Pop Culture

The Man Behind the Music

As many of you come to celebrate my 40th and enjoy the deep, soul-full, and just plain fun music of Ben Kyle and Romantica tomorrow night (July 3), I wanted to share a bit of his personal story. Here’s a letter he sent a while back sharing his dark season, and I’m grateful he’s back on the stage and that stage will be our own yard this time!

From Ben Kyle:


“Stay home tonight, don’t do what you’re supposed to do 

Give your heart a shelter, wait until the words are true.”

Dear Friends,  

“What do we have, that we have not been given? / What do we have, that we can hold on to? / All of this life, is gift that we’re living / All of this love, was given to you”

When I wrote these words 3 years ago I had no idea I was about to lose so much. My home, my studio, my work place, the ability to be present to my family and friends, the ability to have thoughts (quite literally). The neurological and immune implications of a 2 year battle with what turned out to be (most significantly) Lyme disease, compiled to the point where I felt completely exiled from normal life. I couldn’t even touch my phone or my laptop (where all my work and music is) without my hands and arms getting painfully sore. I couldn’t instagram, facebook, or respond to emails from family and friends.

My neuro-immune system was so sensitized I couldn’t walk into any building that didn’t have pristine air quality without my head going completely blank. My body ached from the inside out. I had no energy. My thoughts would stop and then jump around as though my brain were in short-circuit. I lost the ability to calculate numbers, to imagine, to create, and many times even the ability to think at all. I couldn’t be present in any situation or conversation. There was a permanent static in my brain, pressing in and dragging down on my biology and attention. Many times I felt like I was on the edge of insanity, and in the darkest hours I would lay in bed trying to remember how many children I had and what their names were. It was the deepest darkest valley I have ever walked.

In the face of such agony it’s hard to know the why and the what for? And how and why do we keep going? How do we press through? There are no simple answers. Only in living do we become. Only in experience do we know. My dear father-in-law sent me these words of Rilke in the midst of my journey. 

What we triumph over is so small, and the victory makes us small too.

The eternal and uncommon refuse to be bent by us. 

Like the angel who appeared to the wrestler in the Old Testament:

When his opponent’s sinews grow hard as metal in the struggle, 

They feel to his fingers like strings on which to play a depthless melody.

Whoever is conquered by this angel walks away erect and enobled,

Strengthened by that fierce hand that, like a sculptor’s, shaped him.

His growth is this: to be defeated by ever greater forces. 

I don’t know the why and the what for of all of this, but I do know I have been defeated by ever greater forces and I do know I will be played upon like a depthless melody. I do know I have been shaped by the eternal and uncommon and I am being strengthened still – by that fierce hand.  

I don’t know why I have lost nearly everything, but I do know that in the very same transaction, I have received so much. 

Home. In losing our home of 7 years we find ourselves bereft of that closeness to community and family, but in the transitional space we find ourselves in, we look out on snowy woods and a frozen lake and Ivan, our 7 year old lover of animals, exclaimed yesterday, “It’s like we have our own wildlife reserve!” as we watched a family of deer face off with a red fox from our living room window.

Provision. In losing my studio, my writing ability and performing energy, my output has been significantly less, and yet somehow, in my weakness, I have traveled more and my music has been more fruitful in the last year than it has ever been. Figure that out. Have we ever really believed that less is more?

Attunement. I don’t know why I saw 15 doctors without much, if any, symptomatic improvement, but now I do know and understand what my body, mind and spirit need in each moment in a much deeper and clearer way than I ever thought was possible. 

Presence, Peace, Trust. Perhaps the most beautiful gift I’ve received is an existential knowing of a true and tender presence of a sublime source and shepherd of life. With me, with me, with me. “Do not be afraid. Press on, press on, press on. I will be with you, wherever you go.”  These are the words that I heard from the clouds, in a fishing boat with my 10 year old son, in the boundary waters canoe area wilderness of Minnesota in August 2016, and I have held onto them ever since, many times for dear life.

I don’t write to you from a place of wholeness. In fact, I struggle to write to you, even now, through an undermined and impaired cognition. There is a beautiful way to go. But O my God, have I found deep healing and the healing surely continues. And coming out on the other side of the worst of this most difficult journey I must tell you that I am so grateful for every thought and smile and song and child and peace and presence that has been given back to me. As I told Andrea Swenson at The Current: “It got to the point with the illness where I realized that I may not be able to play again. I may have to let everything go. It’s a really really hard place to be where you feel that life is just slipping away from you. But I think I got to the place where I was able to let go and say that’s ok. I let go. I surrender. And I receive everything that I’ve ever been given and everything that I will be given as a gift. And so now I feel like everything I have is something that’s really given back to me. It does feel like a resurrection.

Another of these incredible gifts is my children. I have 5, and their names are Ana, Roy, Ivan, Isla and Asher. I can now be present with them – most of the time – and how beautiful that is – just to be present. Another gift is the music and the songs that I’ve been given. I’ve been given many songs in my life and some have been all but forgotten, but I’ve recently discovered in some of those neglected tracks, moments of the real and the beautiful that need to be remembered and shared. And so in celebration of this incredible journey back to health and on to wholeness, I’ve put together a collection of some ‘forgotten songs’ for a new album that we’re calling Romantica – Outlaws. 

As I reflect on this deep dark valley and the sense of exile that I felt and sometimes continue to feel, I think it’s interesting that these songs felt like outlaws too. Outlaws only from the Romantica catalog of the past 10 years, but I’ve found there is a gift in the path of the exile or the outlaw if that way can become a doorway to a deeper experience of reality. If we can somehow learn to see or feel more deeply or clearly from that ‘helpless’ point of view.  Perhaps this is the gift in getting sick, really sick, before we get better. Almost dead, before we truly touch life. To lose nearly everything before it is all given back to you. Because when you’ve been this close to death, the smallest glimpse of life returning quickly becomes mind-blowingly magnificent. The simplest moment of real presence becomes the most wonderfully beautiful miracle.  I hope you enjoy these songs in celebration of transformation. Listen to samples of Outlaws here.

Yours in healing,

Ben Kyle

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