Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Culture Lesson: Ben Folds

I took my mom to see the NSO Pops last month as an early Christmas gift. We took the Metro to shuttle us to and from the Kennedy Center, and on our trip home, we shared earbuds and listened to Ben Folds. This was my mom's first formal introduction—that is, she's heard Ben Folds in one incarnation or another on the radio with me—and she loved what she heard. So to continue the introduction, I thought I would write a lesson. (For what it's worth, a few other Old People asked if I "knew who" Ben Folds was a week later. It was unrelated and kind of strange.)

Ben Folds is a 43-year-old singer-songwriter/musician from North Carolina. Folds is best known for his solo career and as frontman for Ben Folds Five, a piano-powered, guitarless pop/rock trio. (The group thought "five" sounded better than "Ben Folds Three".) The group attracted mainstream attention in 1997 for the song "Brick" and their album Whatever and Ever Amen.

Ben Folds Five disbanded three years later in 2000, following 1998's Naked Baby Pictures, and 1999's The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (the title was originally a reference to the drummer's fake ID, and the liner notes "thanked" Messner for his cooperationat the time, the group was unaware of Messner's fame, and was later contacted by the real Messner, who expressed his pleasure with the group's work). The group's work following Whatever And Ever Amen was adored by critics and spawned hits (videos below), but did not match the success of "Brick." (That's my way of explaining why you may have mistakenly assumed that the group was a one-hit wonder. There were other hits!)

Warning: This song has the "B" word in it.

Following the split, Ben Folds sought a solo career. He released Rockin' the Suburbs in 2001, which again stole the hearts of critics and Young People. (Ed: Cool young people. Like, the cool person who sits in the back of Spanish class, gets all As, yet oozes apathy cool.) The album included an eponymous hit, which skewered the white, affluent middle class. (Yet spoke to me, as a bored suburban youth.) Folds stated that the song was also an attack on whiny Nu Metal (think Papa Roach). Here's the video, directed by Weird Al:

(I think the profanity has been obscured here.)

Folds followed Rockin' the Suburbs with a live album, two EPs in 2003, an EP in 2004, Songs for Silverman in 2005, and Way to Normal in 2008. There have also been compilations, a Web-only release, and other miscellaneous materials. Way to Normal debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard 200.

Folds is married, seemingly likes his wife, and has two children. As far as I can tell, he is not a Republican. (That's what's imperative here if you're my mom.)

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