Song of the Day #872: ‘Underground’ – Ben Folds Five

This week I continue my exploration of Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut album, picking up with track six, ‘Underground.’

Following the wistful ‘Where’s Summer B?’ and ‘Alice Childress,’ ‘Underground’ shifts things back toward frivolity. It kicks off with a half-sung, half-spoken intro in which the band members trade off lines about nose rings and mosh pits. They paint a picture of a high school loser who grew up and still hasn’t found his place.

The backing vocals encourage him to come “underground,” presumably to some club scene, where he can “slam the pit fantastic” and finally “be happy.”

I can see the song as either poking fun at the underground and goth scene or celebrating it. The joyous music has me leaning toward the former. Indeed, Folds is on record saying that he liked how in the early 90s, if you didn’t feel you fit in, you could throw on a nose ring and gain acceptance from groups like this simply because you wanted it.

On the flip side, I’ve read several online commenters who are convinced the song is about suicide… and the sprightly voices calling this sad soul underground are really angels of darkness encouraging him to end it all.

That’s a stretch, but I like that a song can inspire such different interpretations.

I was never cool in school
I’m sure you don’t remember me
And now it’s been ten years
I’m still wondering who to be
And I 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

Who’s got the looks?
Who’s got the brains?
Who’s got everything?
I’ve got this pain in my heart
That’s all
Hey you, with the long and lonely face
There’s gotta be something else

Let me tell you something else
There was a girl who passed me by
She gave a smile, but I was shy
And I looked down, so down

Don’t look down, no no
Go go underground
Now now there’s a place to go
It’s the morning now
It’s the evening
It’s everything
I click my heels and I’m there

CHORUS
Underground, underground, ooh
Everything’s heavy underground
You been kicked around
Did life bring you down here?
Everything’s heavy underground

And we’ll be decked in all black
Slamming the pit fantastic
Officer Friendly’s little boy’s
Got a mohawk
And he knows just where
We’re coming from
It’s industrial
Work it underground
Get down, get down, get down

CHORUS

We can be happy
We can be happy
We can be happy underground
Oh we can, oh we can, oh we can be
Everything’s heavy!

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One thought on “Song of the Day #872: ‘Underground’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    I don’t think this song is as about anything as deep or dark as suicide. I’ve always seen it as a straight forward parody of the 90’s club scene–and a damn fun song as well.

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