BEN FOLDS – A DREAM ABOUT LIGHTNING BUGS: A LIFE OF MUSIC AND CHEAP LESSONS
BOOK REVIEW BY BRYAN WILLISTON
Many music fans love to dig deep into the work of their favourite artists. “What does that lyric mean?”“What inspired that track?”“How did they get that sound?” In A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons, Ben Folds answers these questions, and more.
In a workthat is part memoir, part songwriter’s guide, and part therapy, Ben Folds takes the reader on a pretty-much-chronological journey of his childhood in North Carolina,his early music experiences, his coming up in pop music, and his post-popstar period right up to the present day.
From the very beginning of the book, Folds grabs the reader’s attention with his direct, conversational writing style. He is a very engaging storyteller who delivers bold proclamations, and often hilarious or touching anecdotes. Relating a story about an odd event in his elementary school washroom, which involved his face and a pile of human excrement, Folds writes, “Before I could process this odd bathroom art installation, a very weird child leapt from a dark stall and onto my back, screeching like a wild animal. *cue ’70s karate action movie music* We struggled from one side of the boy’s room floor to the other. His mission was clearly to put my face in his fecal art installment.” As unusual as this bit is, it fits well with the overall work, as Folds weaves story within story, with the occasional side trip.
In touching detail, Folds describes the events which inspired the 1997 Ben Folds Five hit, “Brick”. Even if you already know the story, it is heart-wrenching to read the cold facts of this sad, true tale of teenage abortion. In this instance, as in others, Folds is not the hero of his own story, Often, it is just the opposite. Folds owns his mistakes and, looking back, regards his experiences philosophically, as they pertain to his life and music.
In addition to sharing the story of his life, Folds uses a lot of ink discussing music, songwriting, musicians and producers with whom he has worked, and teachers who mentored and supported him. With Folds’ reflections on his past and his attention on the craft of songwriting, this book is somewhat akin to Stephen King’s work On Writing. Both books share the qualities of being both memoir and advice to the artist.
This book is not simply for the fan, or the songwriter, or the music nerd. A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons operates on a variety of levels, and the author certainly keeps things interesting.With Folds’ descriptions of experiences and lessons learned, this book takes on a therapeutic, almost self-help quality, without being preachy or prescriptive.
Who will love it? Certainly, anyone with an interest in popular music in the era just before and after the turn of the century, oranyone with a love for art and the human condition. Ben Folds covers a lot of ground, but it is definitely worth the ride.