This is the third instalment in a nostalgic series of articles by guest writer Em Johnson, where she interviews people she admired in her youth.
From the east coast, to the west coast, gotta gotta gotta go …
Er … from the south west, to Yorkshire, to Florida?! The series continues ….
Today’s friend lives a life that seems glamorous to many – Ben Childs (or Ben Boom, as he will forever be to me) has lived in the US for some time now. Thanks to the internet, I still get to see the life he has, the songs he plays, and the person he is. And I know he still tracks us at home too. But the internet only tells you so much, right?
I asked Ben about when we first met – he was a guy who seemed to me to have everything. His talent astounded me. He literally bounced. He has a smile that blows everyone away. I don’t think I realised it was more complicated than that. I don’t think I knew much, but I guess I was 21.
“I was pretty shy unless I was drunk, but luckily we were all drunk, all the time, so that solved that.
“Sonic Boom Six filled a gaping hole in my life. It was a social group, a philosophy, a lifestyle, a passion, everything to me, really, at that time. I didn’t fit in at university, but I was very wide eyed and ambitious at that age. We all were.
“You were putting on shows and propping up the scene at a local level. You were always nice to me and I always enjoyed your company. You gave me opportunities to play when I started to strike out on my own as well. Although I had other groups of friends, I felt safe and at home in the Manchester scene.”
Ben is two and a half years older than me – remember when that kind of age distance seemed huge? Ben was a cool grown up when I was at uni. It’s taken me till my late 30’s to realise it’s not that easy.
“I was a pretty clueless young man when I moved to Manchester. Once I broke the surface, I met some very interesting and talented Manchester musicians. I was arrogant and scared at the same time. A fragile ego for sure! I didn’t really know where I belonged.
“I remember feeling like I had something to add to the musical conversation and being willing to go to any lengths to prove it. If I had been more balanced and self reliant I would have perhaps been more effective as a musician at that age, but my slightly unhinged idealism had some benefits. It was the source of much creativity. I am not really embarrassed at who I was. I understand that I had to go through that to come out the other side.”
At this point in the interview series, I usually dwell on how I was at the time I first knew my friend. What a different person I was. My adult embarrassment at that.
It’s taken me a few weeks to write this up, because Ben’s responses were hard to process, for reasons that are mainly my own.
When I started this series, I thought it would help me and others find peace through memory. I should have remembered that life isn’t as straightforward as that.
“Pre-Sonic Boom Six, I was a lost little boy in a big city taking drugs to try and numb the fear and with no real focus but a lot of ideas and creativity.
“Mid-Sonic Boom Six was quite a good phase. I had direction and purpose and the touring was hard but fascinating. The friendships we made in the van were strong and meaningful. I was a bit of a burden because I was an alcoholic. I didn’t understand what that meant until recently but, now I do understand it, I have regrets that I wasn’t more reliable and that I let people down sometimes.
“A good example of that is when I broke my hand two days before a European tour, punching a wall in an argument with my then girlfriend, now wife, Christie. If I had not been drinking it wouldn’t have happened and I would have saved everyone a lot of bother. That kind of thing happened a lot.”
I’ve been involved in music long enough for Ben’s words to be reminiscent of a lot. Many faces flash before me. Many other tales are told through his.
“I managed to sustain a kind of distorted, bloated adolescence until honestly a couple of years ago. I hadn’t confronted my issues and they only grew worse. I was functional and productive but unreliable and unhealthy. The big decision I had to make … obviously … was to stop drinking.
“Once I committed to that, everything else started to come together. My life has taken shape in a way that I didn’t dream possible. My band is doing great, my podcast 561 Music is off to a great start, and I am healthy and no longer depressed and anxious.
“I’m not saying I don’t have my moments, but in general I am much better. I think about myself less, without thinking less of myself. This is down to therapy, going to some ‘meetings’ and a short spell in a rehab. Now, with a year and a half clean and sober, I feel I have allowed myself to properly mature. It sounds absurd to say as a 40 year old man, but it is the truth.”
These days, Ben is amazingly busy. He gigs socially distanced, he runs a podcast, he teaches, and he is confident enough to talk with pride about the man he is. My heart busts with pride too.
“I have a kind and loving family who have always supported me through my adventures and endeavours. They provided a pretty solid foundation for current me. I am very proud of what Sonic Boom Six achieved just through determination and hard work. That will always be the thing I am proudest of.
“The mistakes I made with substance abuse and alcoholism were, of course, symptoms of deeper psychological problems that I have dealt with in therapy and in AA.
“It took me bouncing along the bottom for as long as I did to finally come to my senses, so even though there is wasted time there and I regret that and the strain it put on my wife and family and friends, I am also glad that I reached a place where I could say ‘enough is enough’ and turn my story around. Some people just have to take more of a beating than others I guess! Some people stick it out for life. I’m glad I don’t have to.”
So, for those of us who recognise some of this, what advice?
“I think past me would be amazed that I know how to live a suburban existence, pay bills on time and hold down a job!
“I was reckless and irresponsible when I was younger; a free spirit, some might say. Now I have enough mental fortitude and presence of mind to hold my life together and stand on my own two feet without being co-dependent and I think past me would be impressed. He would probably be mad that I am overweight, though, and a little disappointed that I am not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame!
“My story is not a particularly unique one but I choose now, at this age, to be honest and open about it … from my substance abuse and mental health struggles, to my background and upbringing. Take me or leave me, this is who I am and what I am doing.”
Life isn’t straightforward. Apparently I needed to talk to my friends to remember that and find hope. Imagine….
Ben left Sonic Boom Six and moved to America some years ago, however he’s now playing in No Name Ska Band and Killbillies.
“Killbillies can play regular rock show 45 minute type sets all the way up to 4 or 5 hour paid shows, and it is how I make the lion’s share of my living. I also play in a ska-punk band called the No Name Ska Band. We will be releasing our second EP Side Two in the next couple of months. I have started a joke 70’s rock band called Sex Wizard for fun, so keep your eyes peeled for news on that.”
Read Em Johnson’s other articles here.
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