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Ben Folds and his ‘home town’ Adelaide

People of Adelaide

Adelaide is recognised as the ‘home town’ of many talented Australian musicians - Sia Furler, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, Guy Sebastian to name a few - but it was also the ‘home town’ of a famous American rock pianist-singer-songwriter in the early 2000s: Ben Folds.

Best known for his songs ‘Brick’, ‘Rockin’ the Suburbs’ and ‘Army’, Ben Folds burst onto the Australian music scene in the mid-1990s with his alternative rock band Ben Folds Five (the band was, in fact, a trio).

‘Brick’ was the band’s breakout hit, a sad song recounting the teenage abortion of Fold’s then-girlfriend. In spite of its melancholy theme, it was extremely popular in Australia and was voted the number 12 song on the Triple J Hottest 100 in 1998.  Here's the film clip:

Settling down in Adelaide

Whilst travelling around Australia in 1998, Ben Folds met yoga teacher and musician Frally Hynes. They settled in Adelaide, married in June 1999, and had twin children, Louis and Gracie, born one day apart at Ashford Hospital in July 1999.

As Folds recounts in his memoirs, this was a chapter in his life that he welcomed, having removed himself from his punishing touring schedule. Despite having ’baby spew on each shoulder and a VHS of Teletubbies on repeat’, he took ‘special joy in watching the twins as they learned to crawl, make noises and all kinds of faces, and finally to get the f*ck to sleep’.

Folds later wrote songs for both Louis and Gracie. ‘Still Fighting It’, a heartfelt song about the miracle of childbirth, was the song written for Folds’ son (his daughter’s song is self-titled, ‘Gracie’). The accompanying film clip, produced by Adelaide creative agency Kojo, was filmed on the Glenelg tram and at Port Willunga. At his 2018 concert at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, Folds recounted the huge effort required to haul his grand piano out onto the sand for the video shoot. Take a look at the video here:

The Luckiest

Ben Folds Five split up in 2000 and Folds embarked on a solo career from his new Adelaide base. His first solo album, 'Rockin’ the Suburbs', was written and produced at the old Woodley Winery in Glen Osmond.

The final song on the album, ‘The Luckiest’, is chosen frequently by brides and grooms as their bridal waltz, and it’s the one song in his discography that Folds believes will ‘outlive him’. As Folds explains in his autobiography, the moving third verse of the song is drawn from his real-life experience whilst living next door to elderly neighbours at Beulah Park:

Next door, there's an old man who lived to his nineties and one day
Passed away in his sleep,
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days, and passed away
I'm sorry I know that's a strange way to tell you that I know we belong
That I know
That I am, I am, I am, the luckiest

- 'The Luckiest' by Ben Folds (2001)

This is the original version of 'The Luckiest'.  A different version of this song was featured in the Richard Curtis film, About Time, starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy.

The Adelaide Experience

Whilst in Adelaide, Ben Folds and his family lived at Hyde Park, Beulah Park and on Le Fevre Terrace in North Adelaide. They also owned a holiday home at Port Willunga.

Favoured haunts in Adelaide included Chianti on Hutt Street, Jasmin Indian Restaurant in Hindmarsh Square, The Star of Greece and Victory Hotel at Port Willunga, and Lucia’s in the Central Market which was particularly popular with the twins (they loved the ravioli).

Whilst living in North Adelaide, Folds tells the story of a run-in with one of the city’s equine residents in the northern Park Lands. Walking with his children in a pram, Folds was bitten by a horse, requiring a tetanus injection. At his concerts in Adelaide, this incident has been the subject of Folds’ ‘Rock this B*tch’ set, a fully improvised composition that he plays at concerts around the world.

To this day, Ben Folds’ Wikipedia listing identifies him as a Port Adelaide football fan - his then-wife Frally Hynes is the sister of former Port Adelaide and Fremantle AFL footballer, David Hynes.

An Ode to Adelaide

Ben Folds divorced and moved back to the US in 2006 (he has now been divorced four times all up), but he retains a place in his heart for Adelaide, telling the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014: "I loved it so much and I had so many friends there, I would just talk about it so glowingly".

So glowingly in fact that he held onto his permanent residency visa for as long as he possibly could, with aspirations to return: "Because I've always had in the back of my mind that I would move back there one day. But it's so far to travel to do all the other 10,000 things."

Thankfully, Ben Folds didn’t leave our shores before getting the chance to honour his adopted ‘home town’ in its own self-titled song. In 2004, he composed an ode to Adelaide, paying homage to bogans and the Adelaide 500 car race, Rundle Mall and its silver balls, a big night at Charlie Hill-Smith’s fortieth, and giving a nod to our fantastic local beer (presumably Cooper’s rather than West End Draught). Here's the song on Spotify and here are the lyrics:

On a plane
Far from the United States
Dropping in from outer space
Takes a day
Now I see the bogans
At the motor race
Here you know the world could turn
Or crash and burn
And you would never know it
Going where the air is clear
There's better beer in Adelaide

Charlie Hill-Smith's forty
Someone spiked my rice
The rest, history
Now I am a fixture down
Rundle Mall
Watching as the locals pass
Silver balls
I can see their eyes around
They're pointed down
They scan the spanning sidewalks
Learning that there is no hurry
Fuss or worry

It's raining
In Adelaide
A face is waiting in a window
A voice says
Why Adelaide?
You could live anywhere and I say
Because I want to
Because I want to
I really really want to

And you know the earth could turn
Or crash and burn
And you would never know it
Really got to make it to the finish line
Get the record done on time
Pack the bags
And catch a flight
And you can kiss my ass goodbye
To Adelaide

- 'Adelaide' by Ben Folds (2004)

Ben folds book cover

Ben Folds' autobiography, A Dream About Lightning Bugs

Article by

Clayton Wehner

Clayton Wehner

Clayton is what you would call 'middle aged', but acts like he's much younger, despite little encouragement to do so from others around him. He's a family man with two 'clowns', a border collie that won't stop chewing, and a long-suffering wife. Clayton likes craft beer, Dad jokes, 'nerding out' on a computer, singing 'Chantilly Lace' by the Big Bopper, recounting Army tales from days of yore, and tip-toeing along the fine line between tasteful and distasteful. He's a fan of true crime books, railways, Ben Folds, Indian food, and staying under 100kg.