Ben Folds Book
June 25, 2023

Book Rec — “A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons” by Ben Folds

One piece of creative advice I’ve received along the way is to draw inspiration not just from other photographers but from creative fields outside of photography. For me, one source of inspiration is music, and one of my favorite musicians is Ben Folds. You may know him from Ben Folds Five, creator of songs like Brick and Song for the Dumped. Definitely see him live or check out his live performances on YouTube. I’ve never seen anyone play a piano like that!

I realized recently that in addition to being a musician, Ben Folds is also a photographer, and not only that, he’s a Sony Artisan of Imagery. As a Sony shooter, this piqued my interest in him even more, and I decided to purchase his memoir, A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons. To be honest, I had low expectations. I expected it to be self-congratulatory and probably written by a ghost writer. But I was wrong — it’s humble and authentic and personal and there are so many nuggets of inspiration.

I draw a lot of inspiration from hearing about others’ failures and successes and how they stuck with it nonetheless. If you love what you do, sticking with it isn’t really a choice. As Charles Bukowski said, “Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain from you your all.” But that doesn’t sound super healthy now does it?! But that’s what this book is about. The book starts in Folds’ childhood when, as an obsessive 2 year old, he listened to records for 8 hours a day, and then takes the reader through him dropping out of music school (twice I think?) and multiple dead end jobs, bands, marriages, and divorces and finally finding mainstream success and some semblance of inner peace after many fits and starts and at great personal cost. It’s brutally honest throughout.

Randomly, I read the last chapter of the book first, which served as a kind of prologue that hooked me in immediately. I’m just going to share below a couple gems that I loved:

“I personally do not believe there’s such a thing as writer’s block. It’s just that we don’t like everything that comes out. When our self-judgment takes over, it shames us into submission and we shut off the faucet. We say we have no ideas. No. We have ideas, but we aren’t willing to fess up to how bad they might be. But, really, who gives gives a damn? Own them. They suck, and they came from you. Fine. That’s . . . normal. Take it easy on yourself. Remember that you can always write something, it’s just that sometimes it’s shitty! Let it be so! And then follow that brown until it runs clear.”

Ben Folds, A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons, Pg. 256.

“By artistic voice, I’m referring to one’s artistic thumbprint — [what] makes an artist unique. It’s not a precise science, and finding it is always a painful process. I think it has to be about subtraction. It’s not a matter of cooking up a persona or style so much as it is stripping away what’s covering up the essence, what was already there.”

Ben Folds, A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons Pg. 136.

Great advice right? And so applicable to photography. This book is full of nuggets of wisdom like this, but the book is also a page turner that reads more like a novel than non-fiction. I highly recommend!


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