Sunday, September 30, 2012

Who Will Live On? (What Ben Folds Five Taught Me About Lists)

IN COLLECTING FANS' FUNDING for their new album The Sound Of the Life of the Mind, Ben Folds Five did something very clever. They promised that everybody who donated would get their name printed for all to see. Everybody gets to be a “Vice President of Promotion” listed in the liner notes.

Although I’ve been listening to the album since its early release for us Pledgers (September 12, Ben Folds’ birthday), today is my first day holding the physical CD that finally came in the mail.

Just a few days after the High Holidays have ended, I’m looking at this list:

And, that’s just one of two pages of names.

I’ve already spent around half an hour scanning names on one side of the page, and I still haven’t found me. The PledgeMusic site tells me that there were altogether 7525 pledgers.

In terms of paper, 7525 is a lot of people. Compare it to God’s attendance list of who’s alive in the world today.

There’s this image that recurs on the High Holidays in the prayer Untanneh Tokef (“Let’s declare power”) where God, reviewer of the Book of Life, is counting the sheep of the flock (i.e. God’s children, humanity). And as God is counting, God determines the destiny of each soul who passes before the Divine.

?מי יחיה ומי ימות Mi yihyeh umi yamut?
Who will live, and who will die?

I’m beginning to think that my name will not live on as an immortal fan of Ben Folds Five. I do not see my name on the list. Did the great BF5 actually miss me?

Right now the time is 11:29 AM.

I will check back in when I have found my name–or reached the end without finding myself.

11:37 AM. Anxiety or doubt has gotten the better of me, and I read the rest far faster than the other half.

I did not find my name.

Ben Folds Five may be human and the promise of immortalized fandom may be a small feat, but I realized very fast I was fulfilling a religious desire of so many Jews throughout history, hoping they made the list: whether it was the Heavenly list of who would make it this coming year, or if it was the human list of who would be spared from the cruelties of extermination camps.

I am lucky that this is the list that concerns me in my life. Not believing in God’s list of who gets to live is relieving. And not being concerned with lists of persecution or protection is a blessing in my life.

But, if I believed in God’s list, and I knew that the carefully programmed Pledge Music site, in coordination with Ben Folds Five’s album design team, probably in cooperation with Copy & Paste, left me off of their list, who could say that God wouldn’t have also forgotten me?


Jonah Rank is a rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Read his blog and follow him on Twitter at @JonahRank.