his finished, recorded songs. Songs that he had worked and I had heard for five years. They now had added elements of practice, band mates, preparation and recording. Listening to the "finished" product, I found myself desiring to dance. Desiring to fuck. Desiring to share myself in ways I never had before. They come from within me. From within a small man with a mustache and glasses. From one of the most sincere and gentle humans I've ever known. Ben has a way of conversing with people. Of digging deep and going beyond what I am used to with relationships formed at bars. He cares deeply about living and the moments he involves himself in. Seeing Memory Foam and Peter and the Kings toward the end was empowering. Not as frequent as other local bands, the intimate times they performed moved me.  The lyrics were unusual and the melodies beautiful. His music was sexy and beautiful. Intimate and epic at the same time. We share many mutual interests in the ways of literature, poetry and music. And above all, we share in this experience of life that transcends any label. I will forever be inspired and moved by Ben's music and songwriting, but further more, I will be motivated to live life much more fully, through the motivation of Ben's everyday experience. He will be missed, not just through his music, but through his grace and his presence.

All photos provided by Kipp Normand and Ben Leslie

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