By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Unity Church of Christianity is, perhaps, situated in an odd location for a place of worship: a few blocks north of most of the bars on Lower Greenville, directly across the street from a nondescript gas station, a few hundred feet south of another conglomerate of bars and restaurants. It's the kind of chapel that appears as though the world grew up around it, a neighborhood church that doesn't really fit into its neighborhood anymore.
On this Saturday, it seems a little more ordinary and out of place than usual as it quietly soaks up the remnants of last night's rainstorm. Dozens of people shuffle inside, looking uncomfortable in their suits. It's not the clothes that cause their discomfort, but the reason the congregants must wear them on this damp Saturday morning. No one expected to be here today, and God knows no one wants to be here,saying goodbye to an old friend who was still such a very young man. The only thing that seems to be prepared for today is the weather -- the cold, dark sky and the rain falling out of it are strangely, sadly appropriate, matching the moods of most of the people inside Unity Church.
Less than a year ago, they'd all gotten dressed up to celebrate with Tripping Daisy guitarist Wes Berggren and his new wife, Melissa. Now, they're gathered together again in their dress clothes; only this time, they're here to say goodbye to a friend they thought they'd know forever. Unfortunately for the family and friends and fans of Berggren, forever got too short, too soon. It lasted only 28 years.
Just three days earlier, word had begun spreading through the local music scene. Berggren's body was barely on its way to the medical examiner's office when the whispers began: Wes is dead. The rumors were painfully true: The guitar player had been discovered by his wife, dead in the couple's bed, on the afternoon of October 27.
So here they are, filing into Unity Church past Berggren's past -- photographs of happier times arranged in a collage next to a blown-up portrait of him that looks to have been taken several years ago -- and into a future they didn't plan on facing. Yet as his family urged, today is a celebration as well, of Berggren's life and love. And so Berggren's bandmates -- singer Tim DeLaughter, bassist Mark Pirro, drummer Ben Curtis, and guitarist Phil Karnats -- stand in front of the congregation one by one and tell some of their favorite stories about Berggren, most of them ending with "...and that was Wes." It's the only explanation they can offer to someone who wasn't there, who didn't spend all that time onstage and in the studio and on long van rides with Berggren, who didn't see their friend through their eyes.
While the members of the group and Berggren's family take turns speaking, a few dozen people who couldn't fit inside the crowded sanctuary stand huddled in the doorway, craning their necks around one another so they can see and hear what's going on. Some even press their ears to the wall to try to catch a snippet of the eulogies. A few local musicians are inside and out, including Hagfish's Doni Blair, Calways frontman Todd Deatherage, former UFOFU guitarist Joe Butcher, and Captain Audio's Brandon Curtis (Ben's brother) and Regina Chellew. Curtain Club co-owner Doug Simmons is also in attendance, as is Last Beat Records' Tami Thomsen.
As Berggren's bandmates and family and friends offer their own memories of him, one theme connects them all: Wes Berggren did what he loved, whenever and wherever he wanted to. They all share the same thing, their comments echoing like a strummed guitar: Wes' life may have been a short one, but it wasn't a wasted one. His parents even made copies of one of their favorite stories about Wes and distributed it to the crowd, just so people could find some hope in such a hopeless situation.
"In the early fall of 1985, Wes and his buddies were camping out in East Texas," they wrote. "After a hearty meal of hot dogs and chili, the boys disappeared into the night. For the next four hours there were sounds of young bodies tearing through the undergrowth, and screaming war cries. You remember Rambo, don't you? Finally, the boys came back to the camp site scratched and exhausted and triumphant. What they conquered was a secret never told.
"They were hungry, again, so we whipped up a farm breakfast that would satisfy Paul Bunyon," it continued. "A dozen eggs scrambled together with a pound of bacon and two cans of those little potatoes that are already cooked. Then the kids fell into their sleeping bags, while dad sat by the now dying camp fire, offering a fervent prayer to every God, everywhere. God, please let those kids always come back. Fourteen years later, the message has finally become clear. How can they come back, when they never really left? Dry those tears, good friends. Life is what we're here to celebrate. And love."