Last Wednesday night I went out to IndigO2 (a venue inside the Millennium dome at Greenwich, London) because O2 had kindly put on a free gig headlined by Australia’s very own singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Ben Lee. Who can’t say no to a free gig?
I’ve always been a fan of Ben, not a die-hard fan or anything, but enough to appreciate his sentiment and follow his career over the years. I’d seen him perform once before in Brisbane back in 2005, not long after he released Awake Is The New Sleep, and I left the gig quite impressed with his showmanship and his ability to work the crowd. He was most definitely a born entertainer.
His gig the other night was no exception to this – from the moment he walked on stage he had the audience in the palm of his hand. He quipped about the set list he’d scribbled on the back of a packet of Sainsbury’s hummous, before taking us on a philosophical journey of his beloved pop music. He brought us back to his breakthrough song of 1998 where he wished we were all wrong, then he regrouped by inviting us all to take part in this together. By the end of his performance the crowd had clearly caught his disease, and we all walked off into the dark with a sense of coming so close to a ripe, numbing sensation of no guilt and all pleasure.
Song-lyric puns aside, there was one tune in particular that Ben sang which really, really intrigued me. I’d never heard it before, and at the time I was under the impression that he had written it himself. I found out later that it was written by a guy called Kristopher Roe and originally recorded by the band he fronts, the Ataris, who I remembered from a few years ago when they did that version of Don Henley’s Boys Of Summer. The song by the Ataris that I’m referring to here, though, is aptly entitled Ben Lee, and the lyrics are as follows:
I never met someone so jaded
Your music’s really over rated
Nothing but a lot of pretentious noise
I know that Claire Danes was your chick
To me you’re just some ugly prick
Who got lucky cause he knew the Beastie Boys
And I can’t stand it
A lot goes on but nothing happens
But this time that’s not true
I wrote this song for you
To tell you that your 15 minutes of fame are almost up
Yeah one more thing, Ben Lee you suck
Bob Dylan must be kinda pissed
Cause you’ve been writing all his hits
Packaged and reprocessed for the world
I’d love to kick you in the face
Break your legs and throw you from a train
Cause you’re such a fucking girl
And I can’t stand it
I guess this song’s come to an end
I’ll say good bye until we meet again
You better stay out of my town
Cause if I had my way
I’d call up Snoop, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre
We’d come and beat you down
You can hear it here:
As you can tell, it’s a hate song – a feeble, pathetic pot-shot. Now when it comes to art and artists, I’m all one for constructive criticism, and I completely understand that everybody is entitled to an opinion, but there comes a point, doesn’t there? Do you really need to go all out and write this kind of blatant negative rubbish about somebody who couldn’t be less deserving of it? Apparently this Kristopher Roe bloke was simply jealous of Ben because he was with Claire Danes at the time, but come on, “I’d love to kick you in the face, break your legs and throw you from a train” is going a bit to extremes isn’t it?
Anyway, the point I want to make here is that at the end of the day, I think Ben himself is the righteous victor of the situation. He had the courage to get up there and sing the words of his very own hate song in front of 1,500 people, and I believe that really says something about his character. His ability to confront his own musical taunts face-to-face and essentially turn a negative around into a positive has ended up being one of the most inspirational three minutes I’ve ever been lucky enough to witness.
He even recorded the song as a bonus track for his latest album, The Rebirth Of Venus. You can hear it here:
Much respect to you, Ben Lee. Much respect to you.