The Whine, the Howl
My best buddy's dog used to stand outside the back door, pleading to come in by emitting a sound—a warbling kind of half-whine and half-howl—so amazingly annoying that it truly defied comparison with anything else we had ever heard.
Until we heard Dave Matthews sing.
That dog died in January. It darted through an open gate and into the street, where it was hit by a car and killed right in front of the house. As we consoled each other that day, my buddy and I couldn't help asking, "Why? Why did such a good dog have to die such a horrible death?" But that's not all we couldn't help asking. We also beseeched the heavens with this question: "If some whining-and-howling creature had to die, why couldn't it have been Dave Matthews instead?"
And now, four months later, just when my friend has nearly processed the pain of his loss, the Dave Matthews Band is coming to town to scrape and salt the wound, to sing his sickening songs in that warbling kind of half-whine and half-howl—to bring it all up again.
Fuck you, Dave Matthews. Fuck you very much.
The first time we heard the Dave Matthews Band was in 1994; it was that "Ants Marching" song, off the Under the Table and Dreaming album. We quite naturally assumed it was some doomed side project by a member of Hootie and the Blowfish. Or by a guitar tech for the Barenaked Ladies, maybe. Or a roadie for some Spin Doctors/Blues Traveler type of outfit. And the first time through, we didn't think the music was the worst we had ever heard.
But a few times later—as our nerve endings were smoked into cigarette ash by the horror of Matthews' air-horny, mushmouth-y, way-too-precociously hiccuping vocals and the Charlie Daniels-meets-Zamfir-and-watches-John Tesh-fail-to-climax-during-six-hours-of-Tantric-sex-in-a-three-way-with-Kenny G.-and-Sinad O'Connor-as-their-tour-bus-crashes-into-a-high-school-marching-band-during-a-trip-from-the-Appalachians-to-Sedona sensibilities of his sound—we realized we had been very, very wrong.
We would rather endure Riverdance.
Come to think of it, there is some perverse resemblance between Michael Flatley's extravagant Irish bog-stompin' and the happy hotfoot that Dave Matthews can't stop doing during one or another of his band's relentlessly pointless jams. It's probably just a matter of time before Flatley and Matthews are in Vegas together, maybe sharing a double bill—or a double-date—with Siegfried and Roy.
Dave Matthews comes from two of the most racist places on the planet—South Africa and Virginia—and now he parlays his fortunate-son birthright into vast riches by watering down the music of the people his ancestors repressed. Matthews packages so-called "world music" into palatable form for people who would freak if they actually had to sit next to a dark-skinned person at one of his concerts. No worries there. Dave Matthews' audience looks a lot like Pat Boone's used to.
Okay, so maybe this isn't all his fault. Still, I won't believe that Bishop Desmond Tutu completely earned his Nobel Peace Prize unless he reconvenes South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission so Dave Matthews can get at least a perfunctory grilling.
During the eight years since Matthews broke through into his diabolically massive Pied Piper popularity, he has led millions of people into record stores and concert venues. They fritter away their hard-earned money on half-baked CDs and concert seats still warm from the asses of fans of other cattle-call bands—from Jimmy Buffett to 'NSync to Marilyn Manson.
People who like Dave Matthews are the kind who, when you ask them for their favorite kind of music, will say, "I like all kinds." And to whom we say, "Shut up! Pick a category or two, you bastards! Take a stand!" The compartmentalizing of music may be a problem, but hiding behind Dave Matthews to bridge the genres is not a solution. It's treason.
A year or so ago, in a cover story in Rolling Stone, Dave Matthews claimed that music had saved his life from drink, drugs and depression. We didn't fall for it. Between the lines, we could read Matthews' attempt to claim a little rock & roll cred—to wipe some of the wuss off him—by telling a few stories about substances no more scary than a sixer of Mike's Hard Lemonade. Look, we grew up on Keith Richards.
But if we don't "get" Dave Matthews, it's not because we haven't tried.
My friend borrowed Dave Matthews' third CD, Crash, from his ex-wife, and the methane fumes from that steeping pile of musical compost nearly blew apart the tenuous bridge of friendship they were working so hard to rebuild.
Both of us were captive in the audience at Neil Young's 2000 Bridge School Benefit Concert up in Mountain View, where the adulation the Dave Matthews Band received during their droning set was far more chilling than the icy rain that fell through the show. We tried to be polite, but the whole thing was like a nightmarish wedding reception: Matthews' screeching vocals, the backing of his kazoo-and-Jew's harp band, the Munsters-like dancing of the audience.
Eventually, we had to speak out against the atrocity. And we did, railing with cynicism and disgust against everything from the mental-institution-style buzz cut and widow's peak atop Matthews' head to the frat-house fashion that bores you right down to the loafers on his feet.
Yes, we insulted Dave Matthews in a sea of thousands of his fans. But we had no fear. They were a bunch of wussies. Even if one of them had bothered us, the others would have stopped him—or, more to the point, saved him.
Finally, even our fury wilted. We fled the amphitheater, not returning to our seats until we heard the chords of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer." But we never made it—and we'll never be able to forgive Neil Young for the blasphemy he perpetrated that night. There he was, playing one his classics—trading verses—with Dave Matthews.
We weren't the only ones with strange looks on our faces, however. The guys in the Dave Matthews Band wear eternal looks of shame and regret—the kind you'd expect on the faces of guys who are fluffers for porn-flick stars. Obviously, they've got a steady gig, the pay is good, and they're good at it—but even if they like the job, it has to be embarrassing to tell people what they do.
It's worth pointing out that despite Dave Matthews' popularity, we're not alone in our dissent. One friend says he has a two-pronged plan of action whenever a Dave Matthews song comes on the radio. So far, he has only needed Step One: reflexively pushing the channel-changing button. But he knows that someday, he could miss the button. And then he would resort to Step Two: pulling his steering wheel hard to the left—and head-on into oncoming traffic.
It's a desperate measure, but these are desperate times.
Dave Matthews' latest CD—titled oh-so-appropriately Everyday—was produced by Glen Ballard, who has become the David Foster for a new generation of smarmy musicians. The only good thing that David Foster ever did was accidentally run over Ben Vereen. Maybe he could take a spin down to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Thursday, May 16. It would make my friend feel better about what happened to his dog.
The Dave Matthews Band performs at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (714) 740-2000. Thurs., May 16, 7 p.m. $35.50-$46.50. All ages.
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