I found I had difficulties writing this. What can I say about a man so well-known and beloved that hasn’t been said? Perhaps this is more for those who didn’t know Guy Benson.
Of those open mic gatherings, a favorite for many, including me, was the IAMA Coffeehouse music series at a place called Elliot Hall we rent from the Unitarian Church. Guy had been running this bimonthly music series for over four decades! Due to health issues in 2018, Guy asked if I would take over the Coffeehouse setup, sound, and hosting duties.
We spent a couple of years together (pre-pandemic) side by side, twisting knobs and tweaking sound for a host of talented musicians. Guy and I became friends, close friends. We would regularly share stories and brag about our respective daughters, Sage and Marilyn. He loved Marilyn and always made her feel like the most important person in the room. That always moved me.
The Magic of Guy Benson
I was routinely struck by the way people paid attention when Guy performed. Yes, he was a competition finger-style champion (on more than one occasion). But Guy had an unorthodox, wabi-sabi style about him that was a force multiplier of his technical talent.
His folksy, no-nonsense way elevated his presence on and off stage. He cared about the art of performing, was a champion for enthusiastic new talent, and had little patience for show boaters and pretenders.
Due to ongoing respiratory issues, Guy required full-time supplemental oxygen. He never really complained. He was formidably stoic and made a lot of very funny jokes about his condition. He called his oxygen tank, “Tanky” and the O2 hose, “Tanky’s leash.”
Aside from his daughter Sage, performing was the most important part of his life. On stage, in those quiet moments, a soft pshhh from his cannula would accompany his performance with every inhale. That ever-present sound became somewhat of an endearing trademark to many of his friends and fans.
Guy struggled during the pandemic. His health issues required the soul-eroding isolation of social distancing. We talked by phone often – losing track of time with stories of Sage and Marilyn, philosophy, past adventures, and of course, music. I would regularly visit and bring food, hang out at a distance, and sometimes play a little music with him when he was up for it. The strain of his illness and social isolation took a toll with ever-increasing hospital visits and close calls. Guy was a fighter. He made it to the other side of the pandemic and even performed recently after a brutal hospital stint.
I visited guy in his new apartment shortly before his passing and took him out to see the Two Old Guys (Michael Feldman and Tally Evans) perform at Gracie’s in downtown Salt Lake City.
We went back to his apartment, talked about life, and swapped playing his guitar and telling stories into the night. He confided that he was close to the end of his journey and did not expect to make it too much longer.
His statement froze me, us, in that moment. The deepness of my feelings for this fellow human, son, brother, father, and dear friend intensified and reminded me of the importance of how to value our short time on this planet.
Guy had always wanted an apartment in a high-rise with a view of the city lights. He got it. We stared out and upon the city lights and deeply into the beauty of that eternal moment, in silence with a magnification of gratitude difficult to put into words.
That was the last time I saw Guy in person. Given his health issues, the news, although not really unexpected, did catch me and our community off guard.
I look forward to Guy’s send-off with his friends, family, and community this Saturday, May 13th. And, of all days, on my birthday, for one Last CoffeeHouse with Guy Benson.
You can find details of “Guy’s Celebration of Life” here.