78. Song No. 821: “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” Ben Folds Five
Whatever and Ever Amen, 1997
If high school laid the basic foundation for my music taste, college was all about building extravagant wings for it to stretch out in. So much of what made college the time period I would relive shot for shot if we ever get ourselves into a “Timequake” situation is the abundance and richness and variety of music that accompanied it. I never got to throw myself into loving music as much as I did during those four years, and it made for so many incredible memories and deepened friendships.
It wasn’t just going to a seemingly endless parade of concerts, though I do think that’s what I miss the most (weeknight concerts are a much more calculated decision now, or they were when places were still things, rather). It was both sides of sharing music with friends and group radio shows and branching out and being okay with defining myself by my favorite bands and the art of the perfect mix and walking into someone’s dorm room for the first time and seeing a poster or a CD for a band I thought no one else knew of let alone loved.
There is a unique intimacy in shared music, and it’s one of my favorite indicators of how much someone means to me. Finding that common ground has been the catalyst for so many friendships that still mean the world to me, but there’s also something magical about nudging someone toward a band or song I think they’ll love. If I can feel safe enough with a person to trust them with the reasons why I love a piece of music so much by putting the piece right in front of them and letting it unfurl its magic note by note, that’s a milestone moment for us; similarly, someone trusting me with that same willingness to extend a closely held song or album or band out to share and hope I’ll see the same beauty in it is one helluva confirmation that we’re on the right track and probably stuck with each other for a long time. I mean, so far the people I’ve shared the most music with in college are mostly still around in some capacity, from my best friend in the world to acquaintances who still are still weaving in and out of my life with no sign of stopping.
Ben Folds passed me right by in high school, though I do recall a classmate in my junior-year art class dedicating a project to the band’s breakup. It took dorm parties punctuated by guitars and five-disc stereos and the confluence of all kinds of meticulously, deliberately cultivated tastes in music for me to find out just how amazing Ben Folds is, both as a solo artist and a front man.
Like so many other things, though, that love slowly petered out after college. Until last summer, when my best friend’s August birthday called for taking an impromptu Friday off to spend the day on Asbury Park’s beach and the night at the deservedly legendary Stone Pony where Mr. Folds (who once let me pet him after a show in Philly and DIDN’T act like it was the weirdest request ever) was closing out the Summer Stage.
I certainly didn’t have all the lyrics readily accessible like I did in college, but the infectious energy, meticulously conducted audience sing-alongs and emphatically heaved piano stool were all exactly as I remembered, as well as tremendous reminders of what I missed about the annual Ben Folds shows of our 20s.
I came home that night (or technically the next morning) to a joyously drunk husband and one of my favorite friends of his, who lost his booze-soaked mind over the discovery of another shared favorite, and our subsequent gushing only solidified what would be the beginning of a long-overdue and slow-boiling Ben Folds renaissance I was more than happy to indulge.
“Battle of Who Could Care Less” was the second song he played that night, a dizzyingly enchanting chaser to another one of my dance-it-out favorites, “Zac and Sara.” Its poppy high energy wonderfully contrasts the lackluster, coolly apathetic slacker to whom Ben is directing his musical missive in a charmingly caustic indictment of those who got a little too into the indifference of the ’90s and thought it cool not to care. And that kind of juxtaposition, much like the titular play between skirmishes and slouches, is exactly the kind of stuff that makes me the giddiest, most uncool kind of delighted.