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Dave Matthews Band’s music is something people either love or hate. I’ve never heard anyone take the middle ground. It actually got me thinking, and I’ve come to the conclusion that Dave Matthews is the most polarizing figure of our generation. As I love to do when I come to little conclusions, I like to blow them up into elaborate columns for your entertainment. But instead of just writing from my own perspective, which would be unfair given my love for DMB, I enlisted the help of my buddy Watkins for a good, old-fashioned email debate.
I could give you a lot of information on Watkins, but to keep him relatively anonymous, I’ll just say he works in the D.C. office of a certain Republican senator and was once caught with an Escobar-amount of cocaine and still successfully avoided arrest when we were in college. Also, he hates Dave Matthews more than any person I’ve ever met.
KNOX: So like we talked about, we’ll just go email for email, addressing each other’s points, or completely ignoring them. Either way, try not to go too long, because I’m not sure what our word count limit is.
WATKINS: First of all, fuck you for roping me into this. It’s Monday, and I had planned on doing as little as nothing allows all day. But of course you come along with more of your Dave Matthews bullshit, because you know I can’t say no. Also, I’m not gonna punctuate this for shit, so editing it into something coherent is falling on you, asshole.
KNOX: That seems fair.
WATKINS: Why do you even want to do this? How many hours did we waste having this exact argument over and over on the balcony during parties in college when we could’ve been inside mowing some box?
KNOX: But this is for the public! Don’t you want to put the final pin in the debate?
WATKINS: Fine. Let’s talk about your bullshit “world music” playing, stupid shuffle step dancing, maple syrup gargle sounding sweetheart. Be honest, who was the person who introduced you to DMB? Was it a camp counselor with shaggy hair who wore cargo shorts?
KNOX: That’s cheating, because you already know the answer.
WATKINS: Answer the question, Knox.
KNOX: Fine. Yes, I was introduced to Dave by a stereotypical college guy who was my counselor at church camp who also taught me how to play guitar and how to talk to girls. So I’ll acknowledge that there’s a certain amount of hero worship and nostalgia that plays a part in all this. But I also stopped wearing open button-ups over T-shirts and Converse at a certain point when I grew up. Dave is still a very influential musical figure for me.
WATKINS: First off, I hate that you and your ilk refer to him as “Dave” like you fucking know the guy. Secondly, just because you grew out of certain things and held on to others doesn’t mean that you’ve actually taken a hard look at whether Dave Matthews is a legitimately good musician or not.
KNOX: That’s bullshit, and you know it. You can argue a lot of things about Dave (I call him that partly because I know how much you hate it), but you can’t say that he and the rest of the band aren’t good musicians. I’ve played guitar for 12 years, and there are still some songs of his that I can’t play with any sort of real skill. Plus, Carter Beauford is one of the best drummers alive.
WATKINS: Evaluating someone’s musical ability based on whether or not you can play his music is like saying Brandon Jennings is a basketball superstar because he could school your ass on the court. Dave Matthews is a great guitarist in the context of the world, and a mediocre one compared to other guys who do it for a living. And Carter Beauford wears fucking golf gloves when he plays, so that disqualifies him immediately.
KNOX: You’re sidestepping the Carter Beauford argument, and you know it.
WATKINS: Fine. He’s a great drummer. And Steve Lizard or whatever the bass player’s name is is pretty good, too. But you know what? You could line up Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens at wideout, have the ‘95 Cowboys’ offensive line, and that team would still miss the playoffs if Blaine Gabbert was taking the snaps.
KNOX: That’s the most ridiculous thing I think you’ve ever said. Also, it’s Stefan Lessard, not that it matters. And sure, Dave isn’t Clapton-level talented, but he does crazy stuff with an acoustic guitar that no one else in mainstream music is doing. He’s also a hell of a song writer. You can’t tell me that you don’t enjoy even the big songs like “Crash Into Me” and “Ants Marching.”
WATKINS: “Crash” has a lifetime exemption from my hatred due to its use in “Joe Dirt,” in spite of the fact that it contains maybe the creepiest song lyrics ever. And speaking of lyrics, what the fuck is “Ants Marching,” or any other DMB song for that matter, even about? They do the same stupid gobbly-gook lyrics writing that the Red Hot Chili Peppers do, except the Chili Peps get a pass because their music is incredible, and they were all on smack at the time.
KNOX: You can’t tell me that Dave doesn’t write deep, meaningful songs when “Bartender” exists in the world. To your point though, sure, they have some goofy song lyrics. But who cares? They’re not taking themselves super seriously. I’d understand all the DMB hate if they acted like Bjork or Radiohead, just self-important assholes who think their music has some sort of deep, philosophical value. But they don’t. They make a lot of fun, catchy songs, some deep songs, and play phenomenal live shows. You went to DMB in Dallas with me in ‘09. You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy that show.
WATKINS: I’d attribute it more to the vodka/orange soda bong we hit at Kurt’s apartment beforehand than the music. But sure, I’ll grant that he has good energy, and the band plays pretty solid on stage. I just don’t get into the whole fucking nine minute saxophone solos and violin breaks. Who gives a shit about those instruments anymore?
KNOX: Maybe you’re just not cultured enough. Even if their solos do run a little long sometimes, what the hell is wrong with premier musicians showing off their talent? It’s better than 90 percent of the dreck that gets thrown at us on a daily basis. Anyway, we’re probably running long, so hit your conclusion in this next one.
WATKINS: Fine. Dave Matthews would be just fine with me if he had stayed in the camp with OAR, Dispatch, and the other ‘90s jam bands. That type of music is a fun genre to sometimes go to. But somehow DMB got elevated to this other level, and there are literally thousands of people in this world who think he’s the greatest musical artist of all time, which is so absurd, it makes me start to rethink my position on genocide. There. Conclusiony enough for you?
KNOX: Yep. And for me, I’m actually with you on the weird god worship thing. I used to be a “Dave Matthews over The Beatles, Zeppelin, and Rolling Stones” kind of person, but I grew up. So I think we ultimately agree more that you’d think. Dave is a truly unique musician, and DMB has a sound that many have tried to copy, but no one seems to be successful at. They take a lot of weird instruments and melodies, and somehow drive them into a coherent musical voice. If Dave wasn’t so beloved by people who insist on referring to him by only his first name, I don’t think there would be so much hate for him. It’s not that a lot of people dislike his music on the face, it’s that they can’t process why some people love it so much. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get into it again next time we see each other, but thanks for being a good sport.
WATKINS: Good sport? I got to spend half my day wiping the floor with your ass in a dumb argument instead of reading a bunch of bills that [redacted] needs summarized because he’s too fucking lazy to read them himself. I should be thanking you. Talk to you later, fuckhead.
KNOX: Pleasure, as always.
Y’all see what I’m dealing with here?