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Strumming songs of hope

by Marlena Chertock

Photo by Marlena Chertock.

On May 8 Ben Kweller, 28, sang to a packed Lighthouse at Elon University.  He jumped up on the stage and the crowd screamed at his arrival.

Kweller began his charm right away.

Kweller’s songs are catchy, with a little bit for everyone.  His style is diverse.  He plays rock, country and folk.

His songs also have an older feel about them, almost as if he grew up in a previous era of music.

Kweller grew up playing music.  He started writing songs at age 8.  Now, he plays guitar, piano and harmonica.

Kweller hasn’t wasted any time.  He has put seven albums out, and his next one is planned for release in 2011.

I had been listening to Kweller for years before he came to Elon.  I love his folksy and rock songs.  I’m so glad I was able to see him live—it was one of the best concerts I have been to.

Here are some of my favorite songs by him.

The first song I heard by Kweller was “Falling.”  I became obsessed with it, repeating it again and again.

This song is upbeat, unique with its mixture of Grand Piano and drums and always makes me sing along.  This feeling is present in all of his music.

Kweller reflects on deeper subjects in his songs, while keeping the songs down to earth.  He sings about events many people can relate to.  In “Falling,” he sings, “We could talk if days weren’t so fast, and mistakes just leave me so unsure, wanna’ hold you like never before.  ‘Cause we’re falling and I love you more and more.  Do you feel like you’re falling down?  I don’t feel like I’m falling.”  While this song is like another regular love song, I am more inclined to listen to his than a song that merely stays on the level of fairytale love.

“Penny on a Train Track” is another fun song that causes movement.  He clearly wants people to dance to his music because the music video for this song is his Bubbie, grandmother, dancing a jazzercise routine.

If you feel bored, sad or pressured in your life, which happens to all of us, Kweller offers some advice in this song.

He sings, “If you can’t get behind your own life, get behind the driving wheel.  And go, just go, find a place that you don’t know.”

“I see, I see, all the things that I should be,” he sings, speaking of the pressure people have to find a job, fit in, be successful and achieve something.

Kweller goes on to say that everyone has bad days, everyone has something they hide.  “Even lucky man has a bad day and pretty girl has a scar,” he sings.  But despite the subject, the song remains in a happy mood.  Maybe it is because Kweller repeats the message we all live in, “I wait, I wait, for something good, for something great.”

Photo by Marlena Chertock.

“I Gotta’ Move” is another song that speaks to the same feeling.  It is about moving along the road of life, getting out and doing something with your life.  Kweller sings, “I gotta’ move while the streets ahead are sunny, fall in love with some honey, aw mama, I gotta’ move.”

I really love the song “Sundress” because it is another love song that isn’t blatantly obvious.

The song starts out as a message about loneliness and not fitting in.  Kweller sings, “Everybody’s trying to be the best.

What about the girl with loneliness?”  But he accepts the girl, the girl with loneliness, the girl wearing the sundress.  He sings, “And from the inside out, you’re so beautiful.  I wanna’ hold you in my hand.  I do everything you want me to.”

When Kweller sings higher, he takes you with him and makes you feel better.  Even the beginning sense of sadness in this song ends in a happier place because Kweller is able to grapple with these deeper themes in his songs.

Kweller shared “My Apartment” with Elon during the show.  He prefaced it by saying when he first moved into his own place, his apartment, he often had the feeling of homesickness and loneliness.  He wrote this song to encapsulate that feeling.

The song is a soothing, slow melody.  It is one of his slower songs.

“My apartment, the home where I hide, away from all the darkness outside,” he sings.  “I’m there all the time.”

Kweller offered some humor in the night with his cover of “Ice Ice Baby” as “BK Baby.” This is a customary cover he does.  It is catchier than the original, I believe.

Songs he sang that I hadn’t known, and came to love, were more country-flavored.

“Fight” is one of these more country-tinged songs.  I normally can’t stand country songs, filled with banjos and lyrics about tractors and trucks.  But Kweller managed to write a country song that grew on me.  “Fight” is upbeat, catchy and makes you want to dance.  As he sang, the crowd pumped their fists and jumped along to the beat.

He sang, “I’m like my grandma, short but I stand tall, playing every card that’s dealt to me.  You know some days are aces and some days are faces, well, some days are two’s and three’s … so you gotta’ fight, fight, fight, fight all the way.  You gotta’ fight til your dying day.”

“Wasted and Ready” is another song that I wouldn’t have picked up in a CD store.  I don’t think I would have gone near Kweller’s band if I first heard this song, as I would have thought that’s all he did.  But he is so much more diverse than that.  The song is not bad at all, actually.  I think live it is better, as it offered a lot of energy to the crowd, especially those who were drinking.

Kweller manages to pack in strong feelings in simple, almost child-like lines.  He sings, “Why am I dealing with this feeling?  I’m maxed out like a credit card.  I’ll continue to be my worst enemy.  It’s easy but it seems so hard.  You’re near but you seem so far.”

Some songs he didn’t share with the audience at Elon are still worth listening to.  “Magic” is an interesting one.  It starts with a few guitar riffs that don’t sound anything like Kweller’s other music.  But I have learned to expect that of Kweller—not to expect the same.

Packing in emotion and a message while keeping the song easy to listen to, he sings, “Fear is disguised.  She carries sadness in her lungs … She’ll never be in second place.  I see it in her, I hear it in her, I feel it in her, I know it’s in her, she’s magic.”

“Lizzy” is the song he’s probably most known for.  I know this song from my camp.  It is a slower, sad-sounding melody.

I like Kweller’s songs because no matter what genre of music he’s writing or playing, he plays with energy, passion and a message of hope.  Even the more sad songs in his set were captivating and had a twinge of optimism.  I can always listen to his songs to be uplifted.

Check out his albums and concerts.  He will not disappoint.