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A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons

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Ben Folds is a celebrated American singer-songwriter, beloved for songs such as "Brick," "You Don't Know Me," "Rockin' the Suburbs," and "The Luckiest," and is the former frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. But Folds will be the first to tell you he's an unconventional icon, more normcore than hardcore. Now, in his first book, Folds looks back at his life Ben Folds is a celebrated American singer-songwriter, beloved for songs such as "Brick," "You Don't Know Me," "Rockin' the Suburbs," and "The Luckiest," and is the former frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. But Folds will be the first to tell you he's an unconventional icon, more normcore than hardcore. Now, in his first book, Folds looks back at his life so far in a charming and wise chronicle of his artistic coming of age, infused with the wry observations of a natural storyteller. In the title chapter, "A Dream About Lightning Bugs," Folds recalls his earliest childhood dream--and realizes how much it influenced his understanding of what it means to be an artist. In "Measure Twice, Cut Once" he learns to resist the urge to skip steps during the creative process. In "Hall Pass" he recounts his 1970s North Carolina working-class childhood, and in "Cheap Lessons" he returns to the painful life lessons he learned the hard way--but that luckily didn't kill him. In his inimitable voice, both relatable and thought-provoking, Folds digs deep into the life experiences that shaped him, imparting hard-earned wisdom about both art and life. Collectively, these stories embody the message Folds has been singing about for years: Smile like you've got nothing to prove, because it hurts to grow up, and life flies by in seconds.


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Ben Folds is a celebrated American singer-songwriter, beloved for songs such as "Brick," "You Don't Know Me," "Rockin' the Suburbs," and "The Luckiest," and is the former frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. But Folds will be the first to tell you he's an unconventional icon, more normcore than hardcore. Now, in his first book, Folds looks back at his life Ben Folds is a celebrated American singer-songwriter, beloved for songs such as "Brick," "You Don't Know Me," "Rockin' the Suburbs," and "The Luckiest," and is the former frontman of the alternative rock band Ben Folds Five. But Folds will be the first to tell you he's an unconventional icon, more normcore than hardcore. Now, in his first book, Folds looks back at his life so far in a charming and wise chronicle of his artistic coming of age, infused with the wry observations of a natural storyteller. In the title chapter, "A Dream About Lightning Bugs," Folds recalls his earliest childhood dream--and realizes how much it influenced his understanding of what it means to be an artist. In "Measure Twice, Cut Once" he learns to resist the urge to skip steps during the creative process. In "Hall Pass" he recounts his 1970s North Carolina working-class childhood, and in "Cheap Lessons" he returns to the painful life lessons he learned the hard way--but that luckily didn't kill him. In his inimitable voice, both relatable and thought-provoking, Folds digs deep into the life experiences that shaped him, imparting hard-earned wisdom about both art and life. Collectively, these stories embody the message Folds has been singing about for years: Smile like you've got nothing to prove, because it hurts to grow up, and life flies by in seconds.

30 review for A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roger Bailey

    Having been a fan of Folds for over two decades I wasn't sure what to expect from this. Folds has at various points in his life been an open book and others not so much. He can also write joke songs while playing with an orchestra. What we end up in the book is mostly a straight forward, serious book. His wit is there, but he really hits on what's important to him. He goes into music theory without getting overly technical. He talks about some low points in his life (if you're looking for sex an Having been a fan of Folds for over two decades I wasn't sure what to expect from this. Folds has at various points in his life been an open book and others not so much. He can also write joke songs while playing with an orchestra. What we end up in the book is mostly a straight forward, serious book. His wit is there, but he really hits on what's important to him. He goes into music theory without getting overly technical. He talks about some low points in his life (if you're looking for sex and drugs you won't find much here). He admits when he was wrong and isn't afraid to share his insecurities. While compared to a lot of musician biographies this one is pretty tame, it's the heart that comes through here. You have someone who was passionate about their music but also kept their moral code in place. It's been a while since I've read a biography I didn't want to end.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Margot Tennenbaum

    Folds knocks it out of the park. Who knew he was as good a book writer as he is a songwriter? Cheap lessons have never been so resonant - or so funny.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Abigail (Abbe)

    Fun and self-indulgent in the most positive sense. Ben Folds is a musical favorite of mine and it was fun to read about his creativity and perspective. 4.5 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Having been a Ben Folds fan for years, I enjoyed reading more about the person behind the music. As a resident of his hometown, reading the often hilarious tales of his adolescence were especially fun.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jay Gabler

    It's appropriate that A Dream About Lightning Bugs is being published around the same time as C.M. Kushins's excellent new Warren Zevon biography Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon, because the two artists have a lot in common. They're both musicians' musicians, not in the prog-rock virtuoso sense but in the sense of being melodic geniuses with accessible but subversively witty senses of humor and appealingly anarchistic streaks. They're also both essentially self-made musicians with m It's appropriate that A Dream About Lightning Bugs is being published around the same time as C.M. Kushins's excellent new Warren Zevon biography Nothing's Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon, because the two artists have a lot in common. They're both musicians' musicians, not in the prog-rock virtuoso sense but in the sense of being melodic geniuses with accessible but subversively witty senses of humor and appealingly anarchistic streaks. They're also both essentially self-made musicians with multi-instrumental curiosity that steered them towards formal training yet kept them from ever quite buying into that world. Folds credits one college music professor — Robert Darnell, at the University of North Carolina — with recognizing his talent and steering him towards the piano, but to get there, he first had to flunk out of percussion at the University of Miami and throw his drum kit into a pond after blowing a performance test due to injuries sustained in a drunken brawl the night before. I reviewed A Dream About Lightning Bugs for The Current.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jenni Zintel

    Due to a shipping problem with my long pre-ordered book (bookstore's fault, not Ben's or the publisher's), I resorted to checking out the audio copy on the local library's app. Thank God I did! Ben read it himself, and his imitation of his father alone made it good choice. He also included musical notes when appropriate,which is super helpful for people like me who like the music but don't know more than the most basic music terminology. I admittedly am a rabid Ben Folds fan, and as such probably Due to a shipping problem with my long pre-ordered book (bookstore's fault, not Ben's or the publisher's), I resorted to checking out the audio copy on the local library's app. Thank God I did! Ben read it himself, and his imitation of his father alone made it good choice. He also included musical notes when appropriate,which is super helpful for people like me who like the music but don't know more than the most basic music terminology. I admittedly am a rabid Ben Folds fan, and as such probably enjoyed this more than the average reader might. Even knowing that, I intend to buy a copy for my husband's retired jazz-musician grandpa... Or at least read him excerpts about Ben's time at music school for jazz percussion. And look out, Secret Santa matches this year! I truly think there are things for every body who has emotions to enjoy, and cannot think of anybody that I wouldn't recommend this to. This book was so much fun. I had a great time listening to it and am thrilled to have received my physical copy today (two days after the release). I laughed. I cried. I woke my husband for surprise 1 a.m. sex. 10/10; will read again!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

    It's been a good year for rock musician memoirs. This one was just as good as Roger Daltrey's, in my opinion. Here we have a man who I have been listening to since 1995 and always had a bit of hero worship for. I have had the privilege of meeting him a few times and just blubbered, so I took this book as a real opportunity to "get to know the man" that I've wanted to share a beer with. And it didn't disappoint. Full of great stories that I KINDA new, some I didn't know, and, most importantly, gre It's been a good year for rock musician memoirs. This one was just as good as Roger Daltrey's, in my opinion. Here we have a man who I have been listening to since 1995 and always had a bit of hero worship for. I have had the privilege of meeting him a few times and just blubbered, so I took this book as a real opportunity to "get to know the man" that I've wanted to share a beer with. And it didn't disappoint. Full of great stories that I KINDA new, some I didn't know, and, most importantly, great advice for us creative types. My favorite book of the year so far

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cami

    First, I'll tell you to listen to this, not read it. Ben Folds memoir is vulnerable and humble. He isn't afraid to take us deep into his experience and what he thought of it all. I loved every bit of it.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Robert Starr

    I enjoyed this book and found myself looking forward to listening to more of it. Folds writes and narrates in a simplistic tone, with his southern drawl and slight emphases adding just enough character to keep things interesting. What I realized is that, over the course of his career, Ben Folds has done quite a lot, frequently reinventing himself while trying to stay true to what his fans were looking for. His memoir fits into this narrative as it's perhaps not what we're accustomed to when we th I enjoyed this book and found myself looking forward to listening to more of it. Folds writes and narrates in a simplistic tone, with his southern drawl and slight emphases adding just enough character to keep things interesting. What I realized is that, over the course of his career, Ben Folds has done quite a lot, frequently reinventing himself while trying to stay true to what his fans were looking for. His memoir fits into this narrative as it's perhaps not what we're accustomed to when we think of Folds, yet the humor and attitude are consistent with his music and it's nice to hear the story behind many of his songs. That being said, there are some major omissions here. Perhaps his work with yMusic was a bit too fresh in his mind for him to offer any genuine insight (though, I will say that the show I saw him perform with them was among the best live performances I've ever seen), but what of the album he made with Nick Hornby? What were the specifics surrounding his writing One Down (and, for that matter, how do you write 3.6 songs?)? What of his work with Amanda Palmer (who pops in to narrate a short passage in the audiobook)? Even with these omissions, the book doesn't have a whole lot of fat. It's full of fun stories, in addition to the cheap lessons and earnest appraisal of his work, and does, I think, provide insight into the Ben Folds sound. I probably wouldn't recommend this to non-fans, but for those who have kept up with his career, it's definitely worth a listen (or, I suppose, a read, if that's your preference).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. SPoilers!!!!!!!! I love Ben Folds. Ben is a truly gifted songwriter, but book author, not so much. This is the most boring rock and roll memoir I’ve ever read. Nothing really happens. Wait that’s not true. Lots of incredible and big things happen, Unfortunate, Ben just just know how to get into it. The birth of his twins which were in danger was summarized in a sentence. Really!!!??? A fourth wife is never mentioned by Name...she’s there and then she’s gone in a few pages! The band breaks up ove SPoilers!!!!!!!! I love Ben Folds. Ben is a truly gifted songwriter, but book author, not so much. This is the most boring rock and roll memoir I’ve ever read. Nothing really happens. Wait that’s not true. Lots of incredible and big things happen, Unfortunate, Ben just just know how to get into it. The birth of his twins which were in danger was summarized in a sentence. Really!!!??? A fourth wife is never mentioned by Name...she’s there and then she’s gone in a few pages! The band breaks up over e-mail in a matter of minutes and it’s like...oh well. Seriously!? You never really feel like your gaining anything from him. He’s starts off earnest enough with a small family history, but ultimately I don’t feel like I’ve learned anything new about his life here in this book. It comes across like someone made him an offer to write s book and he made himself do it. This does not read like HE wanted to write this book or maybe he did, but got a quick lesson in how incredibly hard that is.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    I've always loved Ben Fold's intelligent songwriting and exceptional musicpersonship, and a little put off by his potty mouth and potential misogyny. This great read is mostly memoir with some encouraging affirmations for creative types struggling to turn their life experiences into art. Now in his early 50's, Ben is compassionately self-aware, and I feel vindicated in my devotion to this quirky human's body of work. Ben's perception of his life to date brings to mind a Maya Angelou quote that I I've always loved Ben Fold's intelligent songwriting and exceptional musicpersonship, and a little put off by his potty mouth and potential misogyny. This great read is mostly memoir with some encouraging affirmations for creative types struggling to turn their life experiences into art. Now in his early 50's, Ben is compassionately self-aware, and I feel vindicated in my devotion to this quirky human's body of work. Ben's perception of his life to date brings to mind a Maya Angelou quote that I identify with: "You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great…" I rarely rate books I've read, and it's even more rare of me to award 5 stars. An exceptional read, just like the exceptional person Mr. Fold's is.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I loved it! The only beef (maybe too big a word for my actual feelings) I ever had with Ben (his cover of Dr. Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit) was addressed in the book. In addition, I ended up being inspired and uplifted and validated. This life thing is tough, and getting out of your obsessive, focused work habits (which just might be defense habits) is important and can be done even if you don't kick them until later in life. The only thing that would have made this book better for me would have bee I loved it! The only beef (maybe too big a word for my actual feelings) I ever had with Ben (his cover of Dr. Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit) was addressed in the book. In addition, I ended up being inspired and uplifted and validated. This life thing is tough, and getting out of your obsessive, focused work habits (which just might be defense habits) is important and can be done even if you don't kick them until later in life. The only thing that would have made this book better for me would have been a revelation that Ben had a thing for, or even just an interest in, the music of Warren Zevon. Folds has reminded me of him since the beginning, and this book didn't change that. This is a terrific story. If you have the option, listen to it even if you have purchased an autographed physical copy for yourself already. (There's a reason I relate to his obsessive tendencies.)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim Landers

    Just like his songs, this memoir feels so open and honest. It's honest in the way I was in my own young jackass years in that is possible to be honest to your moment-to-moment feelings while still persisting as an asshole by following those feelings. I'm glad he's found meditation and other means of slowing down and interupting those impulses. So interesting to read something that seems simultaneously self-aware and obtuse, but I guess that's what we gain in hindsight with reflection.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    A mix of memoir and self help, A Dream About Lightning Bugs follows Folds from early life to the near present. Reflecting on his formation, career and finally establishing a healthy but challenging day to day life. At slightly over 300 pages a lot of the length of the book covers Folds formation, from very early life, not hitting the Ben Folds Five years until towards the middle. It’s great that Folds has been able to continue his career in a more healthy fashion, pursuing projects that interest A mix of memoir and self help, A Dream About Lightning Bugs follows Folds from early life to the near present. Reflecting on his formation, career and finally establishing a healthy but challenging day to day life. At slightly over 300 pages a lot of the length of the book covers Folds formation, from very early life, not hitting the Ben Folds Five years until towards the middle. It’s great that Folds has been able to continue his career in a more healthy fashion, pursuing projects that interest him and working to support the arts. However I’m disappointed that the behind the scenes features of the early albums are not sustained as they seem to become just another album. I would’ve loved to hear about Folds’ collaborations with Nick Hornby or YMusic. Any fan of Folds will find an engaging read, but be left wanting more. As often happens one is left wondering about the other perspectives, like from his ex-wives, bandmates, or collaborators.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joe Faust

    In a lot of ways this is a pretty standard career memoir written by a bratty rocker. What sets it apart is Fold' send of humor (naturally), his frequent asides on the creative process (I love stuff like that) and the final chapters, in which he finally grows up and faces up to some of his antics. Oh, and the story of how he pranked the audience at an Indianapolis concert is alone worth the price of admission.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellen

    I wanted more from this book. Maybe because I like Ben Folds so much as a songwriter, I expected more depth in his memoir. The first third of the book, about his childhood and first attempt at college I found interesting. However in the later 2/3's of the book we don't get much of Folds's emotional life. He was married multiple times, yet we learn little about his relationships. For me, there ultimately wasn't enough "there" there.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robert Poor

    I first heard the Ben Folds Five in the early 1990's on Radio Free Hawaii, a plucky independent radio station on Oahu, while I was stationed at Pearl Harbor. The song, "Underground," was unlike anything I had heard before, catchy, funny, self-deprecating, and clever in a way that reminded me a little of Randy Newman. Plucky and unique, just like Radio Free Hawaii. A sucker for piano-based rock and pop, I immediately went out and bought the first Ben Folds Five CD and devoured it over the next se I first heard the Ben Folds Five in the early 1990's on Radio Free Hawaii, a plucky independent radio station on Oahu, while I was stationed at Pearl Harbor. The song, "Underground," was unlike anything I had heard before, catchy, funny, self-deprecating, and clever in a way that reminded me a little of Randy Newman. Plucky and unique, just like Radio Free Hawaii. A sucker for piano-based rock and pop, I immediately went out and bought the first Ben Folds Five CD and devoured it over the next several hours, weeks and months (and years and decades). I continued to be a fan, seeing him and his band when they visited the local area, later buying tickets for the entire family to hear his symphony with the San Diego Orchestra, enjoying his insights on the acapella television show "Sing Off," and recoding whatever late night show upon which he would occasionally appear. His unusual piano playing and the style and subject of his lyrics have kept him, if not at the top of the charts, at least within shouting distance of the charts for more than two decades. Now, his first book, an autobiography entitled "A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons," features much of the same amusing quirky style as his music. I love this book; I couldn't put it down. His premise is that his life has provided him opportunities to learn a number of "cheap lessons," some of which he took to heart and some he did not. Throughout the book, he highlights these cheap lessons and offers advice to his reader. I have followed Ben Folds for more than twenty years. Much of his personal story I had heard before, but there are plenty of sections here that were new to me. Portions of this book are hilarious, particularly his miserable time majoring in jazz music (for a semester) at the University of Miami. Other sections are very readable and very strange. He has been married at least four or five times ... It is unclear to me whether he has learned a whole lot from these marriages. (Based on his allusion to alimony, perhaps those weren't cheap lessons, but rather expensive lessons ...) Throughout this eminently readable book, he intersperses snippets of lyrics within his anecdotes and advice to give the reader a sense of the relationship between his life and music. Here are several memorable samples from the book. After failing out of the University of Miami. "Each night I’d come home, put a Stouffer’s in the microwave, and retreat to my room. My poor parents. They thought they’d sent me off for good only four months ago. That had been their first taste of peace and quiet in seventeen years. But now, once again, there was one more shower to wait on before work, one more car in the driveway to move, and once again loud music blasting from my old bedroom. “Maybe turn that down a little?” Papa politely suggested one afternoon through my bedroom door, after a couple of knocks. He asked about my plans for college. “Well, if I’m going to go back to Miami, I’m going to need a scholarship,” I said. “So I’m looking through some ROTC brochures and I’m thinking about the Army—” “You’re fucking high,” he said. And disappeared. Papa, of course, wasn’t talking about drugs at all. He was just questioning whether I was cut out for scrubbing the barracks toilets with a toothbrush and following orders. I wasn’t Army material, no matter what the recruitment officer had promised me about being in the field band. From the song “Army” (The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five), written a good decade later: Well I thought about the Army Dad said “son, you’re fucking high” And I thought, yeah there’s a first for everything So I took my old man’s advice" On playing acoustic piano in a rock band. "When I was younger, trying to jam with loud guitars and drums on an unamplified upright piano in various neighborhood garage bands, I couldn’t hear myself at all. The guitars could just turn a volume knob and blow me away. But one day when we played “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers, while copying the original piano part I discovered the power of sticking the top of the piano range loudly and repetitively. I could finally be heard. And it wasn’t the velocity alone that made the piano speak above the loud garage band. It was also a matter of what range to play, and when. I was like the runt of a litter who learns to bull in to get food. I can fucking stick it in any loud band and make myself heard." On Songwriting. "Stand in as many pairs of shoes as you can manage, even ones you consider reprehensible or repulsive—even if it’s just for a moment. If you’re going to be a tourist, be a respectful one. Observe, report, imagine, invent, have fun with, but never write “down” to a character or their point of view, because everyone is the most important person in the world—at least to that one person. And if your tourist photographs suck, maybe it’s because you’re too far away from your subjects, seeing them only as props dotting the scenery. Position yourself upon a bedrock of honesty and self-knowledge, so that your writing comes from your own unique perspective. Know where you stand and what your flaws are. Know thyself. Then you can spin all kinds of shit and all the tall tales you like. It’s art. Finally, empathy and perspective are everything, and neither should be taken for granted. After all, there’s always someone out there who thinks you’re the monster. Remember that the ground beneath your feet can always shift and that it should always be questioned." On Majoring in Music. "I was no slouch of a musician. I was just more of a jack-of-all-trades than a technical monster. My creativity earned me my scholarship, but at music school it’s all about being a specialist, since you can’t really teach creativity." Highly recommended, for music fans and musicians alike.

  18. 4 out of 5

    H

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS Full disclosure – I’m a big Ben Folds fan! This is a very different rock autobiography; Folds avoids the cliché of stringing together tales of groupies, hedonism, excess, debauchery, scandal, travelogue or addiction and redemption to tell his life story. There’s barely any name-dropping (although I’d love to know more about the veiled name-checks for Neil Hannon, Nick Hornby and Elton John in the acknowledgements, beyond the obvious, given they didn’t reall THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME MINOR SPOILERS Full disclosure – I’m a big Ben Folds fan! This is a very different rock autobiography; Folds avoids the cliché of stringing together tales of groupies, hedonism, excess, debauchery, scandal, travelogue or addiction and redemption to tell his life story. There’s barely any name-dropping (although I’d love to know more about the veiled name-checks for Neil Hannon, Nick Hornby and Elton John in the acknowledgements, beyond the obvious, given they didn’t really feature in the book). Neither does Ben dish the dirt on anyone (except perhaps himself) scrupulously steering clear of painful divorce details (there are 4) maintaining near-silence on his closest relationships, and respecting the privacy of his children. Yet this is one of the most entertaining, enlightening and inspiring books from a musician I’ve read. Told chronologically, with a loose theme of life lessons, Folds describes the creative process in a way that many artists will identify with, yet struggle to articulate themselves. The idea of finding your authenticity and your voice through a process of subtraction really resonated with me. Many rock stars’ autobiographies are exasperating, as they tell one anecdote after another, often without demonstrating the sense of regret and accumulative wisdom the typical middle-aged non-celebrity acquires. Folds looks over each of his key life experiences with brutal honesty, and identifies the lesson to be learned. While far from average, Folds described many experiences and revelations I recognised from my own life. Many readers over 45 will, I’m sure, find something to identify with among tales of serious illness, painful ailments, workaholism and finally epiphany, after seeing the fallout from repeated failure to look after his own wellbeing. The turning to meditation and Pilates in particular made me chuckle in recognition. His mid-‘80s experience of being a minority working-class under-grad also chimed with my own art student experience, c.1990; the brutal critiques that the middle and upper class students take in their stride, already assured of their place in the world, scarring the more vulnerable or maverick. I hope that in a slightly more inclusive 21st century, university feedback is more nurturing! It never occurred to me to drop out like Ben and I lacked his reckless courage to pursue a creative career in the face of relentless hardship. This for me is the mark of a true artist – they are compelled to create, they don’t see any other option. I was cringing as Folds described breaking a loaned, irreplaceable piano and all manner of other regrettable performance decisions – which, like him, at the time I’d have thought were just “rock’n’roll!”, but with hindsight, are embarrassing. I laughed out loud many times at his turns of phrase (“shit the bed”) his uncommon sense of irony and I enjoyed getting inside the head of a hero possessed of such impulsiveness and self-belief. His recognition of his place in the music business now and his frank description of today’s pop music made me smile. Despite the rehabilitative process Ben describes at the end of the book, where he learns to self-care (as we call it these days) and make space to process the emotions he has conceded time and again he failed to do in the first 4 decades of his life, you can sense his continuing struggle with describing feelings, which are missing from his accounts of his relationships. While he may have concluded that his family should not be forced into the spotlight and perhaps only feels inclined to write about what he is known for – his song writing, recordings and performances – it is unusual to read an autobiography in which the writer doesn’t describe the type of relationship they have with their mother, father, brother, children, ex-wives and other loved ones. Even the writing of some of his most touching songs, like “The Luckiest”, are described in terms of a project brief, rather than the feelings or lover that inspired the lyrics and melody. I’d have loved to have heard more about Ben’s photography as well, which is reduced to a few brief references, because I admire his pictures almost as much as his music and sense this side of his creativity would be fascinating to explore. However, those are my only disappointments! The book will definitely withstand a second reading; I loved Ben’s literary style and “voice” so much that I’m going to find the audiobook to listen to, as I’m told that he narrates it himself, punctuated with piano demonstrations!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Talbot Hook

    This book is quintessential Folds in many ways, at turns irreverent and pensive— sometimes within the span of a single sentence; just as listening to one of his albums (say, Whatever and Ever or Sound of the Life) straight through will yield a very mixed emotional experience, so too will this book have you both chuckling and wistful in a single sitting. There are several praiseworthy elements to this memoir, most notably the alacrity and honesty with which Folds analyzes some of the hardest expe This book is quintessential Folds in many ways, at turns irreverent and pensive— sometimes within the span of a single sentence; just as listening to one of his albums (say, Whatever and Ever or Sound of the Life) straight through will yield a very mixed emotional experience, so too will this book have you both chuckling and wistful in a single sitting. There are several praiseworthy elements to this memoir, most notably the alacrity and honesty with which Folds analyzes some of the hardest experiences of his life. He does a fine job of tying particular events to the birth of inspiration and creativity for his music, all while providing the reader, with grace and wit, the salient moments and details in his history which propelled his career just as they exploded his personal life. I find, though, that Folds is better in poetry than prose. While I find many of his lyrics extremely moving, brilliantly crafted, and exceedingly clever, I get the sense that he tapped into that same vein when writing this book. But I don't think it translated too well into a three-hundred page work. Pithy fragments with robust craftsmanship and delicate inspiration are the lifeblood of much poetry and music, but the memoir calls for a different approach. And Folds didn't quite seem to understand the nature and form of the memoir; many times, he tried too hard to write quirky one-liners and memorable sayings (some of which succeeded, some of which flopped), which doesn't work unless one is Oscar Wilde. And, the inclusion of most of his lyrics throughout the book were random at best — oftentimes, they were a detraction, an interruption, to the flow of his narrative. Above all, though, I felt the book simply lacked depth. Everything seemed to be a surface play, even when emotions and self-growth were the topics to hand. Things were recounted, but never really made purposeful for the reader. The word "existential" was used at points while never really feeling existential, and that is a true shame. In a memoir, one is ironing out one's life for the reader: tracing a trajectory not simply material but spiritual. And while his memoir does a good and entertaining job of hashing out the whens, wheres, hows, and whats of Folds's life, it usually lacks a strong sense of the why. If to write a memoir is to bare one's soul, this memoir feels dissembling, then — as if the author is still partially concealed behind the curtain. He does come out occasionally, though, as when he writes about creating songs such as "Evaporated" and "Still Fighting It"; in those passages we see the thoughtful, vulnerable songwriter that is just as much a part of Folds as the one who flips the bird to the audience while shouting, "Kiss my ass!". Yet the book catered much more to this flippant and immature persona (which I mostly love), and failed to reveal the intellectual empath that I believe to be present. Where is the depthful thought in this memoir when compared to his song "I'm Not the Man"? To me, one shines a light inwardly to illuminate the soul, while the other is a good story told at a cocktail party. This is to say: there is a schism in personae that went unbridged in the book that I can't quite overlook. Perhaps, as he relates in one of the later chapters, he is still hiding somewhat behind crass humor and a certain stage persona created long ago. I don't know. But I found this aspect of the whole thing deeply unsatisfying. I guess, ultimately, I hold Folds as capable of more — capable of anything. And that includes taking off the performer's mask fully so that we see the human face beneath.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    This book also has some great lessons and food for thought that's not necessarily musical at all. At a German restaurant where he had an early standing gig, a couple told him to be more appreciate, present and in the moment. Applies for most of us: "It's always the easy way out, being an existential chicken. Not really being there. It's harder, its riskier, to be present. But we should try like hell to be. And not just in music, but in every action and exchange in our short lives." Of course a hy This book also has some great lessons and food for thought that's not necessarily musical at all. At a German restaurant where he had an early standing gig, a couple told him to be more appreciate, present and in the moment. Applies for most of us: "It's always the easy way out, being an existential chicken. Not really being there. It's harder, its riskier, to be present. But we should try like hell to be. And not just in music, but in every action and exchange in our short lives." Of course a hyper-literate and funny singer would write a stellar memoir. And of course the guy whose biggest hit is about his teenage girlfriend's abortion would be honest and open in said book. I usually listen to an artist's music while reading the artist's writing, but I'm typically ready to move on by the time I slog through a whole book. Not in this case. I came out a bigger fan of Folds, warts and all, and can't stop listening to his fantastic songwriting. He is fully open about his character flaws and mistakes (and his failed relationships, but they are more #neveraround than #metoo), but these imperfections just make him more human and likable, and make his music even more relatable. This memoir is a delightful, insightful and quick read that any music fan would enjoy, even if you're not a big Ben Folds fan (but that would help). The book is written as a chronological series of short vignettes that end up beautifully revealing his personality and history. It had a few insights into specific songs (most of which are surprisingly autobiographical), and a few dives into the creative process and artistry. It was particularly interesting to read this alongside "Moonwalking with Einstein," a book about memory. While learning how memory works, I read about Ben Folds' memories and how they formed both his songs and this book. The odd title refers to the first dream he claims to remember, in which only he can see a bunch fo fireflies, until he points them out to his friends. He turns this into one of the best analogies for artistic creation that I have read — the melodies he "sees" have always been there. We just need him to bring them out for us. He also notes that his "enforced boredom" as a child helped spark his imagination and helped him see all the lightning bugs, so to speak. I was inspired to try to spend more time away from my phone, and make sure my kids have time to be creative ... and bored. Another vignette is about his love of comedy, and how comedy informs his music. It helped me appreciate both comedy and his music just a little bit more. Ironically, his formal music education was less of an influence on his artistry. "I could feel my inner musician retreating to the furthest reaches of my frightened soul," he wrote of his time in "jazz school." And I'll close with another gem that can apply to any pursuit: "When it's said that someone is 'trying too hard,' we should take that to mean 'trying too hard at the wrong thing.' Once the wrong thing, usually affectation or tension, is stripped away, by all means, please try too hard. Try as hard as you can to express what you feel, and don't let anyone bully you otherwise."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    If you're a fan of Ben Folds you'll really like this book. If you're a fan of Ben Folds and a musician yourself, it will absolutely love it. I've been a fan of Ben Folds since middle school. I started taking piano lessons in 7th grade, hoping that eventually I'd learn enough of what I needed to in order to play loud, up-tempo, punk-inspired rock songs like he did. I quit after just a year, but picked up guitar immediately after, and have been playing ever since (19 years and counting!) I always f If you're a fan of Ben Folds you'll really like this book. If you're a fan of Ben Folds and a musician yourself, it will absolutely love it. I've been a fan of Ben Folds since middle school. I started taking piano lessons in 7th grade, hoping that eventually I'd learn enough of what I needed to in order to play loud, up-tempo, punk-inspired rock songs like he did. I quit after just a year, but picked up guitar immediately after, and have been playing ever since (19 years and counting!) I always found Folds' quirky lyrics to be both interesting and beautiful. I aimed for that level of uniqueness in my own writing. I still do. I've seen him live twice and both shows were not just concerts, but events. I wasn't just watching, but I was involved in the show, singing two and three part harmonies with other concert-goers, complete strangers, under Folds' conduction. I was in awe of his ability to improvise, his confidence and energy. He's not just an excellent musician, but the definition of an entertainer. His memoire does an incredible job of bringing you through his entire life, through all his achievements and let-downs, and all along the way he sprinkles lyrics from his works. I found myself singing his songs the few times I was coerced into putting the book down. I discovered so much about his career I hadn't previously known, and I have all the more more respect for him now. The chapter called "Follow the Brown" stuck with me most, and when I'm in my next creative rut, I plan on reading through it again. As an art teacher, I may even assign it to my high schoolers. The way he describes working through your "bad" ideas hit home with me, and I don't think I could explain it to my students any better than he did here.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Emily Eloise

    “What has been good for the music hasn’t always been good for the life” I listened to this book on Audible. Ben narrates the book and even includes a little bit of piano and bass. It is worth using your monthly audible credit on this because I have never experienced an audiobook like this before. I am a Big Ben (it autocorrected to capital letters which I find amusing) Folds fan and I wanted to review this with little bias as possible. Ben has created a fantastic auto-biography of his early year “What has been good for the music hasn’t always been good for the life” I listened to this book on Audible. Ben narrates the book and even includes a little bit of piano and bass. It is worth using your monthly audible credit on this because I have never experienced an audiobook like this before. I am a Big Ben (it autocorrected to capital letters which I find amusing) Folds fan and I wanted to review this with little bias as possible. Ben has created a fantastic auto-biography of his early years, Ben Folds Five (BFF) and post BFF. I found Ben’s recount to be honest reflection of his career so far. He really called himself out in some areas which was nice to see. I enjoyed listening to the creation of BFF albums and the Rocking the Suburbs album (one that will be always special in my heart). I looked at other reviews on here about Ben not being more open and honest about his relationships. This seems to be a common occurrence in low reviews. This is true, he rarely spoke about his relationships outside Anna Goodman: I do believe this is out of respect for his children and that Anna was a big part of Ben’s early career. I really have never been interested in Ben’s life and I didn’t know much about him. I think this made it even more thrilling. Ben broke down music creation and creativity (I will always appreciate a pianist because I could never do this). If you are interested in music and even if you aren’t a BF fan, this will be an interesting book for you.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tacy Beck

    Ben Folds captured me with his art in the late 90's, and he was a formative influence on my life for all of my young adult years. This book further confirmed that he was a good influence on me. I see three things that come into focus through this book Love of Music Ben Folds explains how his love for playing piano was such a huge part of his childhood. He genuinely loved writing songs and making music, and he followed that path to great success. He doesn't focus on the lifestyle of someone living Ben Folds captured me with his art in the late 90's, and he was a formative influence on my life for all of my young adult years. This book further confirmed that he was a good influence on me. I see three things that come into focus through this book Love of Music Ben Folds explains how his love for playing piano was such a huge part of his childhood. He genuinely loved writing songs and making music, and he followed that path to great success. He doesn't focus on the lifestyle of someone living hedonistically for sex, money, power, or drugs.... other than just being honest about one day having to throw his phone in a pool. With humor he explains how he writes songs, and I can tell that he respects other musicians in the popular music genre as well. Love of Art This is also a story about Ben's love for art. I could see with his many clear examples that being a creator is ultimately what "saved" him. That sounds cheesy but it shouldn't. He was capturing the lightning bugs of creativity and that's what made him happy. During his most popular years, he was even poking fun at rap music by creating spoofs. He explains how his artistic process was often misunderstood and he was booed by audiences. But he never defended himself, he just kept doing what he was good at. The fact that he was a hilarious entertainer is what made me go to seven of his concerts in the early 2000's. Love of the Craft Finally, Ben Folds has found his voice, his audience, and he is perfecting the craft of songwriting, now doing so in a symphonic setting. I liked that a lot of the book was Ben's philosophies about the music industry and even poking fun at the "mating years." I'm so impressed and I can't wait to see what comes of this performer and musician in the coming years. I say read this book! Thats why I give it 5 stars- it is entertaining and he doesn't major on the minors... he celebrates what has been most important about his life.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kiren Chaudhry

    A Dream about Lightening Bugs is somewhat of a meditative metaphor about the creative process and moving through life. A song, like any story, has to hold your interest with clues that are musically paced and poetically ambiguous enough to spark the imagination. Happy to report Folds delivers in both books and songs. I’m out of range in terms of age for Ben Folds Five touring days, but I listened to his unique voice a lot through my adolescence. He’s a nonsinger singer, but not like Dylan, Cohen A Dream about Lightening Bugs is somewhat of a meditative metaphor about the creative process and moving through life. A song, like any story, has to hold your interest with clues that are musically paced and poetically ambiguous enough to spark the imagination. Happy to report Folds delivers in both books and songs. I’m out of range in terms of age for Ben Folds Five touring days, but I listened to his unique voice a lot through my adolescence. He’s a nonsinger singer, but not like Dylan, Cohen or Waits more boy next door. Had the boy next door indie music revolution actually been televised I would have watched the reruns on Nick at Nite. In the book he makes a strong case for using your authentic voice in your craft. So as a middle class white guy I guess that story involves a lot of overcoming obstacles that you create for yourself. He encourages his readers to imagine wildly…he insists “the limitations of the real world will soon impose themselves on your creation. Even the limitations of your technique will cut your imagination down to size in time.” And that resonates a little too well. Aside from a random fucked account of witnessing violence against a trans person, and the strange one dimensional description of his partners thru the years the book is worth reading.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    My first audio book of the year, and what a great one to choose. This was a really interesting look into one of my favorite artist's life and musical career (both ups and downs). I really enjoyed listening to Ben narrate this behind-the-scenes look into his musical journey. He's super honest, even when it puts his flaws/mistakes/immaturity on full display. One comment: through out the book he recites lyrics from his songs. I kind of wish they would have played little snippets from the actual son My first audio book of the year, and what a great one to choose. This was a really interesting look into one of my favorite artist's life and musical career (both ups and downs). I really enjoyed listening to Ben narrate this behind-the-scenes look into his musical journey. He's super honest, even when it puts his flaws/mistakes/immaturity on full display. One comment: through out the book he recites lyrics from his songs. I kind of wish they would have played little snippets from the actual songs, so people could hear the music in addition to the words. That's OK though. I figure most people reading his book are already familiar with his work. And if you aren't familiar with his work, go check out his 2001 album "Rockin' the Suburbs". It's one of my favorite albums of all time. Like Top 5 status Some Highlights: - Learning about Ben's roots in German Polka music :) - His shout out to Fleming & John (their album "The Way We Are" was one of my favorites growing up) - The anecdote about Elliott Smith playing Angeles after one of their shows just for him. <3 My heart. RIP Elliott.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lee Ann

    3.5 stars. Full disclosure: The day I started reading this book I also heard Ben Folds speak at the Iowa Arts Forum and then I went to his concert (with the Violent Femmes) in the evening so it was full Folds immersion for me. Further disclosure: I've always liked all the music I've heard by Folds but I don't own any of his CDs and hadn't seen him in concert before. This book is part memoir, part Folds' creative process, part arts advocacy. You can tell he's well-read and experienced by the varie 3.5 stars. Full disclosure: The day I started reading this book I also heard Ben Folds speak at the Iowa Arts Forum and then I went to his concert (with the Violent Femmes) in the evening so it was full Folds immersion for me. Further disclosure: I've always liked all the music I've heard by Folds but I don't own any of his CDs and hadn't seen him in concert before. This book is part memoir, part Folds' creative process, part arts advocacy. You can tell he's well-read and experienced by the variety of people and ideas he mentions. In fact, follow your passions is one of the big lessons to take away from this book. He has other wisdoms, including finding mentors/teachers, taking time, and being present, that are all good. And you don't need to be a fan to enjoy this book. I read the book but, if Folds reads the audio version, I wish I'd done that. There are a handful of photos in the book but they wouldn't be missed with audio. Having heard Folds speak, I think the book would be even more engaging read by the author.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I can't even begin to count the number of Ben Folds concerts I have attended. I have been a fan since Ben Folds Five showed up on the music map. So when this book came out I just had to read it. I will admit up front that I am not a huge fan of autobiographies. Somehow autobiographies always come off to me as a bragfest of the author's accomplishments. This was not one of those autobiographies. Ben comes off as very humble and nonchalant about his accomplishments. He admits to his faults and mis I can't even begin to count the number of Ben Folds concerts I have attended. I have been a fan since Ben Folds Five showed up on the music map. So when this book came out I just had to read it. I will admit up front that I am not a huge fan of autobiographies. Somehow autobiographies always come off to me as a bragfest of the author's accomplishments. This was not one of those autobiographies. Ben comes off as very humble and nonchalant about his accomplishments. He admits to his faults and mistakes and takes his successes in stride. Even as he works with people like William Shatner and the National Symphony Orchestra, he tells the story without making it feel "braggy". In the end, it's a story about his love affair with music, his stumbles, and falls that have brought him to where he is today. He is not one to sit for very long, so I'm sure we'll see lots more from him in the future. I have received this book free from the publisher for an honest review.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sasha

    (3.5 stars) Looking at the reviews it is hard to distinguish between who is giving 5 stars because they have been lifelong Ben Folds fans or if they actually enjoyed the book. If you are a Ben Folds fan, which presumably most with a desire to read his book would be, you will enjoy the book. If you are an avid reader...you will be somewhat disappointed. I get the sense he really tried but the depth is kind of lacking. He makes mention if big moments, his ups and downs, but holds a bit back. Which (3.5 stars) Looking at the reviews it is hard to distinguish between who is giving 5 stars because they have been lifelong Ben Folds fans or if they actually enjoyed the book. If you are a Ben Folds fan, which presumably most with a desire to read his book would be, you will enjoy the book. If you are an avid reader...you will be somewhat disappointed. I get the sense he really tried but the depth is kind of lacking. He makes mention if big moments, his ups and downs, but holds a bit back. Which not everyone needs to share true vulnerability, but it is like he gives you a glance then shuts it down. I was at 2/3 stars but he does a good job bringing it all together reflectively at the end. Always fun to learn more about an artist you love, but I personally feel Ben is a much better song writer than book writer. (I would still read another book if he wrote one again).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Anna Myers

    Ben Folds’s new memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, is a one-session read. I suppose one could break it up, but I don’t know how you’d be able to stop. Admittedly, I grew up on Ben’s music, and who doesn’t love to read about the life of one of their all-time musical heroes? Even if you’ve never heard a track of his music, however, Fold’s memoir is a refreshingly honest story of his life, blemishes and all. Peppered with plenty of humor (and four-letter words), the reader is transported to the Ben Folds’s new memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, is a one-session read. I suppose one could break it up, but I don’t know how you’d be able to stop. Admittedly, I grew up on Ben’s music, and who doesn’t love to read about the life of one of their all-time musical heroes? Even if you’ve never heard a track of his music, however, Fold’s memoir is a refreshingly honest story of his life, blemishes and all. Peppered with plenty of humor (and four-letter words), the reader is transported to the other side of Ben’s kitchen table as he shares anecdotes and life lessons from his 20 years as a successful musician. This is a must-read for any Ben Folds fan, but I’d recommend it regardless. By the end you’ll be inspired to go create something, and building things is definitely something we could all benefit from doing a little more of.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Tom Blumer

    Ben Folds proves my theory that men don't mature until they are at least 35, if at all. Based on this memoir, I think Ben Folds is finally reaching his maturity sometime in his late 40s or early 50s. This is an interesting and extremely well written memoir and gives the reader insights into his life from the very beginning. It is funny and sad. It is insightful without being self-loathing. He acknowledges that he was out of control for a lot of his life, but now seems to have it together. His alt Ben Folds proves my theory that men don't mature until they are at least 35, if at all. Based on this memoir, I think Ben Folds is finally reaching his maturity sometime in his late 40s or early 50s. This is an interesting and extremely well written memoir and gives the reader insights into his life from the very beginning. It is funny and sad. It is insightful without being self-loathing. He acknowledges that he was out of control for a lot of his life, but now seems to have it together. His altruistic and charitable endeavors are definitely redeeming and worthwhile. It shows his maturity. Too bad about all of his failed relationships, but that's life. I enjoy his music even though maybe I’m not supposed to given my age per his analysis. If he was doing a concert in our area, I would go see him.

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