Thirty years ago today I saw INXS at Red Rocks. I don’t remember a moment of it. Until earlier this summer, I told this story about seeing a completely different show that night (UB40, if you must know). But looking at a list of Red Rocks shows from the summer of 1986 proves it was INXS. Australia’s great gift to MTV. Still don’t remember it.
One part of that day is etched in memory though, making every August 25th one of those days that we all have — a box on the calendar that always brings you back to a single moment in time.
Sometime that afternoon, a friend called to to tell me that Ben Broughton, a classmate and my closest friend at the time, was killed earlier that day in a car accident on Highway 287. It’s a hilly and windswept nothing much of a two lane highway headed to Wyoming north of Fort Collins. Another friend, Brad Lash, who I’d known since kindergarten was with him and also killed.
They were headed up to the Wind River Range — a camping trip to celebrate the end of summer and start of our senior year.
I had been planning this trip with them for weeks but bailed the night before. I’d been away all summer and (rather uncharacteristically) said I wanted to spend time at home. Plus, I had tickets to see INXS at Red Rocks that night with a girl I’d met earlier in that summer.
Ben gave me loads of grief on the phone (sorry, no text messaging) the night before the trip. INXS and hanging at home were, I admit, rather sad excuses for not going on an epic backcountry adventure.
Being 17 and, until that moment, completely invincible, the news was a shock. It still is. I can see myself standing there motionless, not speaking for a minute or two; completely caught off guard.
I thought of Ben’s family. I was probably around his parents as much as my own over the previous year. Being the father of a two kids now, including a 16 year old son about to get his drivers license, I can’t imagine what they went through but I think I have some idea of the potential for pain. Ben’s younger brother and sister were in school with us. Being a small school, we all knew each other.
I thought of what we had done — the campouts, the games, the ski trips, and concerts, the classes together — and what we still had planned. More of the same, of course, and then college but, of course, ski trips and hiking and shows. Probably snarky exchanges of Facebook memes eventually.
And I thought, of course, that I was supposed to be in the car with him. Should have been. Maybe that would have changed something. Likely not, of course. That was and remains a haunting feeling.
Everyone has a similar story. If you last long enough, there are moments that change everything for a day — or a lifetime — and print on your memory. They start as films you play over and over in your head. Gradually they become clips. Later, perhaps, a black and white negative. But never forgotten.
Our son’s name is Ben. So are the sons of a few other guys from that group — a fact I discovered years after our own Ben was born. It was something none of us planned or talked about. It just happened. But I suspect we all thought about it in those final days of August, 1986.