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Columns > Rob Kallick

Published: 2001/12/19
by Rob Kallick

Rockin My Suburbs

Theres something about a great pop song that you simply have to hear again immediately after hearing it for the first time. Something grabbed you maybe it was the ferocious guitar riff blasting out of your speaker, or a catchy vocal melody. Maybe it was the bands sheer inventiveness or use of unorthodox sounds. Or maybe even it was the beautiful simplicity that caught your ear the uninventiveness. Whatever it was, a truly great pop song buries itself deep in your sub-consciousness and affects you. There were many great pop song that came out in 2001. The Strokes Hard To Explain, System of a Downs Chop Suey!, Daft Punks Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger are just a few that come to mind when I think of songs that I wanted to hear over and over until my roommate strangled me.
But none even came close to reaching the level of the song Rockin the Suburbs by Ben Folds on his first solo album of the same name. Dismissed and ignored by many, this song works perfectly on many different levels. Ill start with the lyrics. Actually, Ill let them speak for themselves, here they are: let me tell ya’ll what it’s like
being male, middle class and white
it’s a bitch, if you don’t believe
listen up to my new CD
sham on
I got shit running through my brain
so intense that I can’t explain
all alone in my white boy pain
shake your booty while the band complains
Im rocking the suburbs
just like Michael Jackson did
Im rocking the suburbs
except that he was talented
Im rocking the suburbs
I take the checks and face the facts
that some producer with computers
fixes all my shitty tracks
Im pissed off but Im too polite
when people break in the McDonalds line
mom and dad you made me so uptight
Im gonna cuss on the mic tonight
I don’t know how much I can take
girl give me something I can break
Im rocking the suburbs
just like Quiet Riot did
Im rocking the suburbs
except that they were talented
Im rocking the suburbs
I take the checks and face the facts
that some producer with computers
fixes all my shitty tracks
in a haze these days
I pull up to the stoplight
I can feel that something’s not right
I can feel that someone’s blasting me
with hate and bass
sending dirty vibes my way
cause my great great great great grandad
made someone’s great great great great grandaddy slaves
it wasn’t my idea
it wasn’t my idea
it never was my idea
I just drove to the store
for some Preparation H
ya’ll don’t know what it’s like
being male, middle class and white
it gets me real pissed off and it makes me wanna say
fuck
just like Jon Bon Jovi did
Im rocking the suburbs
except that he was talented
Im rocking the suburbs
I take the checks and face the facts
that some producer with computers
fixes all my shitty tracks these days
Im rocking the suburbs
you’d better look out because Im gonna say fuck

I dont think Ive heard a better response to all the fake-tough rock bands out there today (Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach), or better commentary on growing up in the suburbs. Folds nails it on the head: being male, middle class and white is really not the hardest thing in the world and doesnt warrant such aggressive and hateful music. Folds is no stranger to commentating on specific genres of music; his song Underground blasted early 90s indie-rockers (I was never cool in school / Im sure you dont remember me / Hand me my nose-ring). This song finds him in prime form as he challenges the integrity of said rockers of suburbs. But Folds himself rocks the suburbs and hes the first to admit it. His previous releases with his former group Ben Folds Five did just that and on his first solo album he clearly has no intentions of going anywhere else. I got the quintessential suburb-rocking producer to work for me. He knows all the sliders and knobs that denote the rocking of suburbs, says Folds of his choice, Ben Grosse (Filter, Fuel).
Folds utilizes many tricks in the song to keep things interesting (even though it would still work on just an acoustic guitar because the lyrics are so effective). From cheesy 80s sounding synths he substitutes his baby grand for a strap-on guitar-synth a la Future Man, to the Stratocaster fueled opening guitar riff, to computerized beats courtesy of DJ Swamp (Beck), Folds puts together a catchy little number. A nice breakdown in the middle of the song melds nicely into a fist-pumping chant of Ya’ll don’t know what it’s like being male, middle class and white! Folds pulls out all the stops for this one. The result: a genuinely fun and entertaining pop song complete with excellent social commentary. I mean, really, what more could you ask for?
Maybe part of the reason I love this song so much is because I can relate to it really well as both a hater of nu-metal and a former inhabitant of the suburbs. For me the boredom of suburbia and the attempts to cure those ills are best summed up by the image of stereos blasting from basements, while naturally uncool kids try to look cool holding a cheap beer. I especially get lines like, Im pissed off but Im too polite and I got shit running through my brain so intense that I can’t explain. Its not often that lyrics affect me the first time around after hearing a song, but in this case it was instantaneous another sign of a true pop gem. The contradictions and disparity that is Suburbia, USA clearly had as much of an effect on me as it has had on countless other Americans (Folds too, obviously), but its the way you react to that situation that is important. No one has to be held back by the trappings of suburbia with hard work, the world is your oyster (I still have a ways to go in that category, but Im getting there) but the true lukewarm feeling that one gets from growing up in a controlled environment designed to keep certain things out can, and does, have a varying degree of effect on people. For the Fred Dursts of the world it makes them hateful and real pissed off. For the Ben Foldss it makes them even stronger and much more fun.

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