Christian van hemert

Indiana man who died at 19 survives thanks to his music


BLOOMINGTON, Indiana (AP) – On a blustery Monday, Ed Schwartzman sets a bag next to him in the center of the table at his Bloomington restaurant. It doesn’t look like much: laminated photo collages, flying papers, weathered images of mid-90s youth football teams – all featuring the same smiling boy and his lightly haired brown mop curly.

But this bag is precious.

It contains many physical memories of 19 years on earth by Schwartzman’s son, Ben, before Ben committed suicide in 2007.

“The funny thing is, I brought a lot of stuff that I have on Ben that I’ve never looked at,” Schwartzman says, as he begins to rummage through his bag. “Because it’s so painful. “


As severe depression and bipolar disorder weighed on his teenage years, Ben took his guitar everywhere with him. The studio time was its release.

He recorded songs of anguish, heartache, metaphysics and mundane. Her parents’ marital issues, God, and thoughts of self-harm were all probed.

These lyrics, taken from Ben’s song “Let Me Go,” are engraved in his gravestone and on a park bench in Schererville, where Ben grew up.

After Ben died, his father made it his personal mission to share this music – one of the most tangible proofs that Ben was there.

After 14 years of cold calls and celebrity dating failures, the help of a few of his fellow Hoosiers gave Schwartzman a chance.

Beginning on October 15, the anniversary of Ben’s death, and ending on November 12, “Falling Star” has been released in multiple tracks via streaming services and a new website.

Schwartzman hopes people will enjoy the music. But he also hopes Ben’s story will raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention.

All proceeds from the outing will go to Centerstone, a nonprofit mental health care provider.

He’s hoping for a Grammy, Schwartzman isn’t ashamed to say, but he’ll be content with the feelings Ben’s new songs give him as he hums in his car.

“Now when I hear his music, I feel upbeat. For 14 years I would be heartbroken, ”Schwartzman said, his voice breaking as he spoke the words. “If nothing else, it just makes me feel good. To listen to my son’s music without crying? It is a victory.

According to his family, Ben Schwartzman and his younger sister, Hayley, had a happy childhood in Northwest Indiana.

Ben graduated from Lake Central High School in 2007 and attended current Purdue University Northwest.

Asked about Ben’s interest in music, his father returns to the bag.

“I just saw a note here from his uncle Tommy, who says that at the age of 12, Ben asked him to teach him some chords on his guitar,” Schwartzman said.

Uncle Tommy arrived, and when he was 15 or 16, Ben was playing open mic in cafes. The Blue Room Café in Highland was a favorite spot.

As such, his music has a distinct cafe / acoustic singer-songwriter vibe. There is a paradoxical sweetness in his voice, as he sings lyrics that are anything but sweet.

His cover choices were also steeped in melancholy – Radiohead’s “Creep”, The Beatles’ “Yesterday”.

“I would say to Ben, you have to lighten things up for your audience because it’s all too heavy for them,” Schwartzman said.

One of the songs on his album, “Big Man,” was written in part to ease his father’s pressure for something more upbeat, Schwartzman recalls. Ben used to call his father “Big Man”, although the song also seems to refer to God.

It’s an upbeat tempo, but the lyrics are dark.

Hayley Schwartzman, now 30, lives in Portland, where she performs solo and in groups on weekends.

One of his first public performances was alongside Ben in a cafe just three days before his death. They performed “One Sweet Love” by Sara Bareilles.

“Just knowing that my brother’s music is still thriving and reaching people – keeping his memory and spirit alive in the world – is truly a healing thing to have,” Dolan said.

One of Dolan’s first songs, “Your Choice”, written and recorded less than a year after Ben’s death, plunges into the grief and anger she was feeling at the time. It is included on Ben’s album.

Dolan’s perspective changed in the years that followed.

“It’s really a disease,” she said. “Yes, it’s someone’s choice at the end of the day, but the disease really does. Someone who does not have a mental illness is not headed for death. He did not make this choice in a healthy state of mind.

As a child, Ben developed an involuntary tic at around the age of 4 or 5. He suffered from asthma and allergies. At the time of puberty, she was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

Schwartzman pointed out that her son was in therapy and undergoing treatment.

Ben’s mental health issues were exacerbated, Schwartzman said, when he began experimenting with marijuana while also taking medication for his depression. Her parents’ divorce and the family’s financial problems also played a role.

His son never wanted Schwartzman to see his words, which paint a fairly clear picture of his internal struggles. Schwartzman was bowled over by the content, but ultimately felt the songs were a constructive release for his son.

“He tells you how he feels now, and that’s always why we thought if he could just keep singing – I know he’s in pain, I know he’s in pain, but look at this version he has and how beautiful she is, ”Schwartzman mentioned.

Ben’s mother, Debbie Flanagan, said she took him for a psychiatric assessment after reading her son’s words. Still, she agreed that Ben’s music was his release.

“Music was his therapy,” Flanagan said. “His music kept him alive until 19 as far as I’m concerned. What if someone else receives therapy or reassurance? I’m great with it.

Flanagan is not involved in the album’s release, saying she has invested her efforts in suicide prevention advocacy and awareness through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She led a Franklin support group for several years.

“We help people recognize the warning sings – things that I didn’t know about during Ben’s lifetime,” said Flanagan. “I wanted to honor his untimely death in a way that helps others.”

Once his son grew into an adult, there was little that Schwartzman could do to keep Ben upbeat and on track.

“To show you how strong the mental illness is, about a week before he died – before he committed suicide,” Schwartzman said. “It was the last time I saw him, or maybe the second to last. But he said, ‘Daddy, I think I’m going to stop playing the guitar. … I know everyone tells me I’m fine, but I really am not.

Schwartzman begged his son to continue, saying he might not be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton, but he was talented.

“I don’t mean suicide, but you look like a Robin Williams, and they’re on stage and they’re laughing and loving each other and getting all this adulation,” Schwartzman said. “But you can’t run away from what’s in your head.”

After Ben’s death, Schwartzman found it too painful to stay in Lake County, so he took a job with BuffaLouie in Bloomington, where Hayley planned to attend college at IU.

Schwartzman would eventually marry his co-worker, Jaimie, and the couple quickly bought out the owners of the restaurant and moved to Bloomington with their two young children.

Over the course of life, Schwartzman continued to share Ben’s demos with anyone he could. He cold called record companies and musicians. A plaque with the photo of Ben – as always, playing the guitar – hangs near the front of the restaurant.

Famous Hoosiers such as John Mellencamp and Jermaine Jackson have been given demonstrations with their chicken wings, just like anyone else, even remotely involved in the entertainment business, who could have spoken at IU, a Schwartzman said.

He was hoping to get some sort of recording contract and release the music in the traditional way.

In 2017, local filmmaker John Armstrong visited the restaurant and asked Schwartzman if he would feed his crew in exchange for a spot in the credits of the project. Schwartzman agreed, but he also passed on Ben’s demos in the hopes that they could be used for a movie soundtrack.

As always, he did not get an answer.

Armstrong said he didn’t have room in the movie, “Ms. White Light,” for Ben’s music, but he was moved by Ed’s story and impressed with the songs.

“I have a 17-year-old son of my own and I sympathize with Ed,” Armstrong said. “You can’t help but ask how do you survive something like this?” “

About two months ago, Armstrong returned to the restaurant with news: he had given the demos to Dave Weber from nearby Airtime studios, known for producing the turned-star group IU Straight No Chaser. Weber and his wife, singer-songwriter Krista Detor, took an interest and worked to clean up and modernize the recordings.

Armstrong invited Schwartzman to Airtime for a listen. As usual, Schwartzman brought some chicken wings.

Zach Riddle was in the studio that day recording with his band, The Hinterland Band, and was invited to listen to Ben’s updated music.

Riddle, who had never met Schwartzman, was also moved and pointed out to Schwartzman how good the songs were.

“It’s just important that it’s a real recording,” Riddle said. ” This is serious. It has an authentic quality that you cannot reproduce with studio musicians.

Riddle explained to Schwartzman that he no longer needed a recording contract to release his son’s music.

Within months, Riddle had helped Schwartzman build his website and upload Ben’s music to Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music.

While looking for a way to reinforce the importance of Ben’s music in helping those struggling with their own mental health issues, Schwartzman reached out to Centerstone, a nonprofit located near Bloomington.

Centerstone provides mental health care and crisis counseling to those in need, as well as suicide prevention training for individuals and other organizations.

“We are very honored to be a part of this journey with the music of Ben,” said Ramona Rhodes, Executive Director of the Centerstone Foundation. “We’re giving help to those in need across Indiana, and this money will help pay for someone else’s care.”

Schwartzman said it was not clear if the songs would make any money, but “every penny will go to Centerstone.”

He called the chance encounters in the years leading up to the album’s release as “chance”.

Armstrong agrees.

“The universe conspires to keep Ben’s music alive – to keep it in Ed’s heart, and now we can all experience it,” Armstrong said. “But it’s also Bloomington. The community, how everyone helps each other, that’s how things work here.

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Source: The Indianapolis Star