#9 – Ben Folds – Lonely Avenue
When I first learned of 2010’s Lonely Avenue, it sounded too good to be true. Ben Folds, one of my very favorite musical artists, had teamed up with Nick Hornby, one of my very favorite authors.
This is the sort of collaboration you dream up in a fanboy fever dream. I knew Hornby was a fan of Folds (I recall one essay of his about the song ‘Smoke’ that was particularly full of praise) but I had no idea he had aspirations as a lyricist.
An album so anticipated seems destined to disappoint, but Lonely Avenue avoided that fate.
Folds, himself an excellent lyricist, crafted melodies perfectly suited to Hornby’s character sketches. And Hornby brought his novelist’s eye for detail to a new medium with apparent ease.
The album’s subject matter turns it into something akin to a collection of short stories — not unlike most of Folds’ solo albums. Hornby writes about a mother sitting in a hospital room with her sick child on New Year’s Eve, a young girl frustrated by her divorced parents’ attempts to treat her to a birthday lunch, an aging rock star doomed to play his biggest hit repeatedly even though it reminds him of his biggest romantic loss.
In today’s track, he turns a sympathetic eye to Levi Johnston, the poor bastard who impregnated Bristol Palin and wound up in the center of the American political conversation. The chorus of ‘Levi Johnston’s Blues’ is brilliantly pulled from the text of Johnston’s own MySpace page and transformed by Folds into the defiant chant of a doomed redneck.
Lonely Avenue contains some of the best work by either of these men, and that’s saying a lot.
Three thousand cameras, pointing at me
Dude says, You Levi? I’m like, Yes that’s me, sir!
“Well, you’ve knocked up the VP nominee’s daughter”
So I tell him, No, you got it wrong, mister
Already with a girl, and her name’s Bristol
They all laugh and say, Where you been, sonny?
Your mother-in-law’s a heartbeat from the presidency
I say, Mother-in-law? No, we ain’t getting married
They say, soon you will, boy, she just announced it
I get on my dirt bike, ride to my girl’s
I’m gonna lay down the law, tell her what’s going on
I’m a fuckin’ redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Play some hockey, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin’, I guess
Ya fuck with me and I’ll kick your ass
So we talk and it turns out we don’t believe in abortion
And sex outside marriage is against our religion
And when I try to tell them I’m eighteen years old
They say, Levi, it’s too late, you gotta do as you’re told