Ben Folds Five

Roadkill

Liberty Lunch
Friday, April 18

A small misunderstanding about this interview's leitmotif and Ben Folds, the piano-playing popster frontman of the vainly named Ben Folds Five, gets all excited. "You're doing a `Roadkill' piece and you're asking us? You don't realize what you've come upon."

Before I can explain to Folds that "Roadkill" is just the title of the Chronicle's touring-bands feature and not really about flattened squirrels or mangled armadillos, Folds, thinking he's going to win some kind of bizarre contest, launches into his story.

"We hit a bear, a 300-pound black bear -- like the biggest black bear anyone has ever seen," claims Folds with a little too much gusto. "It wrapped the front of the truck around the tire so it was squealing, and anti-freeze was spraying on the windshield. Guys were screaming in the truck and I was trying to keep it on the road, but I couldn't tell where the road was."

After navigating a safe stop, Folds and drummer Darren Jesse hiked back up the road to see what it was they'd hit.

"We didn't actually know it was a bear until the highway patrol came and his brother, who happened to be one of those stuffed animal guys -- a, uh, taxidermist -- came up, threw it in his truck, and took off. Then we found out it was worth a lot of money, but I didn't care anyway," recalls Folds. "The thing that made me really sad was that he had grass in his mouth. He was like over on the side of road, eating grass and minding his own business, and here comes a rock band at a 100 miles an hour to take his life."

The wreckage to the band's touring vehicle was mostly cosmetic and far less terminal than it had been for the bear. According to Folds, "We bent the dents out ourselves. It looks bad. We had to get a new tire and radiator. There was a lot of hair in the grille."

Folds then tries to lock up the mythical "Roadkill" story first-place trophy by adding another yarn to the band's truck-meets-animal lore. "We almost ran into that Pat guy from the Smithereens," he quips. "We've still got one of those sweatpants drawstrings in the grille."

That could actually cost Folds points with the judges, though, as running over Pat DiNizio may constitute a service.

-- Michael Bertin

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