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The "F" word in Ann Arbor wasn't Folk. Were you there?

February 4, 2008

The recently completed Ann Arbor Folk Festival was a financial success. Both evenings in the 4300 seat Hill Auditorium were sold out. Saturday's concert featured the traveling quartet of Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin and Buddy Miller. It was Friday's concert, however, that drew the controversy. Indie-pop star Ben Folds was there, and there's no question that he helped attract the full house. Several in attendance began to wonder, however, if they were at a Folk Festival or pop-rock concert. I wasn't there, so you'll have to help me if you were. Did Folds crossover enough to fit the bill? What did you think of his tirade dropping the "F-bomb" repeatedly in one of the final songs? Is there a controversy in Ann Arbor or should we feel lucky that The Ark will have financial protection for another year? I'd like your thoughts.

Jim Blum

Posted by Jim Blum at February 4, 2008 4:09 PM


Comments

My strongest thought is that context is everything. I wasn't there, and context is the missing part of this story. I haven't put that word into a song yet, but I go crude sometimes and haven't ruled it out either. If it's in the chorus, it'll come up repeatedly.

I understand that folk audiences trend older and older these days, and that we old-timers do have delicate sensibilities. But even those of us over 50 have been known to let the word slip, sometimes in hearing range of others, while angry or excited. And we have paid over and over to watch R-rated movies where the word, and cruder ones, are uttered frequently and casually. The language is a' changin.

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at February 5, 2008 4:25 PM

There are quite a few Ben Folds songs with the "f" word in them..
I've been in a Ben Folds audience (La Zona Rosa in Austin, TX), and there was a great deal of excitement when that song came along (if we're talking "Rockin' the Suberbs"), especially amongst the young, college age males in the audience. It seems to be an anthem for the generation. I'm assuming that most of who it appeals to may be those who weren't raised to say the f-word, from the look of the mostly white-bred audience.

My renter uses the "f" word in routine conversation, and at the expense of a well-developed vocabulary, frankly. I don't know what bugs me more..the lack of intelligent conversation, or those little bombs of violence piercing my ears. I've had to develop a tough skin and I go elsewhere for more stimulating conversation. I'm also sure that there is a time and a place for the "f" word, as in what renter recently did to my computer, and has since "fixed" (the "f" word I much prefer!).

Folds sings another song which is quite melodically beautiful but lyrically vulgar, Dr. Dre's "Bit**es Ain't Sh*t". Those words are delivered like little pillows..they come oh, so softly; your ears have to do a double take to realize what it is that you're actually hearing.
Folds is a satirist and often writes parody. He tends to express the dissatisfaction of a generation's confinement in the tread mill of what middle class society expects - good little boys and girls growing up to be good little adults who've followed that well-worn path to boredom with out asking questions about what life really means.
Is Ben folk? Hmmm....on some songs, I'd say yes, but Pop on most. If he is Folk, then it might indicate a trend toward a younger folk audience, which might actually be a good thing in the long run. The "f" word may not become such a reaction getter if it loses it's shock value over time, and more songs may be written with more literate lyrics. One can only hope.

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at February 6, 2008 2:17 AM

I've always assumed that whenever verbiage was used that featured "folk" as a verb, it was an attempt to poke a little bit of shock or playfulness or something by association. From Carla Sciaky's old "carefully pronounced" group the Motherfolkers, or FA's own t-shirt headline: "Where do you folk?" That's where it takes my brain every time it comes up; I thought it was meant to. And if it is meant to, how much shock value is even left at this point?

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at February 6, 2008 9:44 AM

I wasn't there, either, but I have to admit that F bombs in songs do nothing for me. And, in my wicked youth, I had quite the mouth on me. As far as Ben Folds not being folk, as I recall, the Kent State Folk Festival closed with Dr. John, who I would describe as New Orleans funk. Folds is a talented singer/songwriter who has a bit more pop in his beat, so what does that mean to the concert goer? Last year's big mainstage show at MerleFest was Elvis Costello. It was acoustic, but that just made it unplugged pop songs.

Posted by: Ann E VerWiebe at February 6, 2008 10:54 AM

Insurance.. Unplugged Pop sells tickets.

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at February 6, 2008 1:52 PM

Well, at least well-known "names" do..

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at February 6, 2008 1:53 PM

Failed to burn the radio-edit of Creep by Radiohead for use in the car. Ever hear a four year old singing to her dolls "... I wish I was special. You're so $%&ing special. But I'm a creep ...".

I had to repaint my parent's kitchen after a bad tea inhalation following that little quote. Endearingly though, she tends to sing that incredible guitar crunch that comes after the specials.

I love Ben Folds, more for the music than the lyrics, but I think that since the F word has replaced the comma in London's lingua franca, I defend its right to appear in any and all songs not aimed at the nursery (which excludes, by definition, most modern pop). It's particularly relevant at a Folk event, because it's a word that unites the English speaking world.

In our song about the nature of belief in the printed word of God available on the Open Mic, Psychopath uses the word, but only in reference to episcopalians, who in spite of themselves, must still do it, because they haven't died out (that's the Shakers).

Posted by: Huw Pryce at February 6, 2008 5:16 PM

I did hear a two-year-old sing, "Oh, dinosaur, oh, dinosaur, don't say sh$t, okay, dinosaur?"

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at February 6, 2008 8:26 PM

Cool!

Posted by: Huw Pryce at February 6, 2008 9:00 PM

Tell you what, though - I find it bizarre that in print media we find those words with asterisks to protect the delicate sensibilities of the readers (I'm not having a go at anybody here. I understand that email filters dictate our using the same practice for gateway reasons). Nobody reading those bowlderisations fails to read the actual word. So why are we coy about them? If we need the word, then use it spelled out. It we don't want to use it, then don't. We also tend to lose sight of the fact that these words have meanings. I never mind a word used correctly - yes, including that one. Like JoLynn, I am dismayed when a curse word become the universal adjective.

Posted by: Tim Haigh at February 7, 2008 4:59 AM

And by the way, my girl is one of the few three year olds I know who can pronounce 'episcopalian'. I may have played 'I Believe' once too often in the car.

Posted by: Tim Haigh at February 7, 2008 5:02 AM

My four year old could have your three year old.

Posted by: Huw Pryce at February 7, 2008 10:42 AM

Encourage them to start writing songs guys, and keep a tape recorder handy!

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at February 7, 2008 3:42 PM

I don't know Ben Folds' work, but have looked up some of his lyrics in the last couple of days. Now I'm pretty much a fan. Bet he sounds even better than he reads.

That this thread is on a folk site reminds me of that old (Chad Mitchell Trio?) arrangement of Greenback Dollar, where the singers would thump their guitars instead of singing the "D" word that was part of the original song. Trying to navigate a middle path between edgy and staid can really come off as cutesy, and repellant to the folks on both sides.

Posted by: Joan Kennedy at February 8, 2008 7:30 PM

I have been known to use the word to excess, at times, although I would never have any use for it in lyrics. I want my writing to have some thought involved in the process. The word has lost much of its meaning and impact now that it is become a tag beginning or ending to some folks' every other sentence. I do believe that someone can write a much more withering comment without using expletives in songs. Literature is chock full of excellent examples without expletives. However, it does require a little more thought because then it becomes part of the creative writing process instead of cheap throw-away invective.

Posted by: Jack Swain at May 5, 2008 6:04 PM

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