Nearly 20 years ago, I heard a song called “Underground” that blew open my mind gasket. That song absolutely floored me, changed my entire perception of music. I bought Ben Folds Five’s debut album that same day, and it basically didn’t leave my CD player for the next six months. Two years later, I bought Whatever and Ever Amen and listened to it on repeat on a car trip from Arkansas to Florida and back.
One of the great things about the songs of Ben Folds Five (and later just Ben Folds) was how frequently they were about specific people. They were evocative stories and vignettes, often based on Folds’ own experiences. They were so evocative, in fact, that I could often picture these scenes as though they were beautiful, heartbreaking, or hilarious short films. In that vein, I had the idea to cast those vignettes with contemporary actors. Why? Why not.
Here’s what I came up with. Feel free to recast based on the images in your mind.
Fred Jones Part 2, about a man quietly retiring after 25 years of working at a newspaper but who is not ready to leave. Fred Jones should be played by Frank Langella.
Kate, about a high-energy quirky woman who smokes pot, plays wipeout on the drums, and who has daisies in her footsteps. Kate should be played by Greta Gerwig.
Annie Waits, an old woman facing death, reflecting on her lonely life, and waiting around hoping that someone that will never arrive to call or pay a visit. Annie Waits should be played by Rosemary Harris.
Zak and Sara is about a brother or boyfriend named Zak who is cheering up with music and dancing his sister or girlfriend, Sara, who is quirky, mentally unstable, possibly medicated, and a victim of violence by her Dad at home for being the way she is (this is basically Benny and Joon). Zak and Sara should be played by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley.
Alice Childress is a song that has nothing to do with the noted playwright. Alice Childress
and her boyfriend have broken up, not because they don’t love each other, but because they have fundamentally different outlooks on life (I believe this was based on the marriage of Ben Folds and Anna Goodman, who co-wrote the song). Alice Childress should be played by Brie Larson, and the narrator by Ryan Gosling.
Steven’s Last Night in Town is based on an actual incident in which a house guest overstayed his welcome and charmed and/or f**ked everyone in or around the house, but got increasingly annoying as he promised each night would be his last. Steven should be played by Chris Pratt, in full-on obnoxious charming mode.
Emmaline is a soaring pop ballad about a woman with whom the narrator is madly in love, but he is feeling the pinch of paying for that romance and maintaining her affection. Emmaline should be played by Emma Stone.
Hiroshima is basically about a humiliating experience that Ben Folds had during a concert in which he fell down, busted his ass, got back up and started playing, only to find blood on his keyboard (“oh my god”). Who would play Ben Folds in the song about this experience? Sam Rockwell, of course.
Eddie Walker is a song about visiting old folks homes, and specifically, a man named Eddie Walker, who had a box of old photos he’d show to Folds, recounting a good life, the people he was with, and what a hell of a time he had, despite having neither a son nor a wife. Eddie Walker here would be played by Michael Caine.
Boxing is about Howard, an over-the-hill boxer coming to terms with the end of his career. It’s also one hell of a great song. Howard here would be played by Bruce Willis (or alternatively, Harvey Keitel).