Ben and Me

September 11th, 2008

Falling in love for the first time: 

I’d somehow convinced my father to drive me to Best Buy. I don’t remember if it was my intention to buy a new album, or if I was simply browsing on that spring weekend in 1997.

Either way, I picked up Ben Folds Five’s just-released second album “Whatever and Ever Amen.” It was the first album I purchased without hearing a single note from the band in question. “Whatever and Ever Amen” released months before the once-ubiquitous single “Brick” hit the airwaves. This was years before every band had a Web site (I don’t even think my family had Internet at this point). I bought the album based on a write-up I’d read in Rolling Stone and a lyrical nod in a Counting Crows song.

All I knew was the idea of a piano-fronted rock band, without a guitar, sounded interesting. When I got home I ran up to my room, ripped open the album and popped it into my stereo. I listened to the first few measures of the first track, “One Angry Dwarf and 2,000 Solemn Faces.” It was unlike anything I’d ever heard in my 15 years.

Driving, forceful, but with a piano. Goofy and serious at the same time. I could throw away my Soundgarden T-shirt without looking back.

Then my father yelled at me to mow the lawn. I spent the next hour listening to the roar of the lawnmower, wondering what else the album had to offer. I knew it was something special; I had no idea how special.

Ben Folds became my all-time favorite recording artist. I’ve seen him 15 times in six states and the District, twice with ‘The Five,’ twice with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. I’ve got three pressings of “Whatever and Ever Amen” (original, Japanese and reissue), three rarely-worn T-shirts, a vinyl of “The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messener” and just about every single, B-side, EP or compilation.

For those of you who have no idea who Ben Folds is, he’s kind of like a literate, rocking Elton John without the schmaltz. Even the worst Ben Folds song (and there are some stinkers) is worth multiple listens.

Ben Folds Five, the band that put Ben on pop culture radar, broke up in 2000.

I was disappointed when that happened, but Folds’s subsequent solo outing, “Rockin’ The Suburbs,” might also be his best. If the band had to break up for Folds to release that, so be it.

But they’re getting back together, for one show only, to play “Reinhold” in its entirety.

“Reinhold” is a weird reunion choice. It’s as if Bradley Nowell came back to life and Sublime reunited to play… “Robbin’ the Hood.”

That’s kind of a headscratcher. Sublime has its fan-favorite first album “40 oz.” and its commercially successful self-titled album. So why play the oddball record?

Still, a Sublime reunion is better than no Sublime reunion.

I feel that way about Ben Folds Five. Kind of.

Jim DeRogatis, one of my favorite rock critics once wrote (paraphrasing), nostalgia is the enemy of rock and roll.

Ben Folds hasn’t been relevant since 1999. I still love him, minus 2005’s dull “Songs For Silverman.” He’s got a new album out Sept. 30, “Way To Normal.” Everything I’ve read and seen—10 pianos at once, choirs, huge acoustic guitar choruses—well, I’m getting excited.

After “Silverman” (which, in hindsight, we now know is the ‘divorce’ album), it seems to be Ben might be in a creative Renaissance.

So why revisit 10-year-old material? If you’re doing creative and exciting, do creative and exciting stuff.

Still… it’s Ben Folds Five. If there’s a creative reason to get back together, if Ben’s really gelling with former bandmates Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge, I say go for it (it’s unclear whether or not this one-off will yield more concerts, let alone an album). But why now?

Remember when Billy Corgan took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune to announce he was getting the Smashing Pumpkins back together, the same day as he released his solo album? I don’t think Folds is that egocentric of a self-promoter.

Besides, unlike Corgan, Folds has his old band, not brand. We’ll see what he does with it.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.


One comment to “Ben and Me”

  1. […] As regular readers of my column know, Ben Folds is my all-time favorite recording artist. As I wrote in a recent column: […]