Ben Folds' New Memoir Debuts At No. 7 On New York Times Best-Seller List
Singer, songwriter, and producer Ben Folds has a new book out. A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons debuted at #7 on the New York Times Best Seller list. For years the Winston-Salem native enjoyed a kind of cult status atop the alternative rock world as the leader of Ben Folds Five. But getting there was messy: failed marriages, musical battles lost, and lessons learned.
Ben Folds recently returned to his hometown and a packed Reynolds auditorium in his old high school to promote the new book. He spoke with WFDD’s David Ford.
On the dream in the book's title:
It stuck with me and I began to kind of see it as a metaphor of — real simple — of art. Not that I’m the guy who can see and everybody else can’t, but that everybody can see what someone else doesn’t see. The next step is the bottling of it which is, you know, that just depends on whether you’re crazy enough to spend all the time, or you’ve dedicated your life, or you’re lucky enough to have grown up maybe in an environment that was supportive or fostered the bottling of ideas, you know?
On listening to music eight hours a day as a two-year-old:
I mean, I don’t think that there’s any better training for a kid than listening. So, the first thing that you’re going to do for a kid is you’re going to start learning tonality as we know it. The more that you hear that, you know you ‘ve got it under your belt the better. Now, you know, parents who would have said, 'Well, that’s a little weird. We’re going to take the turntable from him. We’re not going to let him do that anymore,' I wouldn’t be here. I needed that as a step, and I think that anyone whose got kids who are learning music I do think that’s an incredible first step. In the liability camp is that, if you’re so obsessive as to listen to that much music, you’ve got some wiring that might be a little bit of a challenge when you grow up. But at the same time, it gave me an incredible vocabulary, so by the time I was about six-years-old I was dreaming songs all the time.
Rock 'n' roll had been around long enough that it seemed like it had a little trademark over it. Even though rock stars would say something that would seem vulnerable, it seemed like disingenuous vulnerability to me. They’d sing, “I cried for you, girl.” First of all, no you didn’t. And second of all it’s just supporting a narrative that he’s weaving throughout a song that she did him wrong and he’s showing how vulnerable he is and how sensitive he is. And maybe that’ll, you know, he’ll get lucky again with someone else I guess after he sings that song. So, from my point of view I wanted really badly to hear someone be just the dude next door and have things wrong. One of the first things that occurred to me was, "All these guys being so super, like, I feel this and everything I feel." Well, what about if you don’t feel anything? What about that? Like the times you’re sitting there, and somebody tells you something and you’re like staring at a bowl of fries and you don’t feel anything at all? And some of it is cut off like you felt too much. Sometimes it’s because, I don’t know, you might laugh, like you might laugh at a funeral. What if these things were in a song? Those are real. Then you’re not going to look so cool. And what I found that it did over the course of my career was that everyone else seemed to feel that way. Everyone else was like, “Actually, I don’t feel cool either.”
On growing up in Winston-Salem in the 1970s:
First of all, there was the racial thing, so you hang out with both sides of that. And then it’s like, we lived out in the county for a while, so people on the street we lived on sometimes it’s just, well they talked like that [in a deep Southern accent]. And when you come into town suddenly it’s like an influx of people that come from up north somewhere and they have like a straight accent, like that accent you hear on TV, and so there’s a whole strata. I would get on a couple of times on a Learjet with family friends who were big stuff. And then the next day it would be like the kind of kids who couldn’t afford shoes and I think that being in all of those puts you in a real observer's position. And when it came to songwriting, I feel like it gave me a sense of empathy in songwriting that is a rare gift that I see it that way.