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Know When to Hold ‘Em, Know When to Folds ‘Em

By Ryan Thies – HodgeBlodge 4th Husband

Hey there, CreepstoreI have a friend who once raised his glass and toasted: “If we play our cards right, our second wives haven’t even been born yet.”  We were 22 at the time.  I thought he was kidding, but now, years (and many relationships) later, I’m beginning to suspect that he wasn’t.

Time passes and circumstances evolve and when they do they change the way we view everything that was said and done prior.  This is especially true in politics–think: Congressman Mark Foley ranting against homosexuality now that you know he was sexting his young, male interns- but it’s also true in pop culture–doesn’t Michael Jackson’s unraveling ultimately change the way we all view Thriller?  My point is this:  I will never look at Ben Folds’ album, Songs for Silverman, the same way.

Ben Folds must get his dating advice from reality TV (possibly the Rock of Love bus) because he goes through wives like Larry King goes through, well, wives.  Ben’s currently on Wife #4–pretty impressive number to hit by the age of 43.  But the problem isn’t just his train-wreck of a love-life; well that probably is a problem, but my problem is that ultimately it taints (or at least changes) his art.  Like the statues at Haunted Mansion, suddenly Folds’ songs follow you, in the bad way, shifting their appearance as you look at them differently.

His first solo album, Rocking the Suburbs, was all about new love, about falling head-over-heals, and about white kids listening to Quiet Riot.  And clearly this second album was about him settling into married life, about reflecting on his life before her, and about Elliott Smith cheating in basketball.  I have listened to that second album maybe 30 times, but it wasn’t until Folds made a comment in concert (“the last album was a breakup album”)–while admitting that he and wife #3 were now divorced, while simultaneously unveiling wife #4–that the whole thing changed for me.  It was a bit much to drop all at once; maybe he’s actually been taking his advice from Lost and Jerry Springer.

Initially track one, Bastard, was just another Folds song about the weird people who have crossed his path.  Maybe it was about his father, or just a father-figure; but clearly it’s just about the passing of an old man, I told myself. But then Folds changed the context.  And suddenly the song wasn’t about some quirky old man, suddenly Bastard was about Folds’ fears of dying alone.  Did he mean it that way?  I have no clue, but all I know is that the song will never be the same simply because of some context that I would never have considered.

This album was released while all of us presumed he was happily married.  Sure there were songs about marriages that didn’t last (You to Thank) but he was open about those because he was happy now…right?  Even the song about his daughter, Gracie, was just about the fears that all dads have about their little girls growing up.  I mean it’s not weird to write a song for a 4-year-old saying that you hope you taught her everything she needs to know…right?  And all the songs about being with a crazy chick (Trusted) or about relationships that had hit the skids (Sentimental Guy, Time) or about a relationship with a crazy chick that hit the skids(Landed), I mean he just wrote those now because he was able to reflect on all the bad relationships he had in the distant past…right?

But he wrote about happy times too.  After all the last track of the album is about walking on the beach with his wife, and it’s called…Prison Food. Oh.  I guess I didn’t really think about that.  Or about the fact that the refrain is “Alone/Alone again” over and over again.

I guess it was all there, right in front of me, but I never really bothered to wonder if maybe there was something in his life that we didn’t know yet.  I guess it never occurred to me to wonder if a guy that had been married three times in his 30s was possibly not on his last marriage.  I guess ultimately it makes sense why so many artists say so little about themselves personally, their art is completely at the discretion of the listener, but presumably they would like their art to stay above whatever mistakes they make personally.

All of this has lead me to listen a little closer, and think a little wider about music- or at least about the people that make the music.  And it’s lead me to suspect that it’s entirely possible that, if he plays his cards right, Ben Folds will one-day release an album about a woman who isn’t even born yet.

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