Song of the Day #218: ‘Late’ – Ben Folds

silvermanFolds’ second solo album, Songs for Silverman, contained his most mature and sublime work yet… almost on par with the first two Ben Folds Five albums.

I remember reading a lot of “fan” criticism that the album lacked the gutter humor and anarchic style of some of Folds’ earlier work and his live shows. As if the gorgeous ‘Jesusland‘ or achingly sweet ‘Gracie’ were somehow lacking. Give me a break! I love that Folds is able to excel in multiple styles.

The most powerful song on Silverman, both musically and in subject matter, is ‘Late,’ a tribute to the wonderful musician (and tragic suicide victim) Elliott Smith.

Folds and Smith weren’t close friends but they’d traveled in the same circles, played the same clubs, shared a mutual appreciation for each other’s work. What I love best about this song is how it remembers Smith not in grandiose fashion but for the little things… his style on the basketball court, his familiarity with the graffiti-covered walls of small town music venues.

And how “the songs you wrote got me through a lot.” Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Under some dirty words on a dirty wall
Eating takeout by myself
I play the shows
Got back in the van and put the walkman on
And you were playing

In some other dive a thousand miles away
I played a thousand times before
And like pathetic stars, the truck stops and the rock club walls
I always knew
You saw them too
But you never will again

It’s too late
Don’t you know
It’s been too late for a long time

Elliott, man, you played a fine guitar
And some dirty basketball
The songs you wrote
Got me through a lot
Just wanna tell you that

But it’s too late
It’s too late
Don’t you know
It’s been too late for a long time

Oh no
Things were looking up
Least that’s what I heard
Oh no
Someone came and washed away your hard-earned
Peace of mind

When desperate static beats the silence up
A quiet truth to calm you down
The songs you wrote
Got me through a lot
Just wanna tell ya that

Oh, but it’s too late
It’s too late
Don’t you know
It’s been too late for a long time

5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #218: ‘Late’ – Ben Folds

  1. Amy says:

    While I’m not sure I agree that this song is more powerful than “Gracie,” it certainly is a poignant tribute to the way music connects everyone. It’s almost as if he knows him more through his music than he did from their travel in the same circles, and the fact that he writes it from that perspective enables every Smith fan incapable of penning such a tribute to share in Folds’. That is powerful.

    I also love his voice in this song, the way he reaches for those higher notes in the second line of each verse (I’m sure there’s a technical term; Dana?) Those notes definitely add to the ache and poignancy of the song.

  2. Alex says:

    Such a sad song. Makes you think of the people you work with, those few you actually like and admire.

  3. Amy says:

    Not sure if Alex’s comment was meant to be funny, but it did make me laugh 😉 Those few, in a sea of all those many you can’t stand.

  4. Dana says:

    Very good song and tribute, though my favorite on this album probably is jesusland.

    As for the technical term for the note, there really isn’t one–he’s not really using falsetto or “fals” as Randy Jackson likes to call it…what?::)

  5. Clay says:

    I might give the nod to ‘Jesusland’ or ‘Gracie,’ too, though this one packs an added punch because of the real-life tragedy behind it.

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