Born in 1978 in Sydney and raised in an orthodox Jewish household, Ben was regarded as something of a wunderkind with a big future, in 1993 he was leading the band Noise Addict and signed to the independent Fellaheen Records. Owner Steve Pavlovic had heard Lee’s self-produced 4-track demo, recorded by the precocious youngster in his bedroom and in 1994 the group released their debut acoustic EP Young and Jaded via the Beastie Boys Grand Royal Records.He followed up with the album Meet the Real You but at the age of 16, and while still with Noise Addict, Lee had already commenced his solo career, releasing his debut solo album Grandpaw World which failed to chart. Whilst in Los Angeles in 1997 he attended the eighteenth birthday party for American actress Claire Danes (above), where he was introduced to the birthday girl by none other than Winona Ryder. Lee was 19 and the two teenagers fell in love, she remarked at the time “I want to be in love always.”Danes was a rising star who had started life in New York with her artist mother and photographer father, a liberal family who lived in a SoHO loft, before moving to Santa Monica (Calif), where she got her first TV roles at the age of thirteen. Her big break came when she won the TV screen role in My So-Called Life and received a Best Actress Golden Globe Award in 1994 at the age of fifteen. Danes followed up with her film debut in Little Women (’94), then Home for the Holidays (’95), Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet (pictured above with Leonardo De Caprio)(’96) and The Rainmaker (’97). She shelved her movie career to major in psychology at Yale University in 1998-99, but then returned to acting later that year and continued to pick up roles in prestige movies including Les Miserables (’98).Lee’s first album to interest the local market was 1998’s Breathing Tornados, released on Modular, it flagged new musical directions for the singer with the use of synthesisers and increased instrumentation, and charted #19 locally, garnering several ARIA nominations. Around this time Lee unwisely announced that he was the best songwriter in Australia, and his detractors moved in for the kill. The single Cigarettes Will Kill You crept into the local top 40, but international success was derailed when Grand Royal Records went into liquidation.Lee and Danes co-habited for six years, she continued to advance her acting career with roles in live theatre and television, but Lee was struggling to build on his early success, with little happening chart wise for him between 1999-2004. Despite Lee’s desperate efforts to keep the relationship alive, Danes left him in 2003 and in 2004 she commenced a two-year relationship with actor Billy Crudup (above), the problem was Crudup’s girlfriend Mary Louise Parker was seven months pregnant at the time, and Danes was labelled a homewrecker.In 2004 Lee travelled to India and sought enlightenment in the teachings of the Hindu religion with Sakthi Narayani Amma who inspired him to embrace a new spirituality and to reflect the joy of giving to others in his music. Lee took some time to translate his grief at the collapse of his relationship with Danes into his music, but two songs on his well-received 2004 album, Awake Is the New Sleep, underscored the hurt and remorse that Lee was still feeling over the end of the affair. The album was released in February 2005 via Lee’s own record label, Ten Fingers, and was recorded at the Seagrass Studio in LA with indie-rock producer Brad wood (Liz Phair, Veruca Salt), it became his first top ten hit at #6 in Aust, and the sleeve credits acknowledged his spiritual mentor “This record was made possible by the Grace, Love, and Guidance of Narayani Amma.”The album heralded a return to the gently melodic, tentatively introspective indie pop that marked his best work in the 1990’s, and following the breakup with Danes and his spiritual awakening in India, he was no longer the shy innocent juvenile but a mature man whose life experiences were starting to resonate in his music. The standout track was Catch My Disease, a song about embracing Lee’s new-found Hindu principles of opening your heart to everyone so that they may share your music and the message within, but it was the first song lifted off the album, Gamble Everything For Love that indicated Lee was still hopeful of a reunion with Danes. Its message was greeting-card simplistic – the importance of putting love above all else, embracing love and finding the true path to fulfilment – musically it was anodyne and inoffensive and charted #32 locally, Danes however remained in her relationship with Billy Crudup.
The third single off the album was We’re All in This Together which was again inspired by Hindu teachings which emphasise the connectedness of humanity, and the fundamental truth that the things we do affects others, so clearly Lee was still pining for Claire Danes and wanted her to know how much he still missed her. It was syrupy, low-key acoustic indie pop and at #49 was a minor local hit, but it has become a ubiquitous soundtrack for many TV advertising campaigns including Coca-Cola, the Salvation Army Red Shield Appeal, Industry Super Funds, and the S.A. Government. During this current period of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also become a rallying cry for people to stay connected, be supportive, and considerate towards each other, as we observe the alien practices of social distancing and in some cases self-quarantine. Catch My Disease has also become another eerily prescient pandemic song of considerable signifigance from Lee, which has also seeped back into our collective consciousness in more recent times.
In 2008 Ben Lee married American actress Ione Skye (below) in a Hindu ceremony in India, and in 2009 Claire Danes and actor Hugh Dancey tied the knot, Danes has been a constant presence on our screens in recent years with her starring role in the Homeland series for which she has won several Golden Globe and Emmy Awards.