Thursday, December 27, 2007

Remembering Ben Eberbaugh (1980-2002) Five Years Later...

(Pictured from left to right: Ben Eberbaugh, Joe Bradley, Jared Swilley, Cole Alexander)

As December 2007 draws to a close it has been brought to my attention that this month is the five-year anniversary of Ben Eberbaugh's death. Hard to believe that it has been so long. Ben was one of the earliest and most substantial guitar players and vocalists for the Black Lips; and he played a key role in getting the ball rolling for the group. His death came as a shock to everyone.

I knew him well. We worked together at an "alternative boutique" / clothing store in Little 5 Points, called Junkman's Daughter. Indeed they were dark days for both of us. At some point I quit. Ben was later fired for missing too many shifts, or something like that, and went on to get a job at The Majestic Diner on Ponce. We stayed in touch. He was the first person to tell me that the Black Lips were in talks with Greg Show from Bomp! which later culminated in the release of the group's first, self-titled record. Ben was also the one who always sought me out to coax me into writing something about their next show.

I found out about his death in a pretty harsh way. I had gone home to visit my friends and family in Iowa and Nebraska. It was a pre-holiday trip to avoid the chaos of traveling closer to Christmas time. When I came home there was a message on my voice mail from a Fox 5 reporter. It said to call him back. So I did. I assumed it was about some writing job for which I had applied somewhere down the line. I don't remember his name.

I called the buy back and he says, "Radford... Radford... Oh yeah! I was calling you about the Black Lips and Ben Eberbaugh." So I say "yes, I know them well. What do you need to know?" Without missing a beat the guy says "Oh, you must not know yet. Ben died in a car accident. Hate to break the news to you. Gotta Go!" Click...

That was pretty hardcore. I remember thinking that he must of been drunk or that it was the result of some sort of negligence on his part. But it wasn't He was hit by some woman who was driving the wrong way down GA 400.

There is no way to know for sure, but at the time people were speculating that she was going the wrong way down the highway to avoid paying the .75 cent toll. But who knows.

Here is a story that I wrote about the accident just a few days later for Creative Loafing.

Shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, Ben Eberbaugh, the 22-year-old guitarist for local band the Black Lips, 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.

The Black Lips, who have developed a reputation as Atlanta's rowdiest rock act, were to have kicked off a tour of the Midwest and East Coast with fellow Atlanta band, the Carbonas. The tour was to promote the release of the Black Lips' full-length debut on famed punk label Bomp Records, and was set to kick off Monday, Dec. 2, with a show at MJQ Concourse. But on Monday night the club's doors remained closed to the public to give Eberbaugh's friends a place to gather and reminisce about his life.

"He was one of the sweetest and most sincere people I knew," says close friend Valery Lovely, a local DJ and photographer. "He's the last person I would have ever expected anything bad to happen to."

Despite the tragedy, the Black Lips plan on carrying out the tour. They will leave Atlanta after Eberbaugh's funeral, which is being held Wednesday, Dec. 4, in Roswell (further details were not available at press time).

"We're still going to go on tour," says Black Lips vocalist Cole Alexander. "It was something we were all so excited about doing and I know he would never have wanted us to give it up."

-Chad Radford, Creative Loafing. Published 12.04.02