The Beatles, the bus and Brad Bensko

Maybe it's some innate deficiency in the wisdom department, but I never been quite sure how to parse the turning points in life.

There's, obviously, the big stuff : death in the family, birth of a child, falling in and, perhaps, out of love.

That's a different league.

Then there are those encounters that might have completely changed your worldview. It could be getting lost in a Rothko, watching Jerry Rice catch a football, or seeing "Pulp Fiction" for the first time.

For me, it was the first time I saw the music video for "Kool Thing" by the indispensable New York band Sonic Youth in the summer of 1990.

Music could sound like this? It was loud, grimy and raw.

You could look like that? The bass player, Kim Gordon, wore a dead sexy black leather halter top that hadn't yet hit the high fashion boutiques in Montville.

I wasn't even exactly sure if I liked it, but I knew at some elemental level it torched the calendar; it was year zero.

I had a great conversation about that feeling with Ledyard native and singer-songwriter Brad Bensko, whose music I've admired for a couple years.

In 2010, Bensko released "Why Do You Do That," a lilting, jangly pop song of innocence and experience, on the local "Powers of New London" compilation album. I played it obsessively.

Lately Bensko, 23, has been gigging with a new unnamed band in Boston, but he honed his chops here, playing in various incarnations of Raise the Rent, Daphne Lee Martin's backing group.

We met last week for beers and burgers at Bukowski's Tavern in Boston, a couple blocks away from the Berklee School of Music, where Bensko is studying sound engineering.

With his cool mutton-chop beard and mop-top hair, Bensko looks like a guest star on a '70s cop show. He's unfailingly polite and an engaging conversationalist.

As Sam Cooke and Joe Strummer blared on the Bukowski sound system, Bensko told me music has been part of his life from as early as he could remember.

But it wasn't pop at first.

"I remember a teacher at our school used to put up a picture of a different composer each week," Bensko said.

As a birthday present one year, he got a boombox, along with some Mozart and Bach CDs. Piano lessons followed.

"I thought I was going to be this classical music composer," Bensko said.

But, over time, as kids do, he lost interest in piano. It was a phase, maybe.

Then came the school bus ride.

It was 1996, and Bensko recalled he was sitting next to a friend who handed him a pair of headphones.

"It was 'Come Together' by The Beatles," Bensko said. "It was so different than anything I've ever heard. John Lennon's voice stuck out to me."

Bensko said, from then on, "Abbey Road" and his grandmother's vinyl copy of "Meet the Beatles" were in constant rotation in his bedroom.

And it gave him something of an identity. When his friends got into pop-punk or, sadly, the still loathsome Limp Bizkit, Bensko was spinning Billy Joel and the Monkees.

"All of a sudden, Kool 101 was my favorite radio station," Bensko laughed.

What's inspiring about Bensko is that his epiphany with the Fabs on the bus is still giving off light.

He told me about his current obsession, the brilliant Harry Nilsson, of "Everybody's Talkin'" fame.

"He's amazing," Bensko said.

Maybe it's because Bensko's still young. And, to be fair, we didn't talk about life and death.

But our chat made me think, and happily return, to the big bang of all my enthusiasm.

Stephen Chupaska is a writer who lives in downtown New London. Email him at or follow him on Twitter @schupaska


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