52 GIRLS"Belinda" / Ben Folds
I reckon Ben Folds could have his pick of writers to do his lyrics (not that Ben Folds even needs anybody else's lyrics). So whom did Ben pick to collaborate with on his 2011 album Lonely Avenue? Why, the same guy I'd pick -- British novelist Nick Hornby.
Hornby is an innate storyteller, and each of the songs on this wonderful album come embedded with characters and plot. "Belinda," the last track on the album, in some ways brings Lonely Avenue full circle.
They came to hear "Belinda," and while he may save it to the very end -- hence track 11 -- they won't go home until they've heard it. But here's the catch: He wrote it about his old sweetheart when they were still in love -- before he screwed around with a busty blond flight attendant and left Belinda. He knows he didn't do the right thing; how weak his excuse is -- "She gave me complimentary champagne." Years later, he is curdled with regret.
And still, every night, he has to get up on stage and sing this love song to the woman whose heart he broke.
Now, being the geeky fangirl I am, I've actually pondered this before. It's one thing for Paul McCartney to sing "My Love" and think about his late wife Linda, whom he loved till the day she died; it's another for Eric Clapton to sing "Layla" about his ex-wife Pattie Boyd Harrison Clapton, whom he divorced. How does he feel, singing that song? Does he picture Pattie to himself or does he just sing the notes? Ray Davies can cut a song like "Property" out of his repertoire if the memories of his divorce sting too much (was that Yvonne he left for Chrissie Hynde?), but what if you only had a couple of recognizable hits? Could Gerry Marsden have gone on singing "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" if the girl he wrote it for hadn't come back and married him? And what about the Left Banke -- if they'd stayed together, would they be forever singing "Walk Away Renee" about the bassist's girlfriend, that girl who got away? It makes you think.
So it's secretly thrilling to hear that Nick Hornby has been wondering this too. (Have you been reading my diary again, Nick?) He's a talented wordsmith and all, but it's that understanding of the human heart that really makes Nick Hornby so wonderful to read. And when you add in Ben Folds' plaintive melodic gifts -- well, it's a heartbreaking album. But in a good way.