Ben Folds Thrives: His New Book Is As Entertaining As His Songs
Reading his book was almost as delightful as listening to his songs, which after a 25 year career have amounted to quite a few. The artist who brought us to tears on “Brick” and amused us with “Rockin' the Suburbs” evokes those same emotions in his first book, A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons.
Ben Folds tells his story in semi-chronological order, although he makes references to songs or events that would happen later. Readers can easily see how many of the songs unfolded from his childhood years through his development as a young adult, sprinkled with humorous anecdotes as well as those he now regrets.
Besides allusions to his own works, much of his story is reflected by the songs of other artists whom Folds cites in the memoir. Here are fifteen of the songs that pop up in the various chapters, representing a wide variety of music genres.
1. The Things We Do For Love
This hit by 10cc, which has a piano riff that would certainly have appealed to the young Folds, played in his head as he wandered the halls of Moore Laboratory School.
2. Ride Captain Ride
His favorite song to listen to among the vinyl in the school library listening center's headphones, where Folds would hang out while skipping class, was this Blues Image classic about 73 men sailing out from the San Francisco Bay.
3. Maple Leaf Rag
He learned Scott Joplin's piece because he needed a standard piano hit for his recital, having abandoned his bass playing and drumming in favor of the piano.
4. Hotel California
Folds still uses “Kill the Beast” as the cue for his drummer to play a fill similar to the one Don Henley uses right after that line in the smash hit by the Eagles.
5. The Rise and Fall
This Madness album was the only cassette Folds had in the car when it was stolen, even though his father was encouraging him to exaggerate the number of items for the insurance money.
6. Frankly Mr. Shankly
He admits that this song by the Smiths would have been the perfect soundtrack for his desire to quit his job at the Mt. Labor grocery store.
7. Black Coffee In Bed
While he doesn't specifically mention this song, Folds does admit that his funk covers band preferred “English new wave music and thoughtful almost-punk bands like Squeeze or Elvis Costello and the Attractions.” This single by the Squeeze was probably a Folds favorite, for it features vocal assistance from Costello.
8. China Grove
Thanks to this Doobie Brothers smash, Folds says “While copying the original piano part I discovered the power of sticking the top of the piano range loudly and repetitively.”
9. Wuthering Heights
Money was tight for Folds and wife Anna when he gave in to the temptation to secretly buy a Kate Bush LP collection, so while this track played she punched him in the jaw.
10. Seymour Stein
Folds knew he had made it when he had dinner with this popular music executive, whose name he recalled from the song by Belle and Sebastian.
11. Short People
Fellow piano legend Randy Newman was an idol of Folds, who found it unfortunate that such a talented songwriter should have become associated with this novelty song.
12. Wipe Out
He became inspired to hit the skins by this song, not because of the Ventures but after hearing Karen Carpenter perform it as a drum solo.
“It's no surprise that the piano power ballad was hard rock band Kiss's biggest hit,” Folds observed about a radio trend in the Seventies and Eighties.
14. Living for the City
Artists need to have a variety of subjects on which to write, according to Folds, who admires the fact that Stevie Wonder composed politically-driven hits like this one as well as a dozen love songs.
15. Can't Do Nothin' For You Man
Having admired this Public Enemy song since his college days, Folds decided to cover it as a B-side.