WILKOMMEN to Volume 2 of the celebrations of the lyrical awesomeness of some of my favorite artists. It’s near impossible for me to choose between the musicians I love so dearly! The whole point of these posts are to highlight the genius of the words of some less obvious poets on my playlists; I worship Joni, I obsess over the Beatles, I read Bob Dylan’s verses, and I try not to directly copy all of them, but honestly, if you don’t know how ridiculous they are lyrically, musically and otherwise, go read another blog. For realz, it’s simply not going to work out between us. As hard as it was to choose who to highlight this week, this group chose themselves by always popping up in my music mix at the perfect moment with the perfect thing to say… and that is Ben Folds Five.
I remember that my brother had a tape (ha) of Whatever and Ever Amen that I stole from his room when I was 15 (because my brother was and is the COOLEST dude, and any music he liked I clearly had to like to be cool – never worked, btw) and the only song I liked at the time was Kate, mostly for the fun beat and the edgy drug references. I wasn’t ready yet. I downloaded their albums from Kazaa a few years later (have I sufficiently dated myself yet?) but never really listened to them until college, when Tom re-introduced me. By then, I was READY, and the lyrics simply exploded out of the music. I obsessively wrote them and re-wrote them in my journal, sang them in practice rooms, almost performed ‘Rock This Bitch’ in my senior recital (I chickened out, thinking NO ONE would know what it was and my profs prooooobably wouldn’t think it was as funny as I did), the list goes on and on. Let’s get into the worshipping, shall we?
We’ll start with BF5’s first self-titled album. It’s chock full of songs I love, but two I particularly love deal with being an outcast, an underdog, or feeling generally unliked or misunderstood. The first is ‘Philosophy’. I was in a rather competitive (I’m putting it mildly) program full of huge personalities and insane talent in college, my (terrified) sights were set on NYC the second I graduated, my mom was ill, and Lady Depressionata was not handling all of it in the best way possible. Therefore, the thought of graduating and getting the hell away was BEYOND exciting – I’d listen to it and imagine getting OUT and being instantly, infinitely happier. Because that’s how life works. Ha. Aaaaaanyway. I went to the graduation ceremony in my LBD and fierce heels, walked the stage, shook hands, grabbed that diploma, got back in my busted black Grand Am, and BLASTED this song as I drove away from Berea and being misunderstood and all of the bullshit toward my epic future in the city of my dreams (poor little Tara), screaming along at the top of my lungs:
“I see that there is evil,
and I know that there is good,
and the in-betweens I never understood.
So would you look at me, I’m crazy,
but I get the job done –
yeah, I’m crazy, but I get the job done!
So go ahead and laugh all you want,
I got my philosophy
and I trust it like the ground.
That’s why my philosophy
keeps me walking when I’m falling down!”
Seriously, nobody writes an underdog anthem like these guys. We’ve all wanted to have a mic drop moment, to just walk out of a shitty job or a shitty relationship in the middle of the day with middle fingers up in the air, and these songs are that moment. “Kiss my ass goodbye“?! So good. Another song for the little guy that BF5 positively NAILED is ‘Underground’. As a former loser/nerd/brain/music freak in high school who rocked fake nose rings from Claire’s and just wanted to FIT IN (while simultaneously being as weird as possible to stand out), I wasn’t exactly looking forward to her 10 year reunion (it didn’t happen, thank GAWD), and I SO get it.
“I was never cool in school…
I’m sure you don’t remember me.
And now it’s been 10 years
and I’m still wondering who to be…
I’d love to mix in circles, cliques, and social coteries (That’s me!)
Hand me my nose ring! (Can we be happy?)
Show me the mosh pit! (Can we be happy?)
We can be happy underground!“
Ah, little Tara circa 2001, moving ‘underground’ to New York wasn’t going to fix everything… but getting out of a small town high school sure as hell helped! Lyrics for the little guys FTW!
There are plenty of amazing songs on Whatever and Ever Amen, but the one that kills it lyrically for me every time is “Song For The Dumped” because who hasn’t been broken up with (If you haven’t, REALLY? Really? Go away. Don’t read my blog, you’re clearly far too cool for it) and needed a song to scream along to? This is, in my not at all humble opinion, the BEST. Angry enough to feel cathartic, funny enough to keep you from crying, plenty of F-bombs and chances to call that ex names. Ben and the boys call out all of those shitty situations in a breakup you’ve been on one side or the other of, and it’s AWESOME.
“So you wanted to take a break,
slow it down some and have some space?
Well fuck you too.
Give me my money back,
give me my money back, you bitch.
I want my money back,
and don’t forget to give me back my black T-shirt.”
And for all of the screamy, angsty, uptempo rage the previous song brings, there is a yin to that yang, and that song is “Selfless, Cold, and Composed”. You know when you were little, you did something bad, and you expected your parents to be mad but instead they were “just disappointed”? This is that sick feeling, only so much worse, because it’s someone you love(d) looking at you with calm, blank eyes and saying goodbye like they’re ordering lunch. GUH. Lyrical genius hurts sometimes…
“It’s easy to be easy and free
when it doesn’t mean anything –
you remain selfless, cold, and composed.
Come on baby, now throw me a right to the chin –
just one sign that could show me that you give a shit.
But you just smile like a bank teller,
blankly telling me ‘have a nice life’.”
Eesch. But SO SPOT ON, right?! Oh, BF5, you see into our souls…
Here it is… my favorite album. I don’t have time to talk about every single song (WAH!), so since I have to choose… the theme that jumps out at me most from it is learning to like who you are. Sounds cheeseball when it’s said that way, I know, but check THIS bit of gold from “Your Redneck Past”:
The funny limbs that grow underground
that keep you from fallin’ down.
Don’t you think that you’ll need ’em now?
Just find a place where no one knows of
your redneck past
yeah, you can easily dispose of your redneck past.
You’ll show them all back home…”
Exactly. Tried to run away from my high school awfulness by going to college and ended up an introverted, awkward chick, albeit with some crazy solid training and a rockin’ boyfriend. Ran away again to NYC and ended up the EXACT SAME WAY, just this time with an infinitely better wardrobe and a much better sense of self. Sensing a theme here, Miz Teschke?!? YOU ARE WHO YOU ARE. Get over it. Along those lines… when you move from Ohio to Manhattan, it is, DUH, a drastic change. The memory of the day we put my stuff in a pickup my parents were driving and Tom’s car and drove to NYC is mostly a blur, save for a box of my martini glasses falling out of the truck and shattering on route 80, getting lost and crying at a rest stop somewhere in Jersey, and a deeper appreciation than I had ever known for my parents and for Tom. Of course, I showed that love by breaking up with him a few days before I moved. (He helped me move anyway. BEST MAN EVER) That exact moment in our relationship IS ‘Don’t Change Your Plans’:
“I sat here on my suitcase
in your empty new apartment
’til the sun went down,
and I walked back down the stairs
with all my bags and drove away…
You must be freaking out.
All I know is I got to be
where my heart says I ought to be…
It often makes no sense, in fact I never understand these things I feel.
Don’t change your plans for me…
I won’t move to LA.
The leaves are falling back east,
that’s where I’m going to stay.”
How did they know?! Were they THERE?! Tom obviously ended up moving and living with me and getting cats with me getting engaged and getting married and all of that good stuff. Thank Thor. But whenever I hear this song my stomach remembers that feeling of sitting in my new little room with my suitcases and crying my eyes out as he drove away, and THAT, my friends, is an example of stupidly good lyric writing about staying true to who you are and what you want (you go, Tom!). To wrap up this topic, this album, and this band, I end with my favorite song. I hadn’t heard it before Tom played it for me near the end of my junior year of college. I remember being curled up in a ball, crying my eyes out because someone I thought was my closest friend had just pulled the rug out from under me and I had no idea where I was going to live, who I could trust, what I had done to deserve it, if any of those people ever even really liked me… Tom put this song on repeat, wrapped his arms around me, and held me til I could breathe again. I never knew lyrics could speak so clearly to the soul.
Jane, be Jane.
You’re better that way –
not when you’re trying,
imitating something you think you saw.
Jane be Jane,
and if sometimes that might drive them away,
let them stay there –
you don’t need them anyway.
You’re worried there might not be anything at all inside,
But that you’re worried should tell you that’s not right.
Don’t try to see yourself the way that others do,
it’s no use.
You’ve had it harder than anyone could know
so hard to let it go…
But it’s your life
and you can decorate it as you like.
Beneath the paint and armor,
in your eyes the truth still shines…
Jane be jane.
Jane be jane.
Too, too good. So thank you for the comfort, the comedy, the singalongs and the screamalongs, Ben Folds, Darren Jessee, and Robert Sledge. You guys just get it. And kill it. Lyrically.