As a Jewish-Australian, I often think about the well-being of Australia's only two 90s cultural icons, John Safran and Ben Lee. While I still think Safran is the shit and basically our version of Louis Theroux, I often think about what happened to the latter. The iconic Australian singer-songwriter who has lately made himself a little more memorable for his life choices than for his musical legacy.
Many of us are across the period of Lee's life that we might refer to as the 'Golden Era'—pre-Awake Is the New Sleep—when the singer-songwriter and Triple J mainstay went out with Claire Danes, becoming somewhat of a noughties IT couple, before she left him for the Golden God in Almost Famous, Billy Crudup. It was also around this time that Lee tried his hand at acting, with a lead role in an Australian indie quasi-classic Rage at Placid Lake, alongside Rose Byrne.
That era died (RIP) but his enduring love for IT girls did not: In 2010, Ben married the actress from Say Anything and River's Edge, Ione Skye, in a Hindu wedding ceremony. Skye was also married to Ad Rock from the Beastie Boys for a brief period, was a former girlfriend of Anthony Kiedis from RHCP when she was 18, and is the daughter of folk legend Donovan. Bless her.
Now the duo, like any good Hollywood couple, have found new-age enlightenment and wellness living and via their bizarre YouTube channel, have started pyramid selling essential oils. Naturally.
This is not all that surprising, as the content we've been seeing from Lee online over the last ten years has been… steadily more confusing. There was the video on ISLAM for the whole family, the music video featuring puppets, and another video featuring friends and family of Lee experiencing his new-age period, that I don The 2013 Ayahuasca Trip. Lee has been always peculiar, his shtick twee and cute but that 2013 album Ayahuasca: Welcome to the Work really opened those new-age 'I live in Los Angeles, I love Joshua Tree, I only shit out kale smoothies' doors right up. The whole thing is dedicated to his love of the psychedelic plant medicine and perhaps, I suspect, the gateway drug to essential oiling.
So, in their Los Angeles open-plan pad with their kids, they record wacky videos about the benefits of 'doTERRA Essential Oils', and basically how it can transform your life (and your family) financially, spiritually and physically. Both Lee and Skye are 'wellness advocates' for the oil company doTERRA, which runs on a business model of 'direct selling', mainly through word-of-mouth, allowing the 'individual to experience the power of essential oils'. The FDA mostly considers this type of selling, aka 'multilevel marketing', a pyramid scheme.
I don't think it's unfair to say that these videos are weird. For instance, there's a video that is nearly 20 minutes long where Skye and Lee introduce the concept of essential oils, how they are used (throw them in the air, rub them on your child's feet, hmm) and why doTERRA's oils are the "purest" and "most organic oils" they've found on the market. Skye mostly caters to the spiritual aspect of essential oils in the video, while Lee explains the entrepreneurial side to doTERRA's business model.
There are countless videos dedicated to Lee's healing from years of 'self-abuse' as a musician. He discusses in one video about how, if you ingest doTERRA's Helichrysum and Bergamot oil, it will improve your hearing. After years of "trying to look cool by standing in front of main speaker at a gig", like a bit of an insane person to be fair, Ben wants to make friends with his ears again.
There's another video which is what seems quite simply to me to be a blatant admission to pyramid scheming titled "An Invitation to a New Type of Business", where both Lee and Skye are clearly reading off some cult-like doTERRA Powerpoint slideshow—which they look like they are doing in every video—about how essential oils can offer 'natural solutions' to 'everyday problems'. While expressing how an average joe can empower themselves financially as a wellness advocate, Lee remarks that he and Skye, due to their fame, are a weird anomaly in the biz of pyramid oil selling. To give you an idea of the scheme's extortion of its consumers, a 15ml bottle of Bergamot (Lee's ear healer) is $27.50 USD on the doTERRA site, which works out to be nearly $37 AUD. As the couple explain: the more you buy, the more you save and ultimately, reach your goal of becoming a celebrated doTERRA Diamond Member!
To truly investigate Ben Lee's stream of consciousness and how he got to pyramid selling, we need to look further than his involvement in the doTERRA… situation. In a 2015 Studio 10 interview, perhaps Australia's closest thing to an answer to The View, Lee tells Ida Buttrose about how he became a death midwife (or 'mid-husbandry')—easing people into their appraoching death—and how everyone is essentially 'in hospice' when it comes to mortality. Jessica Rowe is confused, Ida is confused and I'm also very confused. Why is Ben Lee talking about the concept of mortality on a 10AM morning show?
The weirdness of Ben Lee truly hits its peak in late 2016, when he gives a talk in a bright yellow suit for Wired for Wonder, a type of low-budget Ted Talk, about the systems that control your life. The content of the video makes sense, I suppose, but that goddamn yellow suit. Peak levels of cookery.
Look, this isn't a real investigation into Ben Lee nor will I ever know the benefits of essential oiling, but I've spent a lot of time "researching", watching videos where he sprays oil on his bird and rubs it on his child's foot, and wondering why a 90s indie couple have to resort to pyramid selling on YouTube. I didn't really want to call Ben Lee to find out.