Stop and Smell the Smoke

Inspired by: “Smoke” (1997), from the Ben Folds Five album Whatever and Ever Amen


I’ve often said that the music of Ben Folds (Five) has punctuated many intervals of my life and today’s song is no exception. This song is currently among my favorite Ben Folds’ songs (the list changes from time to time depending on my mood), but it holds that spot for one special reason in my life.

When I started dating the woman who would become my wife, she went out on a limb and bought us tickets for a Ben Folds’ concert with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra shortly into our relationship. It was at a time where I wasn’t sure what my long-term plans were. I was still looking for jobs in Chicago, not yet planning on coming back to Utah, and unsure of what I really wanted to do once I finished my degree. She says that regardless of all that, she was coming with me wherever we went, and that was enough to buy those tickets.

The concert, as most Ben Folds shows go, was amazing. I had seen him a few times prior with orchestras, and had always dutifully sung along where appropriate like a true fan. I had even heard “Smoke” before with a symphony, but this time it was different.

If the internet is to be believed, Ben Folds (and the symphony) played “Smoke” second that night. (If you want to hear a symphony version of the song, here you go). And for the first time, the lyrics hit me a little different. After years of sadness from a failed marriage, I was able to move on.

Leaf by Leaf, page by page
Throw this book away
All the sadness all the rage
Throw this book away
Rip out the binding, tear the glue
All of the grief we never ever knew
We had it all along
Now it’s smoke

“Smoke,” written by Ben Folds and Anna Goodman

I had moved to Illinois to go to school, to use the last ten months of GI Bill benefits I had at a “real school” instead of simply doing something online. I wasn’t expecting to meet the woman that would finally help rip all those pages from my own book, sadness that I never truly dealt with.

Here’s an evening dark with shame
Throw it on the fire
Here’s the time I took the blame
Throw it on the fire
Here’s the time we didn’t speak
It seemed for years and years
Here’s a secret
No one will ever know the
Reasons for the tears
They are smoke

“Smoke”

I thought that since my first marriage had ended “amicably” that there wasn’t going to be hard feelings. We stayed friends for a while and then… I did some things that I’m not proud of to this day. I never truly dealt with my own feelings from that relationship ending, instead choosing to move away from it all. In hindsight, that was probably a pretty bad idea. Maybe some lingering issues will be resolved as I pursue therapy starting this year, so I guess that remains to be seen.

That night in St. Louis, I further realized that Kim was the one (we were engaged by then afterall), and hearing this song hit a little bit differently. Those “pages” from my life are still with me in some way, and I have minimal regrets about that time in my life. But for the first time, I was able to smell the smoke.

Those who say the past is not dead
Stop and smell the smoke
You keep on saying the past is not dead
Come on and smell the smoke

“Smoke”

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