Nick Hornby Learns The Art Of Songwriting From Ben Folds

Oct 29th, 2008 // 12 Comments

I liked High Fidelity and About a Boy plenty, but like a lot of people, I have my reservations about Nick Hornby as a music commentator. Those reservations are still present after reading his rather grouchy playlist for the New York Times‘s online “Living with Music” series: “If you have ever wanted to hear Pee-Wee Ellis playing with Cheikh Lo, and I see no reason why you wouldn’t, then tough. You missed it,” he mentions of a memorable London show. So there, You Who Weren’t As Lucky As He Was (And It’s Your Fault)! The newsy bits: Hornby’s long-in-the-works screenplay will be on screens soon, titled An Education; and he discusses an unfinished, unpublished song he worked on with schtickmeister Ben Folds, from whom Hornby has “learned more about the craft of songwriting from the e-mails I’ve been getting than from just about anything I’ve ever read.” I don’t doubt this at all, but it also makes me wonder how much has been written about the craft of songwriting, outside of how-to-write-hit-song manuals. I haven’t read Jonathan Lethem’s You Don’t Love Me Yet, but I’m guessing that has some. What else does? Comments welcome as always. [pic via McSweeney's]


  1. Anonymous

    I find music commentator Nick Hornby about 100 times less cringeworthy than music commentator Stephen King however.

  2. jetsetjunta

    What a roller coaster. Even though two entries actually revolved around Ben Folds, he did get in nods to a terrific Dr. Dog song and a great song from Vetiver too (although the latter was for a cover…but the cover was a Ronnie Lane tune! everyone wins!), but then he talked about Black Kids in a positive way. And seriously? Ben Folds?

  3. Jasonbob7

    There’s an enjoyable book entitled “Songwriters on Songwriting”. It’s literally a collection of interviews with Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Michael Stipe, Frank Zappa, Leonard Cohen, Burt Bacharach, and about 20 others. They all talk about their songwriting craft, delve into specific tunes, and shed light on their creative process. As far as songwriting manuals go, I haven’t found a better source of first-hand info yet.


  4. doublewhiskycokenoice

    I’m pretty sure that if I wanted to learn how to write a song, I would not contact Ben Folds. Well, unless I was planning on having my fan base be privileged, likely private schooled white kids hailing primarily from the northeast, wearing hoodies and north faces as they tromp to english class at their liberal arts college. yes, this is a subjective rant. i mean could you not find someone cooler/more schooled/more legitimate/more relevant? i’m not some bullshit williamsburg kid who is pushing for you to learn how to write songs from panda bear or can, but i mean you’re nick hornby. contact zeppelin. contact anyone from stax or motown. better yet, contact r. kelly. that guy basically sold an album of slam poetry about banging chicks when he released double up. how does he do it? i dont know. i’d like to ask him. i’d like nick hornby to ask him. but ben folds just shills the same old forgettable shit.

  5. AL

    I just learned that Ben Folds is already on his 4th marriage! At 42! Yikes!

  6. Ned Raggett

    @AL: I might find it hard to live with him too, piano going all night long…

  7. Mike P.

    Musician Magazine used to have really good interviews with songwriters. Editor Bill Flanagan’s book of interviews with songwriters, Written in My Soul is very good as well.

  8. revmatty

    The Manual it’s here.

  9. Anonymous

    I thought Hornby’s taste in music was pretty awful, but it makes sense when you think about it. After all, he’s known for digging up songs and albums that one already knows, not completely new stuff. On the interwebs, beyond the purview of the Times brand, someone with his taste seems hopelessly out of touch.

  10. Anonymous

    there’s also American Songwriter magazine – and the book of Q and A’s they put out called Song. Good stuff.

  11. Lax Danja House

    @doublewhiskycokenoice: I imagine he just found somebody whose songs he liked.

    I liked Hornby’s 31 Songs, or however many songs it was. He really nailed Paul Westerberg’s ‘Born For You’ and I was kind of astonished that somebody could feel exactly the same as me about a song AND explain my own feelings better than I could.

  12. Anonymous

    I just finished a Beatles biography called “Can’t Buy Me Love” which, despite being about the Beatles, was actually very thoughtful and informative. It not only covers the music, but it covers it well. I suppose that because it was written about the actual songs themselves, not the anecdotal songwriting process, the standard hippie bullshit of channeling higher powers and exorcising inner demons is replaced with consise accounts of what the song does and how it gets there.

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