Inspired by: “Kate” (1997) from the Ben Folds Five album Whatever and Ever Amen
When I think about Ben Folds Five and what led me to them in the first place, it’s the album Whatever and Ever Amen, and this song in particular. As this is the second song from that album that has been randomly chosen for this little experiment, let’s take a spin in the wayback machine to when I first heard the song referenced…
When the album was released in March 1997, I was in the midst of my sophomore year of high school. I had just turned 16, and as most boys of that age, I was crushing hard on girls. In the religion of my youth, the one that dominates the state of my birth, 16 was a magical age. It was the year that young Mormons were finally allowed to “date,” whatever your version of the word means. For a lot of my friends, it was a time where you could find a comely lass and invite her to a dance, and maybe if there was some version of mutual affection, you would “go out” with each other.
“Going out” meant different things to different people and was not the same to couple to couple. It was not something I was personally aware of, as the shy awkwardness of my teen years didn’t lead to many “relationships.” For a lot of my friends, “going out” was basically given yourself one person to go to the movies with, or to hang out in general. In my primary group of friends, it was mostly wholesome activities, though what really happened when we weren’t hanging out together is (mostly) unknown to me. I was a good kid! My friends weren’t having sex or doing drugs! Well, except for the one, but that might be a story for some other time.
Due to my inability to move a lot of my interactions with girls at the time beyond friendships or crushes, I started to have some weird notions of what my ideal girl was, or some arbitrary standard that needed to be met before I would “go out” with someone. It was mostly dumb teenage stuff, probably hyper focused on looks and perceived attractiveness, and was likely unhealthy. But kids will be kids, and since I wasn’t actually fending off girls at the time, it was probably mostly harmless.
Even later, as I re-entered singledom after my divorce, I had some standards for people that I wanted to date, though the list was probably a lot more fluid and less dependent on looks (though that does play a role regardless). I even made a (semi) joke-y blog post here about seeking my partner for the end of the world, which eventually ended up okay.
When you are with someone, they are the ideal person, especially when things are going well. I’m glad that I won’t ever again have to look for the ideal person, because it can be such a drag, as well as frustrating. It’s likely easier today than it ever was to find your person (COVID notwithstanding), though my few single friends report that it can also be pretty rough out there for various reasons.
Anyway… back to the song. “Kate” appears to be kind of inspired by Ben Folds’ wife at the time – he’s been married five times! – but also that “ideal” perception of a cool woman that everyone wants to be with. The “Kate” in the song seems cool and the object of everyone’s attention, if not desires. Not only does the narrator want to be with “Kate,” but they also want to be “Kate” for reasons that remain unspoken. She does seem pretty fun after all, and the music under the lyrics helps reinforce that. But “Kate” is also one of the songs that I wish a more mature Folds would have gone back and written a sequel for later in his career, when he was no longer the “punk rock with a piano” guy and became the more introspective solo artist.
The ideal version of a woman, depicted in “Kate” or from my random, unwritten teenage thoughts, pigeonhole decisions and can make them pretty binary. Instead, it seems easier to just take a more laissez-faire approach to things and just let stuff happens as nature intended. Otherwise, you’ll be hanging out “by the Rosemary and Cameron” looking for “Kate” and miss out on a potential better opportunity.