Ben Folds Five

I recall when I was a kid going to visit my grandmother in New Providence New Jersey. New Providence is a pretty nice place, a quiet town with easy access to transit that brings workers to New York City. My grandmother lived in a nice neighborhood, she was a member of the garden club and very active in the local senior community, as a whole it was a relaxing place to visit as a child. She always made sure I felt at home. The house was always clean and up kept, the meals were perfect and delivered on time, rarely a hitch. She was truly at the peak of domestic engineering. This same grandmother had wealthy friends that she would visit down in Charlotte North Carolina. I never knew their names or much about them, all I knew is that my grandmother spoke of her visits with them like I felt about my visits with her and I couldn’t imagine a more utopia-esk type environment then my visits in New Providence. Time would roll on, as it often does and my grandmother is gone now but I still have that impression in my head of Charlotte North Carolina as the place where grandmothers go to be treated like grandchildren. This brings us to Ben Folds Five.

Ben Folds Five was a rock band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They were a three piece with Ben Folds on piano, Robert Sledge on bass and Darren Jessee on drums. Founded in 1993 they would remain together as a band until 2000 when they broke up for unstated reasons, although they have remained friends even playing a reunion show together in 2008. What set Ben Folds Five apart from other bands of the day was Ben’s piano playing. It had been quite a few years since a rock band was fronted by a piano player and it seemed the US was starving for one. The college kids in the North Carolina area flocked to Ben Folds Five shows like moths to a light bulb. Ben Folds made light of their music describing it as punk rock music for nerds. Which is actually a pretty good summation of it if you listen to some of their light hearted lyrics and goofy antics during live shows.

Their big break came in 1998 with the release of the “Brick” single and it is with this single that my grandmother gets involved. Brick is a very sad song about Ben and his girlfriend, both still attending high school, getting an abortion. It talks of the cold morning he took her to the clinic and all of the emotional baggage that goes along with going through such an experience. In the first verse of Brick there is a line that goes something like “mom and dad went down to Charlotte” and it’s with that line that all of my thoughts for this mystical place known as Charlotte came flooding back into the picture. From then on Ben Folds Five got tied in with my grandmother and the cozy city her wealthy friends lived in. In the recesses of my mind I thought of Ben Folds Five as music that the grand kids of the wealthy people my grandmother visited would listen to and I still think of Ben Folds Five that way to this day, I just can’t shake it.

Grandmas and nerds aside Ben Folds Five put out some fantastic albums. Extremely original song writing, entertaining lyrics and a energetic delivery by all three members is the norm on their records. In their seven years together they managed to put out three LP’s and one compilation containing B-sides and rarities. Of the four offerings my least likely suggestion would be the third LP, “The Unauthorized…”, while it is a fantastic album it is the biggest departure from their “standard sound”, they introduce a lot more instruments and in general the album has a sadder darker tone then the others. My faves would be either of the first two.

1) Ben Folds Five [1995]
2) Whatever and Ever Amen [1997]
3) Naked Baby Photos [1998] *rarities
4) The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner [1999]

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