Song of the Day #3,516: ‘Zak and Sara (Live)’ – Ben Folds

I’m surprised I haven’t already featured Ben Folds’ ‘Zak and Sara,’ either its studio version (from Folds’ 2001 solo debut Rockin’ the Suburbs) or the live version posted today.

This song is a perfect example of Folds’ gift for quick character sketches. I’ve always said that at his lyrical best, his songs are essentially short stories. Short stories sung with sticky melodies over exuberant piano music.

‘Zak and Sara’ depicts a young couple shopping for guitars. Sara sits on an amp watching Zak noodle around on the instruments. We learn that Sara is inflicted with schizophrenia, or a related mental illness, and suffers visions that appear to her like glimpses of the future. Or maybe she really can see the future?

While Zak inquires about buying a guitar, Sara gets dark talking to the salesman about his eventual death. She then has a vision of what seems to be the rise of techno music, the nightmare future these 80s kids will soon face.

Zak remains oblivious to Sara’s problems, simply basking in her applause after he plays her a song.

In three minutes, and four verses, Folds sets up characters that could feature in a movie or TV series.

Sara spelled without an “h” was getting bored
On a Peavey amp in 1984
While Zak without a “c” tried out some new guitars
Playing Sara-with-no-h’s favorite song

Zak and Sara

Often Sara would have spells where she lost time
She saw the future, she heard voices from inside
The kind of voices she would soon learn to deny
Because at home they got her smacked

Zak and Sara
Zak and Sara

Zak called his dad about layaway plans
And Sara told the friendly salesman that:
“You’ll all die in your cars
And why’s it gotta be dark?
And you’re all working in a submarine.”


She saw the lights, she saw the pale English face
Some strange machines repeating beats and thumping bass
Visions of pills that put you in a loving trance
That make it possible for all white boys to dance
And when Zak finished Sara’s song, Sara clapped

One thought on “Song of the Day #3,516: ‘Zak and Sara (Live)’ – Ben Folds

  1. Dana Gallup says:

    This has always been one of my favorite Folds songs. Glad it final,y came up on a random weekend.

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