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How YouTube Saved Ben Folds (For Me, Anyway)

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Flipping through the cable channels this morning, I caught the tail end of a Hilton Hotels commercial that uses a snippet from Ben Folds’ Landed, his beautiful single from the Songs for Silverman album. When I hear a old song like the Violent Femmes’ Blister in the Sun used in a Wendy’s commercial, I may snark about it but it doesn’t truly bother me; the song’s been in my consciousness long enough that whatever associations it has for me are pretty much fixed. With a more recent song like Landed, somehow it’s different: suddenly, this gorgeous plaint of regret and melancholy is tangled up with bonus HHonors points and complimentary copies of USA Today.

Anyway, I was going to write a quick rant in the spirit of my recent Femmes/Jam post, and I went digging around YouTube to see if I could find the ad there. I couldn’t, but I did discover that there’s an extensive mini-genre of amateur Ben Folds cover videos out there. For starters, a pretty much note-for-note rendition of the intro by pianomusings, who I think plays the lick a bit faster than Folds does on the album:

For the more cinematically inclined, we have this home-made video–a bit on the literal side, sure, but you’ve got to admire the effort, and the intrepid gathering of airport stock footage. And what couple hasn’t argued about how to chop celery?:

There’s also this amateur video composed of scenes from The Aviator, which I found far more moving than the turgid Howard Hughes biopic itself. (I’m not embedding the video, because I’m not clear on the copyright issues.) Using the song to tell the story of a megalomaniac billionaire germ-phobe adds new meaning to the lyric, “…’til I believed I was the crazy one/ And in a way I guess I was.”

Finally, there’s this video–warning, it’s five minutes long–from bumwied, a young woman who says she got a piano arrangement of the song from her piano teacher:

OK, it’s not exactly flawless, but that’s what touched me about it. The missed notes, the occasionally halting tempo and above all, the performer’s dead-serious concentration. The homeiness of the scene. The dim lighting. The bare suggestion of a sunny day outside the curtained window. And is that a stuffed cow on top of the piano?

The performance is imperfect but from the heart: the exact antithesis, really, of a pop song being appropriated to pack business travelers into a chain hotel. It’s what amateurism is all about, the earnest, low-fi pride in feeling a song that moved you come forth from your own fingers. I’m happy to report that Landed has officially been un-ruined for me.

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