A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons
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A memoir of sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll that’s long on wry humor and short on—well, sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.

North Carolina–raised Folds describes himself, with a kind of literary crooked smile, as the sort of person who’s likely to be seen pacing around in his boxer shorts in his front yard, coffee cup in hand, working out the lyrics or melody to one of his songs. A master of the short story in song—see “Army” on the 1999 album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner—Folds writes of growing up obsessed by music and bursting with creativity, which landed him in a psychologist’s office in a blue-collar South in which “ ‘artsy’ things would normally have been written off as being ‘for queers.’ ” A fierce advocate and ally was his mother, who, with his father, indulged him “as I terrorized the household with painfully long sessions of repeated phrases at the piano or snare drum.” Clearly gifted, he enrolled in an alternative high school with patient music teachers. Later in the book, the author encourages his fellow musicians to take up the cause of music teachers “unless you really believe you learned nothing from them,” in which case, he gamely ventures, they should take up the cause of reforming anti-marijuana laws. There are nice notes throughout the text, including an early pledge to himself not to perform anyone’s songs but his own and the excitement of releasing his first album, which, he writes, might not be a masterpiece but still found his band, Ben Folds Five, giving their all: "From then on we would only do exactly what felt right.” What felt right led him to a kind of cult-classic status, to say nothing of friendships with the likes of Neil Gaiman and William Shatner, the latter of whom provides some entertaining anecdotes. Ultimately, Folds delivers an amiable and low-key memoir without the tawdry pyrotechnics of most rock biographies.

A pleasure for fans and encouragement for novices to tune in.

Pub Date: July 30th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-984817-27-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019