Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My Life In Song: Ben Folds Five - WEAEA

[The second in a very slowly developing series -- the first was about 2 years ago.]

One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

Like most, my first exposure to Ben Folds Five were the singles "Brick" and "Battle of Who Could Care Less". The song that led me to buy an album, however, was "Emaline", off the "Naked Baby Photos" album, which I heard on our college radio station long before I would go on to broadcast from its frequency. After enjoying "Naked Baby Photos", I picked up "Whatever and Ever Amen". It so happened that I went straight to my girlfriend's dorm after that purchase, so the first time I heard "One Angry Dwarf" play was there, emanating from a stereo that usually played Celine Dion or Trisha Yearwood.


I would usually skip over "Fair", because I found the chorus of "Ba ba bap"s annoying. This went on for years, until I attended a Ben Folds show at City Market. (Which I actually wrote about for Bag's now-defunct website -- that post is actually still available at the BenFolds.org forum.)

Guster came on stage to join Ben in a rollicking performance of "Fair" -- I was so impressed, "Fair" was the first song I wanted to hear when I got back to my home stereo. A live rendition had never before, and has not since, changed my feelings toward a song so radically.


I read an interview with Folds, possibly in "Rolling Stone" about his hit as I stood in Goodnow Hall in 1998, keeping my girlfriend company as she worked the front desk. I'm also reminded of a post-concert discussion with a different girlfriend. "I think I'm the only person that still wants to hear him play 'Brick'," she said.

Song for the Dumped

I can no longer distinguish between versions of this I've seen on TV and DVDs and live performances I've personally witnessed.

Selfless, Cold, and Composed

This was always my favorite piece from the album, but it's not attached to any specific memory.


I usually get bogged down by the lyric, "she hands out the Bhagavad Gita", because I learned what it was once, and can't really recall its significance. (According to Wikipedia, it's a text sacred to the Hindus and Krishnas.)


I got Nick Hornby's "Songbook" for Christmas one year. He wrote a piece on this song, and I recall he liked its metaphor. To wit:
"Smoke" is one of the cleverest, wisest songs about the slow death of a relationship that I know... the heartbreaking thing about Folds' song is that it manages to simultaneously convey both the narrator's desperation and the impossibility of a happy outcome.

My previous car was armed with only a cassette player, so I had to dub a lot of CDs to tape. I fit most all of "WEAEA", "Naked Baby Photos", and "Ben Folds Five" onto one 100-minute tape. In order to do so, I rearranged the order of "WEAEA", placing the brief "Cigarette" at the end of side A.

Steven's Last Night in Town

So. I met this girl at a friend's party (it was either a party with the theme of "Pimps, Playas and Ho's" or a celebration for a gay couple that worked with Brad at Target and recently had a commitment ceremony -- tough to say which, and it may have actually been the same party... and no, we weren't very cool back then), and arrangements were (eventually) made to get together. I drove to pick her up, and decided that "WEAEA" was a decent choice for a good first (music-related) impression. Unfortunately, it took me a while to find the correct address. By the time she stepped into the car, the cassette was playing the obnoxious solo to "Steven's Last Night in Town", which sounds like background music for a trapeze act. I believe her exact reaction was, "This is interesting music."

We got to the theater and watched the death and destruction of "Saving Private Ryan" (it bears repeating: I wasn't very cool back then, or smart, so that's how I ended up with that film choice during this first date). Afterward, she mentioned she'd already seen it.

She was (somehow, improbably) interested in dating me after that episode. Even though we lived in the same dorm that year (if you're doing the math, you'll note that this was my second year of college, and just to hammer in the point, yes, I stayed in the dorms for my second year, and no, I wasn't very cool back then), I declined on a relationship. She was a year younger, and dating a college freshman seemed like a bad idea; I thought she should have time to spread her wings, see the world, and all that crap.

And what happened? She became involved with someone immediately, and married him a few years later. I've always been proud of myself for avoiding that relationship -- I like to think that I made her marriage happen.

Battle of Who Could Care Less

This was the first BFF single I ever heard. KICT played it a lot during my high school commute. When I hear it, I think about turning left on 13th from Tyler. I also heard Elvis Costello's "Pump it Up" a lot on my way to school.

Missing the War

I think about the live performance of this song seen on the "Sessions at West 54th" DVD, even when I'm hearing the studio version. This song has supplanted my previous favorite, "Selfless, Cold, and Composed". I like to try (and fail) to hit the high notes when I'm driving.


This song makes me think of a holiday -- either Christmas or Thanksgiving -- that we hosted, back when there was a CD player in my dad's house. I guess I tried to play a little music instead of watching the goddamn parade, and thought this album was acceptable for my aunts and grandparents. I'm sure it was my choice, because my brother tended to play more controversial music, rather than the music he'd expect the guests to enjoy. And that's why we didn't listen to Helmet that Thanksgiving.


Jenny said...

Didn't we start dating in 1998? While in our second year of college, you (still) living in the dorm? Aren't all these comments about other girlfriends you had during this time period? Was I played, Daniel? Was I?

dn said...


Big difference between Early Fall '98 and Late Fall '98. I was oh so true to you.

Anonymous said...

what did i hear on those early morning drives to bishop carroll? the pubescent voices of mike timmermeyer, dave knapp and mikey after my stereo was stolen.


Anonymous said...

Hm, I thought I was the chick who listened to Celine and Trisha Yearwood. Or maybe I was getting played. Daniel! I'm ashamed! - Anastasia

dn said...

Uh, you WERE the chick that listened to Celine. This post seems to be confusing everyone. But I do like how it makes me seem like a collegiate playboy.

Oh and Pat, I remember one morning you walked into school and said you and your bro listened to "Glycerine" over and over again during the drive in. I guess that was before your stereo got jacked. Before you wanted to kill yourself (or Mikey, or Dave, or Mike). I'll have to do one of these for "Sixteen Stone" sometime.

Barbara said...

I have never listened to BFF. I feel like I may have seen them in concert and they didn't play Brick, or else I heard that they didn't play it in concert and people were miffed.

My car just has a cassette player to this very day. IF you still have it, you should send me your old dub tape because I am curious to hear it now. I promise not to get confused about that song that seems like is on a different album.

You keep saying "I wasn't cool then" in this post. Which is confusing to me because aren't you like everyone's best man and high school class president? Did you suddenly lose your cool in college? Cuz I met you right afterward and you seemed fine to me. Maybe you just faltered there until you regained your bearings.