After a day of cutting class to play at the river, Benjamin Durrett pulled his dusty, hand-me-down Volvo wagon into the gravel driveway of a friend's house in Gold Hill.
After a day of cutting class to play at the river, Benjamin Durrett pulled his dusty, hand-me-down Volvo wagon into the gravel driveway of a friend's house in Gold Hill. He unloaded his guitar, wiped off a vulgar picture drawn into the dust on the rear window and, with a sheepish smile, said, "My friends can be so immature."
After navigating around the barricade-like family dog Rufus, Ben let himself in and set up his equipment. His Fender Stratocaster, amplifier and a wireless system, which he tested by playing from various rooms in the house, added to the disjointed feel of the multi-use room. Soon Mat Bostrom, the lead singer, walked in, Chris Hopkins emerged from his bedroom with his bass guitar and Dylan Elmer unpacked his saxophone.
The strains of the theme song to the "Andy Griffith Show" on sax and the bass line to Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" added to the chaos of screeching feedback and arguments over which songs to perform.
Throughout practice, the Port Sound band members intermittently disappeared into the adjacent room. They returned with cold cans of store-brand soda that Chris' mom kept well stocked.
The tendency to gravitate toward any microphone was strong with all the band members and they talked, traded jokes, emitted carbonated belches and provided rim shots to each other's one-liners, filling the house with the sound of their own voices and laughter.
In between songs, the band members joked about their future as professional musicians. Their original music is the result of the band's collective effort. Mat describes it as "fusion rock" with corny lyrics like Bon Jovi. According to Ben, he will one day tell the story of the band's name to MTV — a story that would amount to a quick interview.
"We were on the bus one day and we just thought of it," he said. "It sounded cool." The name Port Sound won out over other ideas, such as "Vultures of Hope" and, as Chris joked, "Chris Hopkins and the Suckers."
Calm and leaning against the pool table, Ben tapped his foot side to side with the beat and remained optimistic even when the music sounded off and the drummer was missing in action. Whether working out new cover songs, like Michael Jackson's "Beat It," or reworking a Port Sound original, Ben negates any negative comments from his band members with a joke or affirmation of the band's undeniable awesomeness.
The effect of Ben's positive attitude had infected the rest of the group by the time practice ended and they could talk about the upcoming band competition.
"It's like the Port Sound concert, with opening acts," Chris said.
While playing, he tosses his asymmetrical hair out of his eyes and, in the moments when the music starts to coalesce, he has a small smile on his face. A success. Despite the optimism, the scene at band practice doesn't match the dream of fame that Ben sees for himself or the band.
Most other weekday evenings during senior year, Ben could be found on the stage of the Crater High Theater. He would trade in the clothes that usually drape his lanky frame — moccasin slippers, knit hoodie and ripped jeans layered with pajama pants — for theater costumes or dance clothes. For Ben, being an active member of the school's Renaissance Academy had little to do with the English or math classes he attended daily. He was present in class, but didn't engage and didn't care. Instead, he devoted extra hours to jazz band, color guard, modern movement and a list of theater productions. The curricular and extra-curricular spheres were at odds with each other in Ben's schedule throughout his high school career. His grades suffered from his commitment to the more entertaining aspects: his friends, his band and his performances.
But to participate in theater — and to graduate — he had to maintain an acceptable grade point average. That kept the underachieving scholar in class, even though it meant credit retrieval programs and taking a full credit load during senior year.
"For the second half of sophomore year to senior year, drama class was the only reason I went to school," Ben said. "If the drama program hadn't existed, I would've dropped out. Ninety-nine percent of my brain tells me I would."
His visibility, personality and social skills made him into a high school celebrity at the Crater campus.
While walking from building from building, Ben was routinely stopped by handfuls of people. Hugs and updates on social circles were traded quickly, and by the time Ben was back on the move, another friend or acquaintance was just down the hall, approaching for a conspicuous hug and a quick conversation.
According to Ben's closest friends, he found popularity due to his unpretentious and friendly nature.
Sonny Pate said it is his best friend's confidence that makes him so well known and liked.
"He can be himself all the time," Sonny said. "He can make poop jokes in front of girls and not be embarrassed."
When asked about Ben's magnetism with girls, his friends gave a short answer.
"He's hot," Sonny said.
"He's hot and deep," corrected Dylan.
If "socializing" had been a class for credit, Ben would have earned an A. In the other areas of his life, however, those around him said he was missing the mark. Despite his talent, involvement and social engagement, the theme of his high school persona was based on the popular conception that he was failing to live up to his potential.
"A lot of my life has been based on my potential," Ben said, emphasizing the end of his sentence with finger quotes and a lofty voice. According to Ben, none of the people who accuse him of falling short defined what he needed to do meet the mark.
While admitting that he felt he never put 100 percent into anything and that the products of his labors were never 100 percent perfect, he said he put in as much effort as he could.
"A lot of times, I can't do more," he said. "I don't know what my physical or mental limit is." But he said he knows where he is going and how he is going to get there. Someday, he said, Benjamin Durrett is going to be famous.
Ben's plan is to become a professional entertainer. In one year, Ben predicted, he will be on television.
"The idea that my band doesn't get semi-big hasn't crossed my mind," Ben said.
The drummer is continually missing. And the band has no upcoming plans or performances. But that hasn't diminished the group's optimism or their belief that they will succeed.
"I've always had that gut feeling. It's never been wrong," Dylan said. "It feels like we're actually going to go somewhere."
The way Ben sees it, the path to success demanded a busy schedule, a dedication to performing and strong social skills. Just because he didn't pull off perfect scores or perfect attendance didn't mean he was wasting time or not caring about his future. Ben had fun while exercising his future bankable assets in high school. He did graduate, after all, and was spending his summer practicing with the band, spending time with his friends and trying to make money working as a model for Image Modeling Development. A move to Los Angeles might be in his upcoming future, but Ben has made no concrete plans. There is no rush, the options are countless, and the chance of failing appears minuscule.
"There are too many people around me who settle for mediocrity," Ben said. "The only way we're going to get out of here is to make it somehow."