Shortly before 3 a.m. on Sun., Dec. 1, the Black Lips' 22-year-old guitarist Ben Eberbaugh was killed when a motorist driving the wrong way on Ga. 400 slammed into his vehicle. According to Fulton County police reports, Jennifer Dawn Swierzynski, 29, was traveling northbound in the southbound lanes when her Toyota Camry crashed head-on into Eberbaugh's Ford Explorer. Both drivers died on impact.
Ben's death greatly affected everyone who knew him, and in Aug. 2003 Coco Art proprietor David Matysiak, who at the time sang and played guitar for Athens' post-grunge foursome Jet By By, spearheaded a memorial compilation in Eberbaugh's honor. The 21-track CD features a sundry list of artists ranging from his friends, fellow band mates and heroes, including everyone from J Mascis & the Fog and Tilly and the Wall to Black Lips, Some Soviet Station and El Caminos.
Chad Radford: Who was Ben Eberbaugh to you?
David Matysiak: To me he was an older brother, and he was like that for a lot of people. He lived it all the way, and for him there was no stone unturned. When I think "Who was Ben Eberbaugh?" I think of moments in my life where I would look over and he would be there hanging out on the couch, or like driving around with him on the last day of high school listening to Dinosaur Jr. Ben Eberbaugh was the guy that you always knew was there to have a good time and he didn't judge you. He was sensitive but he was a hard-ass and that's a rare breed. He was everybody's buddy and everyone protected that memory of him being this cool friend that you had. Whether you were getting into trouble, or just hanging out playing music...
I don't want to paint him out to be an angel, because he wasn't, and everybody knows that. He would party and get crazy. He was the guy who would smash everything to pieces and go 'Oh.... mmph..."
Were you guy's high school friends?
Yeah. We went to Dunwoody together and we both graduated in '98.
How did the comp. come together?
The day he died he was coming to see a Jet by Day show that night. We played and he got there on our last song and I remember saying 'you asshole! 'You missed us!' And I remember him saying, 'oh well, whatever. I'll catch you guys next time.' So we all hung out at Mason's mom's house in Dunwoody after the show; me and Mason and Ben and a few other people. We weren't partying or anything, just hanging out. The most memorable thing about that night happened around midnight or 1, it wasn't very late. There was a very nice, expensive looking lamp on top of Mason's mom's piano, and typical clumsy Eberbaugh knocked it over and broke it. That kind of signaled that the night was over. No one was really drinking. I remember walking away from him saying 'see you later...' and then he was dead within the same hour. I left and he left shortly after me.
There were such strong emotions in the air. There was just a lot of longing and sadness. None of us had ever lost anyone who was that close to us before and I kept remembering that it wasn't just me who felt like that. Then I went to the funeral and it was standing room only. This guy meant a lot to this town; not just as a musician but as a person. He was a dude that was around and people knew him and cared about him. He was integral to a lot of people's live at the time, and it felt like there was momentum building. The Black Lips were pushing, the Lids... The Slaughterhaus was awesome... There were just a lot of kids pushing to make something happen. So it formed into this idea that we should do something that remembered him. We wanted it to be a reflection of him through his music, our music and all of the people's music around him. If you look at the comp. a lot of the people on there are friends. Then there are some old school bands, like 17 Years, El Caminos, and people who Ben used to play with, like in the Reruns.
The .J Masics thing was cool because he met Ben when Jet By Day played with the Fog and Mike Watt. He was back stage talking to J. I was shy and thinking 'oh my god, we're back stage hanging out with J Masics and Mike Watt!' But Ben was just drinking a beer and shooting the shit with these dudes. He brought up D. Boon to Mike Watt right off the bat and they hit it off immediately. It was like they were best friends. They talked for an hour and it looked like Watt was crying on his shoulder -- they were really having a heart-to-heart about something. So I told that story to J. the next time we played with them, and said 'he would think it was really cool if you had a song on there,' and so he gave us a song. It was really really rad that he would do that.
The energy that went into it, the Beatles cover, it was all very special, and the Tilly and the Wall song was written for Ben. That song ended up becoming their anthem as a band, kind of. That song really summed up our youth and it painted the picture of Ben's death. If you listen to the lyrics... they give me chills every time I hear them. Like I said, he was a hard-ass, but was very sensitive. That kind of person who can affect people in so many ways; he'll be getting in a fight with you in one instant, and then giving you a hug in the next. The same guy had so much range, but he lived so hard and so fast.
You mentioned recently that you and Derek Pressnall from Tilly and the Wall had talked about doing another compilation like this?
Not to have it be about Ben Per se. A lot of times people will want to have a reunion in person, but sometimes it's more fun to have an audio reunion where you contact these people, see where they're at in their lives, and say why don't you record a song for this and then put these same people together again and let them reflect. I hope something does come about, if for nothing else than to bring back that feeling of remembrance not only of our youth, but Ben's life and how important it was to us being who we are now.
Ben Eberbaugh: A Rockin' Tribute
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