Ohio man accused of killing wife with banjos

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


found poem from Cox News Service

A 63-year-old man bludgeoned his wife to death
yesterday morning with a pair of banjos, deputies said.

“I’ve been an officer for 30 years, and that’s
the first banjo killing I’ve seen,” said
Miami County Chief Deputy Charles Price.
Edward Benson has been charged with aggravated murder
and was being held in the Miami County Jail in lieu
of $50,000 cash bond. Mr. Price said

Mr. Benson beat his wife, Katie, with the musical instruments
in their home about 5 a.m. “She was beaten with
a banjo in the head. When it was destroyed,
a second banjo was used,” Mr. Price said.

The woman died en route to Stouder
Memorial Hospital in Troy. She suffered
massive head injuries, Mr. Price said.

Authorities aren’t sure what led
to the beating. Mr. Price said

deputies hadn’t had any other domestic
violence complaints at the home in recent years.
Deputies were dispatched to the scene at 5:01 a.m.
after Mr. Benson phoned 911, saying

his wife was in need of paramedics.
Mr. Benson also immediately called an attorney, who
arrived at the scene and advised him not to answer
investigators’ questions. Neighbors said

they didn’t hear any disturbances from
the home yesterday. They were awakened
by deputies. Ralph Wolfe, whose house is
in front of the Bensons’, said

Mr. Benson had told him he played the banjo
in a bluegrass band. The Bensons had seven adult children
and many grandchildren. They lived alone.
Mr. Benson had medical problems that prevented him
from working, deputies and neighbors said.

Jam session

From time to time, people show up my house for a jam session.

Watch on Vimeo

My cousin Tony Bonta, a member of the up-and-coming Bald Mountain Band, and his fellow Baltimore-area musician Terry McBride stopped by Tyrone to pick up my brother Steve on their way to a Hillbilly Gypsies concert in northern Pennsylvania. They had just enough time for a quick jam session in Plummer’s Hollow.

This is a true jam in the sense that we hadn’t practiced anything together, and a couple of us were less than expert. Terry (who also plays a very credible banjo) is still learning the fiddle, and said he felt somewhat abashed about playing it in front of others but forces himself to anyway. Steve is an great frailer but hadn’t played some of these tunes in that style before, so was picking it up on the fly. I wasn’t going to join in on the harmonica but couldn’t help myself. (Note that I wasn’t intentionally hiding from the camera; there just wasn’t any way to fit us all into the frame without being a camera nazi and ordering everyone about.)

Regular readers will remember a podcast feature I did about these same three guys and their thoughts on banjo playing the last time they stopped by.

Because of my slow internet speed, it’s excruciating to try and upload too large a file, so I was very selective here — perhaps too selective. I wish now I’d included more of the two-banjo conversation between Tony and Steve. Because three-finger style players and frailers are in two separate, usually warring moieties (bluegrass vs. old-time), and because most bands only have one banjo player, one doesn’t hear this combination nearly often enough. I could’ve listened to it all afternoon.

Scruggs, Rich

We lost two great American artists today, Earl Scruggs and Adrienne Rich. It’s odd, isn’t it, how chance sometimes brackets two dissimilar lives like this, leading us to ponder each of their legacies in light of the other’s: the revolutionary banjo player and the radical feminist poet, he perhaps more influential in his field than she in hers, but not by much. I’ll let others write the tributes, but I do want to pause for a moment and remember.

And here’s another odd thing: when poets and musicians die, it changes the way we hear their work somehow. The recordings are suddenly colored by our awareness of the fact that there will be no more from them, and what we have is all we’ll get. Such recordings are part of history now in a way they weren’t before, even if they had already been hugely influential. Which is to say, I suppose, that they gain a mythic dimension, since now they connect us to the dead, whose voices or instruments remain as bridges between being and nothingness. Whatever else one may find when diving into a wreck, I think the sound recording is the eeriest of all artifacts, the ultimate in evanescence made nearly permanent.

Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs – Foggy Mountain Breakdown

Diving Into the Wreck – poem and recitation by Adrienne Rich, video by U2bianSynic

Out of Tune

This entry is part 33 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


Round peg in a round hole:
too cozy! It only needs to relax
the slightest bit & the whole
song fails, like a machine
with one slipped gear.

We hold our breaths then
for the single-string walk,
up up up up to pitch. Ah!
And the tune clatters back to life
with a whoop. (One hates to see
John Hardy get away.)

Rare as an heirloom,
particular as an orchid,
miraculous as spring water
flowing from a tap
& durable as a razor strop
is the banjo player’s ear.
It’s the only instrument
in the band that can’t
break down.

The Fretless Banjo

This entry is part 32 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


It’s like walking in the dark
or chewing on a good-luck tooth:
a map doesn’t always help
& no vowel can be trusted.
Which is why the Israelites
dispensed with both. But
we have lived here in Canaan
so long, we’ve forgotten
about ties & collars
& all the other uses to which
a neck can be put. Jubilee
comes every day at noon, now,
& the Adam’s apple never falls
far before bouncing back.
Goats can get by, I swear,
on the notes no one else sings.
It’s like the glass ball
in an antique lightning rod—
its highest aspiration is
to break free. The night itself
doesn’t need more than
a few hardy katydids
to throb. Who are we
that we should fret
over bars of brass?

Becoming Banjo

This entry is part 31 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


I could’ve been
many things—doctor,
lawyer, beggarman, CEO—
but not a banjo. They stopped
taking applications
the moment I was born.
Though a few months earlier,
a big-headed embryo in
the womb, I might’ve had
at least a fat chance.
What a headline that
would’ve made for
the Weekly World News!
Woman Gives Birth to Banjo.
My life might’ve become
a Stuart Little-like quest,
riding the rails north
toward the great bear,
the cosmic gourd.
Ah, the tailored furs
I’d have worn, the round
houses I’d have inhabited,
built from snow!
The moon & sun would’ve
circled in the sky,
unwilling to set. The land
would’ve glistened like
a shaman’s hide drum
for conversing with the dead.
And the dead like all emigrants
would’ve babbled incoherently
from the other side,
unable to send back
the right medicine
for our breakdowns, & we
still unready to abandon
our mother tongues.

Where Bluegrass Comes From (videopoem)

Watch on Vimeo.

See yesterday’s post for the text. And where did the poem come from? As I explained in the comments yesterday, I went to a multi-day bluegrass festival with my banjo-playing cousin and his family this past weekend. That’s the origin of most of the video footage. The first two sentences that I ascribe to the banjo player are in fact pretty close to what I overheard in a workshop for banjo players on Saturday. But I wrote the opening lines in response to footage of a beetle on a blade of grass, shot yesterday morning in front of my garden. So the video and the poem came along together.

I’m more of a fan of older-style Appalachian string band music, but I do enjoy bluegrass, too, when I’m in the mood. Its relentless pursuit of speed combined with its potent nostalgia for a simpler way of life strike me as quintessentially American, though I realize it’s spread all over the world now.

Where Bluegrass Comes From

This entry is part 30 of 34 in the series Breakdown: The Banjo Poems


A road travelled every day
soon comes unhitched from the horizon.
You can switch roads or you can dance in place.

The fiddle player says:
I like to stare out the car window
& dream about staying put & growing roots.
You can dance in place or you can jam.

The banjo player says:
I never learn the tune as a whole, only its parts.
I remember the one little thing that’s different
& the rest takes care of itself.
You just keep jamming until something jells.


Watch on Vimeo