Ride On. Goodbye to my brother, Danny Stenberg

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Danny Stenberg, February 10, 1964 — April 15, 2017

My brother, Danny Stenberg, was killed in a motorcycle accident near his home in South Bend, Indiana last Saturday.

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Danny Stenberg

Danny was the sweetest, most intelligent outlaw my mom and mother earth ever produced.

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Michele, Danny and me circa 1973

My earliest memories of Danny involve the thrill of disobedience. While he was meant to be babysitting me he set me atop a speaker twice my size in a black lit basement while he and his friends got in to who knows what. I was too little to tell you what music was blasting out and I have no memory what Danny and his friends were doing but I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell mom.

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Danny Stenberg in high school

When I was in kindergarten Danny started a deliberate (and ultimately successful) music brainwashing program on me. He grew too old or cool for his KISS records and I was the lucky recipient of his vinyl copies of Destroyer, Rock and Roll Over and Alive. He asserted an earnest “Rush lyrics 101” class for the five year-old me. Anyone who knows Danny can picture this as a serious and important task for him. I’m sure he believed he was giving me something vital school and parents never would. He was right, and I’ve leaned on this wisdom with good fortune ever since.

But Danny disappeared when I was young. He ran away, went West. Alaska? California? Wyoming? It wasn’t clear. From the stories I’ve heard in recent years it was all of the above.

I never thought of Danny leaving as a result of a falling out with mom. They didn’t argue any more than anyone else. Even as a kid I blamed Goshen and Indiana. The city couldn’t hold him. He was not normal. He didn’t do normal person things. He couldn’t hang around normal people too long.

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Darlene, Danny, Daniel, Vicki, Michelle, Kris Kurtz, me, Warren

Danny was an inspiration to me. He proved there was life beyond Goshen and it was more fun to pursue it.

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Me and Danny in Chicago, 2016

Thankfully I had an opportunity to tell him these things recently. He met me in Chicago last August and we rode motorcycles from Chicago to Goshen, Goshen to Detroit, Detroit to Chicago. We bunked together and had those side of the road coffee stops together where he talked faster than we rode. But even more than we talked we rode on, covering miles without saying a word, constantly aware of and never letting each other out of sight. You ride your ride, I’ll ride mine, but I see you and I’m right here if you need me. This is the silence that defines the communication between the men in my family.

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Danny would tell you anything you asked about him. Usually it was barreling positivity and possibility but it was sometimes punctuated with thoughtful consideration of past mistakes and even guilt. He knew he didn’t always do right but he always wanted to do better. Tomorrow was a new, brighter day and he was going to take advantage of it, dammit. Fuck yesterday. Yesterday is gone. Today and tomorrow are what we have.

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In a text exchange with Danny the morning of his last ride he sent a photo of him and guitarist Michaelangelo from the night before. “Killer players, killer night :-)”. In an attempt to text him back a link to the album I was listening to at that moment, the new Mastodon, I instead texted him a link to an audio interview with Yuval Harari, the author of Sapiens, talking about Vipasana meditation. When I apologized for the wrong link he said, “I’m listening to that other thing, and I like it!” At his memorial I learned from people I’d never met, people who were in Narcotics Anonymous and the Masters of Social Work program at Indiana University with him, that this openness and positivity was his hallmark for them, too. Danny was an outlaw. He rarely, if ever, took the path those who loved him wanted him to take. But he was relentlessly optimistic, sincerely kind-hearted, and surprisingly intelligent.

Danny, I miss your texts already. Thanks for everything you gave me these past 45 years. They will never be forgotten. I love you. Sincerely, your little brother Ian.

Click here for the playlist we played at his memorial.