I’ve driven the highways of 43 states, sang in endless divebars, and slept in more WalMart parking lots than I care to remember. I left Utah in 2013 in a van with a bunch of blues musicians, and we worked our way playing shows all the way to the Georgia coast and back. I haven’t left the road since. I was singing at the Urban Lounge In Salt Lake City and Richard Markosian (founder of Utah Stories) invited me to contribute. I have a story or two, so I said yes.
I’ve always been a traveler. I left my family farm in North Georgia when I was 16. I had run away from home, dropped out of school. Most days were spent drinking, dropping acid, and playing music with my friends. I got into philosophy and religion and eventually joined the LDS Church. I served a mission in Utah and Wyoming. I fell in love with the West. After my mission I returned home to Georgia, but couldn’t shake off the beauty I saw. I had to go back out west.
I packed up everything I owned into a 1988 Camry, bought a map, and hit the road. It was my first time really being alone. After the constant companionship of other missionaries, It was liberating to hit the road solo. I drove from Georgia to St. Louis. I visited the old Mormon site of Nauvoo, Illinois, and Carthage Jail. Little did I know that I left my Mormonism there too. I drove across Kansas, all the way out through Colorado. I remember duct taping a notebook to my steering wheel so I could write as I drove. These experiences, years later, became songs on a folk album I recorded in Salt Lake City.
I returned to Ogden, an area I had served in as a missionary. I saw it with new eyes. No longer, to me, was it a holy land, it was just another big city. People saw me with different eyes too. I wasn’t Elder Bennett anymore. I was just Tom. I had become a drifter. I was just someone passing through.
I didn’t belong anymore. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was changing. I became depressed. Looking back, I think I was just breaking out of old forms. It’s painful sometimes to have your eyes opened—I was learning this first hand. I moved to Layton after not being able to find any work. Eventually, I got a part-time job as a cart pusher at Sam’s Club. I became happy again. All the time outside to think really did wonders for me.
One night I was invited to join some coworkers for a night out. They were going to go get tattooed and then to an 80s music night at a club called Area 51. I went along. One by one, they got tattooed and then turned to me and said, “what are you going to get?” To their surprise, I jumped in the seat and asked the artist to tattoo “Carpe Diem” across the tops of my hands. “Do you even have any other tattoos?” the artist asked. I didn’t. He wisely suggested I didn’t start with hand tattooes, but he did tattoo Carpe Diem in a little cursive font across the tops of my wrists. I’d like to think I’ve seized every day since.
See Tom Bennett perform at Copper Common, 111 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City, on August 24. Check his website for more performance dates.