A Skin Yard Tour Story – Soaked to the Bone

Daniel House

Ben McMillan

I know that it is not politically correct to speak ill of the dead, however I do not consider the following story to be “speaking ill.” I know that it’s common for people to remember those who have passed in a selective light. Often, after our friends have left us, friends who – like the rest of us – had their good and bad qualities, suddenly seem to only be remembered for their positive attributes. I suppose it’s human nature, but let’s be honest: we all have our faults, and we all have our damage to varying degrees, and I for one hope to be remembered for both my positive and negative attributes when I finally leave this world. I’ll be the first to recognize my weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s part of who I am. It was also part of who Ben was, and was certainly part of Ben’s magnanimous charm. Disclaimer aside, please read on.

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Ben McMillan of Skin Yard and GruntruckI think I can say in all fairness that Ben was an alcoholic. At the very beginning of every tour that we ever did, his first order of business would be to have us stop at a store to buy at minimum, a half case of beer. It didn’t matter whether it was day or night, whether we’d even hit the freeway out of Seattle yet, we’d be stopping at a 7-11 or a Safeway so he could get his road fuel, and usually before we were even out of the parking lot, he would have cracked his first beer. Which led to the next one and so forth…within 4-5 hours he would have finished all 12 bottles, which would have been fine, however usually within the first 45 minutes of the trip, Ben would beg for us to stop because he had to piss, which also meant that we’d have to stop every half an hour just so he could empty his bladder. This was – in my mind – unacceptable. We all fussed about how it was not necessary that he drink beer the entirety of the tour, and that it was not realistic to stop on average every half hour for the next 45 days on the road, particularly on those days when we had a 10 hour drive in front of us. Ben however, was not willing to make that particular compromise, and we were not willing to accommodate his desire to have us stop every damned rest stop and gas station along the freeway just so he could relieve himself. So we came up with a “solution.” Ben would be responsible when we first stopped for his half rack of beer to also grab an empty Big Gulp cup with a top, and that would become the receptacle for his frequent need to empty his bladder. My preference – being the inflexible taskmaster that I was then – was still that he just not drink in the van, but the rest of the troops searching for the path of least resistance, said “ok.” Ben would slowly fill his portable 40 ounce plastic cup doing his best as we were blasting down the freeway to get it all in the cup. A lid was essential to the whole operation. The piss cup was stored along the floor in the recessed area next to the sliding side door, and every 2 or 3 hours, when we had to stop for gas and snacks, we’d spill out of the van and Ben would take care of emptying the contents of the cup. Some of the time however, the cup would be completely full, and we’d be nowhere near a stop, so Ben would unroll the passenger window and toss the cup to the side of the road, and he’d grab a fresh cup at our next refill.

The heater in the van had stopped working during one of the colder tours that we embarked on. It was November and we were at the tail end of our trip. Our last show had just finished in Chicago, and it was bitter cold outside – somewhere in the high 20s – low 30s. The show was not one of the highlights of the tour. It was reasonably attended, but we were tired, and ready to get home. After getting paid, Ben managed to secure a full case of beer. He was elated. Ben also managed to score a quarter gram of crystal, which was essential as we were going to attempt a straight shot drive – 42 hours more or less non-stop from Chicago back to Seattle, with all of us but Ben trading driving shifts. The crystal was essential, because we needed to be chemically stimulated for this particular leg of the trip. Two needed to be awake, the driver – which was going to be me through the night – and the other – Ben – to keep the driver engaged. Everybody got bundled up wrapped from chin to toe in our sleeping bags trying so stay awake in a van with no heater boring along the dark freeway in the freezing night. It was hellish. I’m driving, and Ben is in the passenger seat, equally mummified with one of his arms out, beer in hand and a half full cup of piss on the floor next to him.

About an hour away from Chicago, Ben had managed to fill his cup. We were all still awake and barely staying warm as we careened west along the freeway as fast as our poor van was able to go. We had almost two days of driving ahead, and we would do our best to make tracks as best as the van would take us. Ben unrolled the window to toss the cup, and the biting ice-wind rushed into the cab of the van. The rest of us were all yelling for him to hurry up and toss the cup fer fuckssake. I slowed down a bit to ease the force of the air rushing in. Ben half unraveled himself from his sleeping bag and tossed the cup out the window.

The events of the next few seconds all occurred in painful slow motion.

The cup got caught in the air and did two quick 360 degree spins before the lid from the cup became unhinged and the entire contents of the Big Gulp came rushing back through the open window covering Ben from the top of his head down to his waist which was mostly sleeping bag now soaked in his own urine. I saw the splash coming in and actually swerved the van as if to avoid an animal in the road. I never knew if it made any real difference, but the leading edge of the wave missed me by literally an inch or two. I was spared, as was everyone else in the van, now all howling hysterically, completely aware of what had just occurred. Japanese Snow Money Is not a happy camper!Ben was sitting there in his seat, hair completely dripping onto his coat and further drenching his sleeping bag, which he had little choice but to keep on because it was so incredibly cold. It reminded me of that classic National Geographic photo of that monkey in the hot spring, his wet head half frozen and the look on his face pissed off and indignant. That was Ben. Not just covered and soaking in his own piss, but mortified and frozen as the temperature crept in to his hair and his clothes and into his damp stinky sleeping bag. The howling laughter went on for minutes. In retrospect this was perhaps the grossest story in our arsenal of tour stories, but at that particular moment, it was the definitive “told-you-so,” the ultimate cosmic payback.

The worst part though, was that we was still had another 41 hours to go.

16 thoughts on “A Skin Yard Tour Story – Soaked to the Bone”

  1. …that reminds me of Wad’s first drummer, who did piss bottles and snuff-spit bottles, as if just piss bottles wasn’t foul enough… ugh… still makes me gag to think on….

  2. Well Daniel, someone besides me finally told the truth about the cause of Ben’s’ “illness”, people who get mad need to wake up! I was with him for 7 years and let me tell you i know.

  3. As a fan of SY and GT for 20 years… I understand, it must have been tough.. but why did you have to put this story online for the world to read? I didn’t need to know this. Are you trying to discredit him on purpose? You’re supposed to keep stories like that (hardships) between you and your close friends/family.

  4. Hi CW –
    It’s good to know that we still have fans two decades after the band called it quits. I appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment on this post and am happy to write a reply in response to a couple of the points you brought up. First of all, this post is in no way “discrediting” Ben. He was kind, talented, smart and also a great front man. I spent six years in a band with him, and knew him for all his great qualities as well as his faults. Anybody who has known me either in the context of being in a band with me, or just as a friend could easily say the same about me. As mentioned in my preamble, “I’ll be the first to recognize my weaknesses and shortcomings.” Ben was a flawed human being, just like you and just like me. It’s all part of the human condition, and none of us gets to escape that one.

    Read ANY biography of any rock figure that died too young, and you will invariably be confronted with many accounts that paint a less idealized picture of the person. Do these accounts discredit the person, or do they instead reveal components of the complexity of the person, warts and all?

    I am particularly interested in your statement, “You’re supposed to keep stories like [this] between you and your close friends/family.” According to whom? I do not subscribe to that particular philosophy. If anything, I consider this attitude a form of denial. Addiction and alcoholism are very real, and part of dealing with it –in our lives and with those loved ones in our lives who are afflicted (both of my parents for instance) –is in the acknowledgment that these issues exist.

    I understand that for whatever reason, my post made you feel uncomfortable, but I think that you have perhaps missed part of the point of the story – as a semi-tragic / semi-comical story….and also as a small piece of a larger history full of all sorts of stories. And believe me I have LOADS of others that I have chosen to not write about.

  5. OMG This is so hilarious…brings tears of laughter to my eyes! Having also known Ben for years, I can just see his face and even feel the moment hanging in the air! Thank you so much for this! 

    And CW really needs to chill the frak out…this is an awesome story, an amusing antidote of life on the road with friends.  I discern no discredit or slander of any such shit in it. 
    What part offends CW? The fact that Ben is called an alcoholic or that drugs are mentioned? So what. So many of us had our substance use, over-use & abuse issues, especially back then (ie “in our youth” LOL) and that alone is no “discredit”. It’s just truth and if we lived/got through it, was added color to the story of our lives. Ben had his battles…sometimes he dug outta the holes & lived so much better/cleaner/healthier. Some were longer better periods, some shorter,  but the Ben I knew was always striving to get through and be better both physically and spiritually. 

    And frankly, if you haven’t peed in a cup (or jar) in a moving vehicle you haven’t really been on a road trip…and this is coming from a GIRL whose parents’ idea of the best vacations ever were “Let’s hit every National Park in the USA this summer…AGAIN.” Try three kids (and a dog) in the back of a barely-running 1965 Ford Econoline van in August in Texas (or any state from Oregon to California to Florida), no air conditioning, and that same BigGulp cup (x2 or 3) tucked into the wheel-well or other hopefully  un-spillable place. “No kids, we can’t stop to pee now or we won’t make it to [insert park name/campground or distant relative’s house here] before they close (or go to bed ie lock us out). Here, use this…we’ll dump it when we get gas.” Ugh. And no that cup did NOT always stay intact. Dbl-UGGH! >.<

    So keep the stories coming, Daniel! We love 'em…love you…and hell what a time those days were! 🙂 

  6. I can’t stop laughing. It is a great story about touring! That’s all we have after our loved ones die. Bring on the memories brother! I remember Ben telling tour stories at Ernie Steels / Eileen’ s Sports Bar!

  7. Trust me Daniel you will be remembered for your “bad” attributes. I have yet in my 51 years yet to me someone so arrogant, self serving, little and just ugly to be around. In my web search of Ben this story popped up. Your right in this story the worst part was the 41 hours to go, Ben didn’t want to be around you for 4 hours much less 41. He was miserable with you as a band mate. Your problem has always been that you didn’t “make it”. You’re not Kurt, Chris, Andy, Eddie or Ben. People that even know about Skin Yard generally know the name of Ben McMillian but not Daniel House. You were just to miserable to ever like and certainly to judgmental to tolerate. So for your epitaph you are probably a wonderful father and possibly a great friend to those who pass your strict rules and get pass the gates of House. But to rest of us, you will be remembered as one miserable bastard. A blip, when you die the general response will probably be, “Daniel who? What band? Oh did they play with Soundgarden?” People don’t even know your hate on of your band name was a play on words of Soundgarden. This little side note is to prove you couldn’t even have an original thought for a band name. I find your story telling of Ben only proves your harshness and self promoting qualities that make my point. It’s sad that after all these years you’re still reaching to be found.

  8. Hi Heather, if that is in fact your real name.

    Initially, I considered not approving your comment, not because the entire thing is a personal attack against me, but more so because your toxic comments have virtually nothing to do with the topic of the post that you were writing in response to. I decided that your vitriolic rant was worth posting, if for no other reason than I wanted to respond to your remarkably aggressive outburst.

    I have no clue who you are, but you claim to know me. I can say with confidence that you do not. Perhaps we met at some point half my life ago, but if that were the case, you did not leave any impression on my memory. Clearly I have left something of an impression on yours.

    Regarding a few of the hateful comments that you wrote, let’s start with the name, Skin Yard. I did not come up with it – that would have been Matt (Cameron). The name had nothing to do with Soundgarden –a band that I have a genuine reverence and appreciation for–but at the time when Matt came up with the name after months of failed deliberation, SG had only played a scant few shows and were not much of a draw yet around Seattle.

    After all these years, I am in fact not “still reaching to be found.” I am proud of the music that Skin Yard created. I suppose it might have been nice to have “made it,” but to be completely honest that was never the driving force in our music or our creative process. You are correct that I am not Kurt, Chris, Andy, Eddie….or Ben. Bravo for such astute skills of observation. I was friends with four of the five names you mentioned (three of whom are sadly no longer with us). Good people all, but it was never my goal to emulate any of them. If rock-stardom had been my primary goal in life, don’t you think I would have continued playing in bands trying to “make it?” I chose a different path. Think about it.

    I am surprised and (a little saddened) to hear that you’re 51 years of age. Let me explain why: I am amazed that at this point in your life; you are harboring such intense anger and hatred towards somebody that you may have perhaps met once in your life. I have little doubt that I was more arrogant and self-serving way back in my twenties. I imagine that most of us were. Over the decades we all do a lot of growing up and figuring out who we are, and hopefully learning how to become less angry at the world. Your post leads me to believe that you have a long ways to go with that one. I hope you find peace.

    Your miserable, ugly, arrogant, judgmental, self-serving bastard on the web, Daniel House

  9. It makes me love him, this story. We are all piss drenched, yeah? And it seems, our moments follow us into death. We are covered in our own humanity. It’s enough to make us cry laughing. Thanks, Daniel.

  10. Daniel this is an awesome story. It seems like EVERY band has the “piss cup blazing down the freeway at 90 mph oh shit it blew into the van” story. Ben sounds like one guy in almost every band I was in….the one who cured the boredom of the drive with something.

    This is totally normal and clearly “Heather” missed that point in her hideous rant against your person. Hey Heather? It’s people like you that really make my day. That there actually exist such angry hateful bitter spiteful hideous bile filled crustaceans in human form. If you’re 51, man…..I suggest meditation AND if you’re going to pee all over someone’s blog at least address the topic at hand BEFORE you drop trousers on the writer. Wow.

    Rock on Houseman.

  11. Funny, “HEATHER”, Daniel and I just went to see Soundgarden perform last week at the Hollywood Bowl. We paid for the tickets. No favors, just fans. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

    When YOU die the response will be, “that idiot who probably still lives where they went to high school and writes about crap that happened in the early 90s”. You are an idiot.

  12. Well. Great article about Ben, overshadowed by some ultimate weirdness from Heather. All’s I can say is, I’m so glad I made the cut, Daniel! Pill-poppin’ and puking and peeing on your leg… yes, you certainly do have strict standards for your friends. We’re all super klassy, high and mighty up here on our “could have been someone” cloud…

  13. What a great story.
    We all have these special moments in time, in our life, that no one really gets ,except for the people that were there.
    This is special ,and hilarious. And the fact that you shared this sacred moment in time ,about Skin Yard, makes it a musical theater ,on the road to the journey of the band.
    Classic stuff.
    Thanx for sharing Daniel !
    And yes ,it is sad but true ,how many talented people have lost their way with Drugs & Alcohol, it happens to the best of us.

  14. Wow, Daniel. You handle haters well. So you weren’t always the nice guy that everybody loved or thought was so cool, you weren’t trying to be liked by all. In fact…you were probably a cranky, feisty mo fo…but you have fought long and hard to triumph over your demons. I know this because you are alive and healthy today and it takes some mettle to get where you are now from back then. I wish I could explain to people what living through the “Seattle Scene” was like for most of us and how raw and painful a lot of it was. For me, Iggy explains it in that Documentary Gimme Danger, talking about his music scene that got co-opted, he called it cultural treason… Seattle is better off today in a lot of ways and hopefully everyone has grown and moved on to have more fulfilling lives. I feel for Heather. May they forgive themselves for whatever keeps them in that torment. Seriously.

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