The Ben Folds Guide to Kicking Trauma in the Ass and Living to Tell the Tale
Lesson learned from “Not the Same”
All creativity begins with the moment of conception.
That little piece of kindling that gets the fire going. That initial source of inspiration that takes on a life of its own. That single note from which the entire symphony grows. That single spark of life that signals an idea’s movement value, almost screaming to us, something wants to be built here.
And so, in this blog series, I’m going to be deconstructing my favorite moments of conception from popular movies. Each post will contain a video clip from a different film, along with a series of lessons we can learn from the characters.
Today’s clip comes from Ben Folds Live with the Buffalo Harmonic:
You were not the same after that. When I was twenty six, my left lung collapsed. I spent a week in the hospital with a tube in my chest, pickled out of my mind on pain medication, trying to breathe through a machine. It was the single most painful, disturbing and surreal experience of my life. Something very real inside of me shifted that day, and I haven’t been the same since. It’s like something froze there, and part of me will always be looking back on that moment. But in a good way. Sitting in that hospital bed for a week forced me to slow down my life, reconnect with my breath and develop a healthier relationship with my stress. Best thing that could have happened to me. And that’s the benefit of trauma, I suppose. When we’re exposed to a stressful event or situation, something exceptionally threatening or catastrophic or out of the ordinary, we can’t help but be altered. That moment becomes a long lived, deeply embedded memory that affects daily decision making in the future. Ben’s song is about a similar moment. It’s based on a true story of a person he knew who, under the influence of acid, climbed a tree at a party, stayed up in the tree overnight, and when he came down the next morning, was a born again Christian. And he was not the same after that. His inner geography had changed forever. The point is, we all have trauma. We all get stuck up in a tree eventually. But as painful as those moments are at the time, they are still what make our life a book of stories. And we ought to give thanks for them. What’s on your gratitude list?
Emphasize the social function. Ben is famous for crowd sing alongs. I’ve seen him in concert multiple times, and participating in a three part harmony with thousands of people is one of the most magical and electric things a human being can experience. This song in particular. Every time I hear it, I get chills and start crying. That’s how goddamn moving it is. Especially with the symphony orchestra. And the best part is, whenever he introduces it, Ben stands up from his piano and teaches the audience the root, major third and perfect fifth notes of the song. That way, everybody can sing the chorus together. That’s the way live performance should be. Not just one guy on stage, but everybody in the room coming together to embrace each other and share the joyful experience of music and singing and celebration. Ben’s albums certainly sell a lot copies, but his concerts are what connect the disconnected. They let people share moments with each other so they can experience things together. And they produce memorable, cocreative, breathing the same air experiences that fans cherish forever. That’s the challenge for any creator. Not just to sell the art, but to create something of social meaning above and beyond the art. Because live is how life happens. Why would anyone want to come see your art live?
My only vice is advice. Ben recently wrote an insightful letter to aspiring musical artists. The entire article is worth reading, but here are a few of my favorite themes and passages. First, on music. Folds wrote that while it’s important to be savvy about distribution and promotion, it won’t do you any good if you’re not making music first. Because if you’re not ready musically, the best opportunity in the world isn’t even an opportunity. Second, on identity. Ben said that it takes no effort to just be yourself, but the road to that place can be long and rough. So stick it out anyway. Because you may soon find you’ll be praised for being you. And third, on uniqueness. Ben also wrote that you can’t make people who won’t understand your music, understand your music. And so, don’t try to sway people’s musical taste, or alter your music to fit a theoretical audience. Just take the music you naturally make and finding it’s home. That why this man is a genius. His insight about music is equally as inspiring as the music itself. How does the way you use your intelligence come across to the people who work with you?
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What did you learn from this movie clip?
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