William Benton

I would start at the beginning if I had a clear and honest perception of where that was . . .

I am proud and only slightly intimidated by the invitation to write about my experiences, thoughts, dreams, and life in New York City. As my mind and life tend to work, my contributions here will likely not adhere to any particularly accurate chronology or linear string of events.

Instead, I will be providing erratic and random installments from my entire life, a process which I feel is the only way to effectively share any kind of story that I might have.

I promise it’s more fun that way.


When things began to change in a way that aimed me to New York, the wave swept large and hard: my marriage had ended before it had really begun, I had grown frustrated with my shrinking involvement and dwindling energies for a band that was otherwise doing quite well for the level at which we found ourselves operating, and I fell deeply and dangerously in love with somebody who wanted and offered everything that neither of us could provide for the other.

Mostly, though, I just felt . . . done.

I feared that I had arrived at my pre-midlife crisis a spent piece of meat with nothing else to do or offer that might make me look forward to any sort of future. It made more sense to stop than to persist. It’s only now that I fully realize that. I was — for a lack of a more dignified word — “depressed.”

I have been playing in bands for over half of my life now, starting in rural Oklahoma sometime when I was seventeen. I had the naive gift of not knowing any better and growing up completely miserable and very much alone.

While that upbringing sounds far from something to be proud of, I very much am. I was forced to nurture something that is still being developed by way of being isolated from a majority of trends. There was no “scene,” just a lot of random items that would make it through a very mysterious filter. I had to search and dig to find inspiration because it sure as hell wasn’t revealing itself to me.

I had loved music since my earliest memories, but it didn’t really occur to me that I could actually play and write until I got into punk rock.

I figured that once I started playing and decided that it was my avenue for happiness, it was as simple as stumbling into a city and getting to work: Everything else would fall into place if one just worked hard, did something original, yadda yadda yadda . . . .

Now, at 34, that perception embarrasses me slightly. It was an honest mistake, on my part, to think that hard work and sincerity would guarantee anything in this world — especially in the areas of art and music.

My life has taught me something very different — and nearly opposite—in this latest half.

After many years of many various attempts at bands, the latest two have provided me with a little bit of redemption. My previous band had music licensed by MTV to be used in their grotesque programming in any way they saw fit.

Somehow, they saw our music as complementing one of America’s more notorious cultural atrocities, Jersey Shore. Fortunately, this surreal occurrence came at a time in my life where I could laugh about the whole thing rather than get upset. I don’t have to watch it. (I don’t and I won’t.)

I joined my current band, The Phantom Family Halo, a couple of years back just as our drummer passed away. He was an old friend, but the fact that we had gotten closer near the end of his life almost seemed in preparation for his early, tragic demise.

He was the second of three friends to pass away by some type of self-destruction, and with his passing came an undeniable wake-up call. My peers and I were clearly passing the thirty-year-mark and our lives were changing. I didn’t go to college. I was neither interested nor capable of raising a family, and a few attempts at a “real job” had revealed that it wasn’t exactly conducive to my mental health.

This is all a bit much to process when you are a simple, Oklahoma boy such as myself . . . .

This band kind of came out of left field as far as how creatively gratifying it has been. I didn’t figure that I would be satisfied for long as a deckhand, as I had always occupied a bandleader/songwriter role in previous bands However, upon joining, I immediately began to contribute ideas, arrangements, and some material and felt very much at home. It was fun and I felt a bond with my bandmates which was primarily rooted in our being of a similar age, I think.

How this band led me to Brooklyn — and to an entire lifestyle change — will require a great many more words. We’ll get to that.

Being that I am well into the savage arena of adulthood, my slow dive into this new life surely took me off guard: I exchanged one frantic lifestyle for another, neither of which I feel I was ever fully equipped to handle efficiently or healthily. I doubt anything will change that about me. That’s okay; I think it is, somehow, essential and central to my creative departments.

Mostly, I am much more excited about the life where I barely scrape by playing music in the greatest city in the world rather than the one where I felt I could die the very next day and nothing in the world would change. On the worst days in New York I worry about money, the phone bill, and I find myself lamenting the occasional sushi dinner.

On the rest of those days I feel a dusting off of ancient excitements, enthusiasms, and ambitions that I thought, until fairly recently, were dead and buried. It’s been a rebirth . . . a reigniting . . . a recreation . . . a rebirth!

I dug only a bit and found that my naive, teenage ideas of what it was to be in a band and what it is to do this “thing” with music are more valid than ever. I am feeling the slow prying open of rusty old vaults that contain those forgotten faculties that somehow kicked me out of a small town, off of an oil rig, into a car, and out into a world that no book, movie, or record could have ever prepared me to enter, despite those wonderful tools being what fielded my ambitions long ago.

Nothing could have ever prepared me for this life.

The period of adjustment — which I am still very much in the thick of — has found me a tad confused and often in a lonely state of delirium and irresponsibility. While it is true that one can never feel too awfully awful about enjoying such a foggy lifestyle, I will be the first to admit that it is just a bit tacky at my age — SAD, really — to be a guy waging a steady battle with the scattered firings of rogue gray hairs and suffering the slow surrender of a mellowing metabolism while not knowing where the next paycheck will come from or IF it will arrive at all.

And that’s where I start this: broke and unemployed with only the unnatural introduction of a new and exciting life when I least expected it. I feel as if anything can happen and, on some days, I am assured that everything will . . . .

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William Benton is doing what most musicians dream about, but are afraid to do … trying to survive in New York. He just left the band Phantom Family Halo, which began in Louisville. He is now playing with Shilpa Ray and in the process of putting together another band in the New York area.

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