Song of the Day #879: ‘Boxing’ – Ben Folds Five

Ben Folds Five closes out with one of its most modest songs, musically, at least in terms of the sort of acrobatics the band members go through on the rest of the tracks. The introduction of the string section is a nice touch.

And Folds’ piano work here, though more traditional than his usual percussive rock-n-roll style, is just gorgeous. He performs this delicate waltz with a sensitivity and maturity well beyond his years.

The song is an imaginary conversation between a worn-down Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell, but it can be read as a metaphor for anybody who has reached the end of his run.

The chorus is incredibly sad. “Boxing’s been good to me, Howard,” it starts out. “Now I’m told ‘you’re growing old.'” Certainly boxing had been good to Ali, but by this point it had also been incredibly damaging. The Ali of the song then accuses Cosell of enabling his demise, saying “The whole time you knew a couple of years I’d be through.” And he caps it off with the stinging “Has boxing been good to you?”

Folds reportedly wrote this song when he was around 20 years old, which astounds me. It so effectively captures the resignation and sadness of an aged prizefighter. Even from the start, Folds had a novelist’s eye for character detail and dialogue that he has honed throughout his career.

And that concludes my examination of Ben Folds Five’s self-titled debut. I have to say that after working through these songs one by one in detail, I’m more convinced than ever that this is indeed my favorite album. It is so well-written, so well-performed. Not only doesn’t it have a weak song… it doesn’t have a weak moment. Put simply, it’s perfect.

Howard, the strangest things
Have happened lately when I
Take a good swing at all my dreams
They pivot and slip
I drop my fists and they’re back, laughing

Howard, my intention’s become
Not to lose what I’ve won
Ambition has given way to
Desperation and I
Lost the fight for my eyes

CHORUS
Boxing’s been good to me, Howard
Now I’m told, “you’re growing old”
The whole time we knew
A couple of years I’d be through
Has boxing been good to you?

Howard, now I confess
I’m scared and lonely and tired
They seem to think I’m made of clay
Another day
I’m not cut out for this
I just know what to say
I say

CHORUS

Well sometimes I punch myself
Hard as I can, yelling
“Nobody cares”
Hoping some one will tell me
How wrong I am
Howard…

CHORUS
Boxing’s been good to me Howard
Now I’m told
“You’re growing old”
The whole time you knew
A couple of years
I’d be through
Has boxing been good. . .
Has boxing been good. . .
Has boxing been good?

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One thought on “Song of the Day #879: ‘Boxing’ – Ben Folds Five

  1. Dana says:

    I assume Amy will be writing to defend Cosell while labeling Ali an insensitive creep:)

    Anyway, thanks for the focus on this great album. I very much have enjoyed it.

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