Ben Folds

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

BY Alex HudsonPublished Aug 17, 2019

"Y'all don't know what it's like being male, middle class and white," Ben Folds sang on his 2001 single "Rockin' the Suburbs." The veteran piano rock songwriter has led a relatively charmed life, and his autobiography, A Dream About Lightning Bugs, is not particularly salacious. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. What made Folds so popular in the '90s wasn't his backstory, but his playful wit and imaginative storytelling, and he brings plenty of that when recounting his life experiences.
His autobiography begins by explaining its peculiar title, as Folds remembers a childhood dream about catching fireflies in a jar and showing them to his friends. This turns out to be an illuminating metaphor for the role of an artist: to be keenly observant, capture moments of fleeting beauty and then display them for the rest of the world to see.
Folds focuses heavily on music, going into great detail about his formative music teachers and offering bits of songwriting advice. By far the most interesting parts of the story, however, are non-musical, like the time Folds pulled a knife on a would-be car thief, or when his high school girlfriend spiralled into deep depression following a secret abortion (as recounted in his hit, "Brick"). A few more personal revelations — about his four divorces, or the emotional struggles he alludes to in passing — would have been welcome.
Folds' prose is just as cheeky and conversational as you'd expect from the guy who named his trio Ben Folds Five. Mostly, this is a good thing, since A Dream About Lightning Bugs is an easy-breezy read — although sometimes it yields painfully outdated jokes (like when he describes playing bass as "slapping that bitch like it owed me money") or embarrassing how-do-you-do-fellow-kids idioms (like the numerous times he writes "#ProTip").
With so much aw-shucks humour, this certainly isn't Mötley Crüe's The Dirt. As rock memoirs go, this is decidedly low on sex and drugs. But as a love letter to music, and an acknowledgement of the toll that Folds' career has taken on his personal life, A Dream About Lightning Bugs is thoroughly entertaining.
(Ballantine Books)

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