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HuffPost Premiere: Ben Folds & Nick Hornby's "Levi Johnston Blues," Plus A Conversation With Beth Nielsen Chapman

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"Ben Folds Adds Music And Melody To Nick Hornby's Words." That blurb sprawls across the front cover of Ben Folds' new album Lonely Avenue that will be released on September 28, 2010. It also serves as fair warning that what comes next is not just anyone's guess, but also one of the most interesting collaborations of the year.

Now, it is always an honor to receive a premiere, and in the case of this audio clip that was graciously given for this post, that applies as well. However, some will find its lyrics and sentiment controversial because of the subject matter. Personally, I believe Levi Johnston to be somewhat of a national hero for pulling the curtain on Sarah Palin's Flying Circus. And this song can be interpreted in at least two obvious ways -- as parody that actually celebrates Levi's badass quotient by amping up the testosterone, or as a literal translation which I don't agree with and doesn't really seem to be the writers' intention anyway.

Since artistic censorship is unacceptable and given the recent Levi/Bristol announcement, here it is in all its glory. Remember, this is Ben Folds, and his recordings always are musically smart. But now, with Nick Hornby on board, they'll also make you think twice.

> Levi Johnston's Blues by http://soundcloud.com/benfolds">BenFolds> (Explicit Lyrics Alert:) LEVI JOHNSTON'S BLUES

Woke up this morning, what do I see?
Three thousand cameras, pointing at me,
Dude says, You Levi?, I'm like, Yes, that's me sir,
Well, you just knocked up the VP nominee's daughter

So I tell him, No, you got it wrong, mister,
Already got a girl, and her name's Bristol
They all laugh and say, where you been, sonny?
Your mother-in-law's a heartbeat from the presidency

So I say, Mother-in-law? No, we ain't getting married
They say soon you will, boy, she just announced it
I get on my dirt bike, and ride to my girl's home
I'm gonna lay down the law, and tell her what's going on

I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Play some hockey, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
Ya fuck with me and I'll kick your ass

So we talk and it turns out we don't believe in abortion
And sex outside marriage is against our religion
And when I try to tell them I'm eighteen years old
They say Levi, it's too late, you gotta do as you're told

I say, Mother-in-law? No, we ain't getting married
They say soon you will, boy, she just announced it
I get on my dirt bike, and ride to my girl's home
I'm gonna lay down the law, and tell her what's going on

I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Play some hockey, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
Ya fuck with me and I'll kick your ass

I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Play some hockey, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
Ya fuck with me and I'll kick your ass

I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Get on my snowboard, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
Ya fuck with me and I'll kick your ass

I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
I'm a fuckin' redneck, I live to hang out with the boys
Play some hockey, do some fishing, and kill some moose
I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin', I guess
Ya fuck with me and I'll kick your ass

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Back to Love: A Conversation with Beth Nielson Chapman

Mike Ragogna: Beth, you've got a reputation for being a songwriter's songwriter, and you've had your own hits as well. I think many remember your first album not only for its music, but also because of its white and black cover of you sitting at your piano.

Beth Neilsen Chapman: I believe, if you look closely, that I was actually slumping over the piano. (laughs) Actually, one of my friends brought up that my new album, Back to Love, is also a black and white shot of me with a guitar. This time, I've got my head up, so that's good. My first record on Warner Brothers came out in 1990 and I had a couple of hits right out of the box, it was great.

MR: Yeah, it had like two or three, didn't it?

BNC: Well, there was a big hit called, "All I Have," that ended up being the love song between Jennifer and Jack on Days of Our Lives, among other things. A lot of people got married to that song...actually, it's got a very low divorce rate which is good. We also had a big hit with a song called, "Walk My Way" which I wrote with a guy named David Austin who I co-produced it with. He had done a lot of work with George Michael over the years and he came from England. And I can't remember what the third single was. I had some success on that record in Japan as well. It was a good start.

MR: Was that third single "Take It As It Comes"?

BNC: Yep, I think it was.

MR: And that album has two of my favorite songs that you've ever written, "Life Holds On" and "Emily." Loved them.

BNC: Well, "Emily" may be the most requested song I've ever written through everything. When I do a concert, my fans want to hear that song. It doesn't matter how many sad songs I've played in a row, I'll say, "What do you guys want to hear?" And they'll say, "Emily!" So, that's great.

MR: And now, fast forwarding to the present, you have a new record called, Back to Love.

BNC: And it was just a joyful record to make. I've been having a lot of fun promoting it this whole year. I started off with a couple of months in the U.K., then I went to Australia, and now I'm touring around the U.S. until the end of the year.

MR: Is there a theme to the record?

BNC: It's mostly love songs and songs about life. Back in 2007, I did a double album in nine languages which was a huge cultural undertaking and it was a ten year process finishing that record. But Back to Love was such a joyful experience getting back to what I love to do, you know? It was a great record to make, even though in the middle of it, I had to go through a brain tumor operation. I'm so lucky, it was caught in time, I have a great prognosis and they got it all out.

MR: How did you discover you had the tumor?

BNC: I was having trouble finishing some of the lyrics, and then I found out that the tumor was actually pressing up against the language center of the brain which is the part of the brain that writes lyrics. So, my ego was thrilled that it wasn't me, it wasn't just that I couldn't finish songs anymore. As soon as I got through that, all the rest of the lyrics came rolling through and the rest of the record was finished really easily. It's been a great year, it's also the ten-year anniversary of having gone through breast cancer, so that's been a really big thing to celebrate. I can't complain, it's been a wacky life so far but I certainly can't complain about where I am at this moment.

MR: Wow. Well, I don't want to say a trite thing here, but the only thing I can come up with is that, as a writer, as a journalist of life, what you're going through is obviously affecting your writing and creativity in some big way.

BNC: Well, you know, I teach a lot of workshops and do a lot of lectures on creativity because I've been fascinated by creativity and how it works since long before I noticed how being creative has helped me get through all these things. I love to get in front of young students who are being inundated with academia, and I try to remind them, "The real thing you want to stay in touch with is this child like thing." The reason we all started writing songs or painting pictures is this child like thing, it doesn't have anything to do with the brain. It's really about this flow that we have, and when you go through some kind of crisis, it actually increases. Some of the greatest songs and the greatest works of art have come out of big things being, sort of, upended. I always tell my students, "Anything that blows anything else apart, it's like turning the soil, it becomes fertilizer for something good." And that's kind of been the way my life has unfolded. But creativity is the greatest thing we've got going for helping us get through all that stuff.

MR: Nice. Now, you've written songs Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, and our old MTM label-mate Holly Dunn among others, have recorded. And speaking of our old label-mates--although she wasn't really on the label--Trisha Yearwood, who was our MTM receptionist--had hits with your songs. I don't know if you remember this, but every winter while she was there, since her desk was in the lobby, she would be shivering all day with this ridiculous little space heater next to her. Didn't she have the last laugh!

BNC: You know, I was back in one of those little writer's rooms writing and writing, and I didn't even know that Trisha sang. I'd always just be like, "Hey, do I have any messages?" And she was always really nice about it, but I didn't know what a great singer she was. Then I get this phone call one day and learned that she'd gotten a record deal. At the time, I hadn't even gotten my record deal yet, so I was really frustrated. I remember thinking, "Golly, the receptionist gets a record deal and I don't?" You know, something like that. And she had heard me writing this song on the other side of the wall called, "Down On My Knees" which she ended up recording and having a hit with. I ended up recording that song myself on the same record that had "Life Goes On."

But anyway, it was amazing and people say to me, "How do I get into the business and how do I get to know people in the business?" And I say to them, "When you get there, start being nice to the people on your left and the people on your right because the ones that are arriving with you are going to be part of the next wave." Talented people arrive together in waves, and then just kind of work up the food chain together. I mean, I remember Alan Jackson used to bring the mail.

MR: I know, isn't that wild? Our buddy Bud Lee had his first huge hit with Garth Brooks' "Friends In Low Places"...

BNC: Garth Brooks couldn't even get arrested back in the early eighties when we were all starting out. That's the thing, it's the people that are your peers. Now, the people that were our peers are the presidents of the record companies and running the publishing companies. But boy, has the music business changed too, huh? We're talking about a completely different world now from back then. What's really true is there've been frustrations for a lot of us with the music business. But the fact is everybody still loves to hear a great song, a great voice, and a great artist, and that's always going to be valuable, so we just have to do whatever we can to support the young generation that's coming up right now, and help to give them some sort of infrastructure that's going to fairly compensate them, especially the songwriters. Some of the greatest songwriters of all time, that have contributed some of the greatest songs--Jimmy Webb is a perfect example--don't get the compensation they're entitled to under the current system.

MR: You are so right. So, let's talk more about Back to Love. What are your favorite songs?

BNC: Boy, it's hard to pick one, but I'd have to say, "Even As It All Goes By," that's one of them. That's a song that Annie Roboff and I started back in 2004, and it was one of the two songs that I finished after going through brain surgery. I was so worried about going through that surgery and the night before, I tried so hard to finish that song but couldn't finish it. Then when I woke up the next day after the surgery and all the lines for the third verse of that song just came flowing to me, it was a miracle to me. Another song on that record that's one of my favorites is called "How We Love." Again, it took me a really long time to write the lyrics because it's such a simple song, I think.

MR: "The Path of Love" is also beautiful. I love how it conceptually the record.

BNC: Yeah, that's another one. You know, you could name pretty much every song and I would say, "Oh yeah, that's also my favorite song." I just love the songs and that whole collection. The songs just melded together like they were magnetized to one another, and I had no trouble deciding what was going on this record. It was like, "That's the record." Just simple. "The Path of Love" is another one that was probably a year-and-a-half of writing, taking time and going back to it. Those simple songs are the hardest to write. It's harder to distill it down to the least amount of words. "Peace" is a song that I wrote with Michael McDonald, and he's just so much fun to work with. Anything he sings just sounds like medicine. I had this little work tape of him singing the melody to that song before the words were there, and I was writing down the vowels just to follow what he was doing. I often actually write the vowels down first when I write. I write from a very subliminal place. I'll hear the sound of the word before I know the meaning of the word. The song is already written and it just gets downloaded layer by layer.

MR: That's how you write? I never knew that.

BNC: It's true, that's the way I write. Oh, another song, especially on iTunes, that's gotten a lot of attention is "I'll Give My Love" which I wrote with Benmont Tench from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. That's a song that I really love, too. It's been a great record, it's been a lot of fun.

Tracks:

1. Hallelujah
2. I Can See Me Loving You
3. Even As It All Goes By
4. How We Love
5. I Need You Love
6. More Than Love
7. Happiness
8. I'll Give My Heart
9. Shadows
10. Peace
11. The Path Of Love

(Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney)