Want to hear a secret?
Beneath the façade of a jean jacket and a scowl, every metalhead has a deep love of a band or artist they have no business liking. While, as a whole, metalheads are a closed off, if knowledgeable group when it comes to music outside of our comfort zones, we all have a soft spot for a few skeletons that rest beside the bullet belts in our closets. For instance, I know this one guy who is a stone metalhead, but gets weepy when he listens to Morrissey. This other fellow, who may or may not write a fantastic blog about tradition and the tyranny imposed by it, has an unquenchable thirst for Michael McDonald and the Doobie Brothers.
As for me, my non-metal obsession is Ben Folds. In keeping with a recent theme regarding musical obsession, I will chronicle the steps that one goes through when getting into and ultimately falling in love with a band or artist. I could have just as easily done this with any number of metal bands, but I feel that by looking at a non-metal artist, I can give away a little piece of myself and provide some kind of unnecessary insight into the mind of a metalhead.
Step 1 – The Spark a.k.a. Discovery – To love an artist, you first have to have that initial connection with them. I heard Ben Folds in the same way as many others; when the song “Brick” by Ben Folds Five came on the radio in 1997. Being 13 years old, I didn’t know exactly what this song was talking about, but I knew it was dark and that it was deeply personal. All these years later, I am hard pressed to think of another hit single which talks about going through an abortion with your high school sweetheart. “Brick” really caught me and I loved the song. Yet, Metallica and Slayer records needed to be purchased and I never heard another Ben Folds song on the radio, and so, while intrigued, I never pressed the matter further.
Step 2 – The Album – Once you have made a musical connection with a song by an artist, the next step is to purchase an album to see if they can hold you for a whole record. January 3rd, 2009. That is the day I bought my first Ben Folds album. You’d probably consider it strange that I would remember the exact day I bought the album, but besides being a very unusual human being, that date holds some level of significance for me; it was the day I decided to join the army.
In January of 2009, mine was a life in shambles. My personal life was a complete wreck, I had roughly 40,000 dollars in student loan and credit card debt, I was going nowhere at my job, I had recently been through some tough personal experiences that shook me to my foundation and I found myself experiencing a desperation and loss of control the likes of which I had never felt before and haven’t again since.
The 3rd of January, a Saturday, started with a trip to a local thrift store. While there, I found the Ben Folds Five CD, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. Remembering how much I enjoyed the song “Brick” and considering the $2 price tag, I picked it up, went home, threw it on a shelf and forgot about it. Later that night, after getting some bad news from a friend, the Falcons lost in a playoff game. Immediately afterwards, one of my best friends and I got into a heated argument, which resulted in him leaving my house on bad terms. Completely dejected, I went into my room, loaded the newly purchased CD into my stereo and began to look into the last option for a desperate man in desperate times; the US Army.
While half listening to the first few tracks, I began to realize that I would uproot everything in my life and join the military. Now, four years later, this seems almost normal. But at that time, I shocked my friends and family by doing this. I changed everything I knew in my life and found a new path. While going through all of this a track title “Army” happened to come on, where the first lyric is, “Well, I thought about the Army, Dad said song you’re fucking high.” I couldn’t believe it. The song chronicled exactly what I was dealing with at the time. I immediately restarted the CD and listened front to back. This album touched me deeply on a personal and emotional level and I still consider it to be a masterpiece. The song “Mess” brings back a startling rush of emotions and other tracks, like “Narcolepsy” are musically so similar to the best songs of Queen, it’s ridiculous.
Most importantly, Mr. Folds had me. I was now a convert and musically obsessed.
Step 3 – Completing the Discography – Over the next couple of years, I picked up, and loved the entire Ben Folds catalogue. From the “punk rock for sissies” Ben Folds Five debut, to the newest (at the time) Way to Normal, Ben’s fourth solo release, I couldn’t get enough. His songs ranged from straight ahead rockers like “Song for the Dumped,” to extremely touching ballads on topics such as a fighter in his twilight years. I could relate to every song on some level, I could feel confident that there was enough musical talent to justify my love and at the same time, enough pop sensibility that I could play the song around ladies, and they wouldn’t have the same visceral reaction as when I’d throw on my Bolt Thrower discs. I now owned the collection. But I couldn’t just stop there.
Step 4 – Completing the Discography (the collector’s version) – When you go all in on an artist, there is never enough material to satisfy you. There is no EP too obscure, no live disc you can pass up and no bootleg not worth having. Luckily for us Ben Folds’ fans, he has enough oddball releases to get us through for quite some time. Besides a disc of live tracks and rarities, he has several EPs, a side project which features William Shatner, acapella tributes, and a live album just featuring Ben on a piano. I can only hope your musical crush gets you as far as mine did.
Step 5 – The New Release – If you are all in on an artist, you are going to pick up whatever they put out, as soon as it comes out. Ben Folds has continually put out new music nearly every year for the last eight years, so it’s a bit of a boom time for me. But, whenever I hear a new Ben Folds release is going to hit, I get giddy. I ponder the direction, artwork, lyrics and everything else and I check YouTube for snippets of new songs. Greatest Hits coming out? No problem, I’ll take the 3-disc deluxe version! Got an experimental collaboration coming out with a British author? Shit yeah! And this proclivity to purchase an artists’ material immediately upon release also leads to our next step…
Step 6 – Defend at all Costs – Upon putting this much time and effort into an artist, you pretty much tell yourself they can do no wrong. Was the aforementioned release where Ben Folds did an album with author Nick Hornsby his best release? Probably not, but I still found so many redeeming qualities in it and eventually fell in love with it. And you know what? I’ll be completely honest, I am into Ben’s music so much at this point that even if he just read the Wall Street Journal for an hour and put it out, I’d still probably defend it to my friends and tell them how smart it was.
That’s the funny part about metalheads and our non-metal crushes. We are taking a chance by putting ourselves out there and that puts us in a defensive place to begin with. Shit on this music and we’ll fight back like a god damned grizzly bear. You remember my pal who loves Morrissey? He knows in his heart of hearts that Morrissey is a bit of douche and many of his actions and views are childish and reprehensible, but god damn it, he’s going to stick with him. There is some nobility in this and I am there with my man, Mr. Folds, so just understand that.
Step 7 – Phone a Friend – The final and most futile of all the steps, this is where you try in vain to get all of your friends to see the same thing in this artist that you see. You can’t imagine a world in which everyone doesn’t feel that “Fred Jones Pt. 2” is one of the saddest and most well written songs of all time. You refuse to believe that your buddies don’t find the same humor in “Underground” that you do. And you’ll always know that Ben Folds is the best thing to happen to pop music since the Beach Boys, even if your pals think you’re gay.
Conclusion – In my last blog, I talked about the negative side of musical obsession. This article is meant to be the ying, to that article’s yang. Because, this obsession involves branching out of a comfort zone and opening yourself to new possibilities within music, which is really what its all about.
Who are your non-metal musical obsessions?