Friday, April 18, 2008

Is DMB the whiterest band ever?

As one who is third-generation on the maternal side and has poor Ozarkan roots on the paternal side, I'm persistently tormented by the thought that I'm not whiter enough, that I haven't suffered through private school, violin lessons since the age of four, or being an only child. Sure, I may play soccer or have gay 'friends', but identifying United's team captain isn't something I can do off the top of my head, and try as I may, I'm really only acquaintances of those gay guys as I have so little in common with them.

But a realization has helped assuage this internal conflict. It might even be enough for me to stop being such a conspicuous Japanophile. See, I've been into the whiterest band of our time since I was in elementary school. I even pulled back with the death of the Lillywhite Sessions. That's right, I learned to play Grey Street when it had four verses, not two. No, I don't think it has anything to do with Julia Grey. She was flushed out for good in the cathartic Halloween. No, it didn't torment him for seven year's of the band's existence. It was included on BTCS, but it first appeared on Recently, the band's second independent release back in early '94. Anyhow, I smelled the selling out years before it became so blatant. And don't ask me about Stand Up, because I. Don't. Even. Know.

Why is the Dave Matthews Band the whiterest music act ever? An immediate objection is that the point of following the indie scene is to identify and become familiar with a band before anyone else knows it exists. Thus you will already be familiar with the band when it gets some mainstream attention, when other whiterpeople are hearing about it for the first time and simultaneously voicing their skepticism of such a commercial enterprise, nervously trying to play it off as though they knew the act before it was big, too. They're hoping that the band's revelation is enough to deem it unworthy of being further discussed, thus allowing their cluelessness to go undetected. It is an unspoken rule, of course, that if you do not call them out on their previous ignorance*, they will be indebted to you in the future (this is what the whiter status game is all about).

Fine, but by its very definition this eliminates the typical indie band, because by necessity that band loses its hallowed position among whiter people upon hitting it big. It's virtually impossible to talk about the contemporary whiterest band--by the time the conversation is over, that band has been abandoned to the mainstream rabble. A popular whiter band of the purest stripe is a tautological impossibility.

What we're looking for is a band that lots of whiterpeople like (or liked)--because of a variety of factors to be discussed below--enough to hold their (status-sniffing) noses as its mainstream popularity grows. That is, it has the characteristics that make various obscure bands attractive enough to garner the elusive whiter early adopters, early and late majorities, and even laggards. In the case of the purest whiter bands, only whiter mavens exist, and then the entire whiter product distribution collapses as the mavens re-emerge on the myspace fan pages of yet undiscovered bands.

With that out of the way, here's the untoppable list of whiter-approved attributes the Dave Matthews Band (primarily on the back of Dave himself, who is the band's whiterest whiter guy) enjoys. You'll see they simply outgun other whiter favorites like Elton John (too commercial), Phish (too hippie), and Dream Theater (one Korean guy doesn't stack up against three black guys, and anyway DT's mainly male appeal is too chauvinistic).

- Four of the five permanent band members can claim to be African. LeRoi, Carter, and Boyd (the black guys) were born in the US and thus have suffered from institutional racism throughout their deprived lives. Dave was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Stefan, though the odd-man out, has a couple whiter-approved attributes of his own. His parents are both musicians, and he joined the band at the age of sixteen. And he's big into one of the whiterest sports of all, snowboarding.

The fan base has always been primarily comprised of white pre-college and college kids along with the white collar professionals they become, but that describes the crowd at virtually every whiter pleasure, from snowboarding in the Rockies to shopping at organic grocery stores downtown. So this doesn't set the band back much.

- The band's first public performance was at Charlottesville's Earth Day Festival in 1991 (to have been there is to have the biggest dick of all, and allows one to immediately get other lesser fans squabbling over who's been to more Gorge concerts to submit in deferential silence). A lifelong green, Dave pushed the band into "raising awareness" (always whiter gold) of global warming before it became fashionable to do so, back in '02. The band even teamed up with Ben & Jerry's (whiter gold) to launch the One Sweet Whirled campaign (a clever play on one of the band's earliest songs) aimed at getting people to reduce their carbon footprint (in ways other than foregoing long drives to see the band perform at various venues throughout the country).

- As aforementioned, Dave's an immigrant. Always a plus.

- Raised in a Quaker family, Dave's always been a pacifist. His family left South Africa for the US ahead of conscription obligations that would've put him in the service of the apartheid government. Further, he grew close to LeRoi through conversations the two had about the evils of South Africa's governmental systems.

- Several of the band's songs are laced with biblical allusions ("Climb on two by two", "I am who I am," "Eat, drink, and be merry", "The wine that strung Judas from the devil's tree", etc). Dave is biblically literate, which could get him in a lot of trouble were he a pious Christian. However, as an agnostic (or even an atheist--there's an ongoing debate among fans over this), the literacy earns him bonus points. It expands his philosophy of, uh, love, all you need is, all you want is, all you need is, love. He is thus obviously qualified to assert that Jesus met Mary Magdalene after paying for her services ("He met another Mary, for a reasonable fee, less than reputable, she was known to be") and lament how the beautiful message of Christ has been violently perverted by organized religion.

- The band allows live recordings of their shows, and even sets up a section to facilitate dubbing at each of their concerts. All that is asked of fans is that they share the recordings (that is, they don't sell the recordings but instead let others listen to and copy them for free). In other industries, providing cheap or free content once you've established market dominance is often called predatory pricing, but this is about the music and thus is purely altruistic behavior. Anyway, they did this before they were big (it was, in fact, key to building a nationwide grassroots fanbase).

- Dave's experienced a heavy dose of family tragedy in his life. His father died when he was ten, and his older sister was murdered by her husband in South Africa, leaving Dave and his younger sister to share responsibilities for raising their nieces (or niece and nephew? Oh God, I should know! Crap). He has on multiple occasions and in his music pondered skeptically how an omniscient, omnipotent, omni-benevolent God could allow such tragedy to exist in the world, a favorite topic for whiter people to wax philosophically on. Stefan has also suffered, losing a daughter to SIDS.

- Speaking of doses, Dave used to be into some pretty heavy drugs. No harm done, of course, and he gave them up as he matured, just like any fatherless black kid roaming the urban streets while his crack-addicted mother sells herself to feed her addiction would if not for the oppressive white corporate structure that surrounds him. Now the bandmates just toke up on occasion while in the studio. It's all good. Helps them get creative.

- Dave was a bartender and local actor before forming the band. It's rumored he choose those sporadic lines of work to facilitate easily leaving them for an extended period of time to travel around Europe on foot until he'd burned through his savings. He'd then be able to return home and pick up where he'd left off (just kidding, I made that rumor up. But being a bartender and aspiring actor are both whiter gold).

- Despite a gentle southern drawl, an identifiably masculine persona (relative to the non-country music scene, where androgyny is often the rule rather than the exception), being married, and having three children, rumors that Dave is gay or bisexual remain. The recalcitrance of such rumors is in part a result of Dave's failure to dispel them. He's probably not gay, but gay is a-okay with him. Thus the rumors (which are more fawning than malicious) project an image that says, "I'm straight but not narrow".

- As if the band's multi-racial composition isn't enough to prove its diversity merits, tours frequently include black women as back-up vocalists. Okay, this is Philadelphia-style diversity, not LA-style diversity, but as far as Philly goes, DMB has it maxed out! The music video for the song Stay solidifies this off-stage and in-studio as well.

- The band's logo, the firedancer, is a curiosity that can't really be tied to anything in particular that the band has done. It's eloquent and influenced by abstract works of art. As only true fans are cognizant of it, the firedancer helps reduce the dissonance whiter fans suffer from being involved with a band that has become this mainstream. True votaries, or "nancies" (note the tolerance of such a noun choice) as we call ourselves, are indeed an elite group, closed to new members by the passage of time. See, you really had to be around before UtTaD, or Crash at the very latest.

- Dave's wife is a naturopathic doctor (more whiter gold), and his three children have the following names: Stella Busina, Grace Anne, and August Oliver. His green credentials offset his planet-threatening fecundity, of course.

- Despite being born in South Africa, having lived in the UK, and having spent most of his time stateside in Virginia, his favorite city is Seattle. He even owns a "cottage" (that I could probably fit my house inside a few times over) there. Save perhaps San Francisco, it doesn't get any whiter than that.

- Dave owns more than 1,000 acres of land in Virginia where he grows organic produce through a CSA program (essentially the application of communitarian practices to local farming) in addition to a wine vineyard where gravity flow techniques are used to make the wine less 'artificial' by reducing mechanization.

- Dave's on Farmaid's board of directors, and the band has played the benefit concert regularly since '95. It supports family-owned farms in their mortal struggle against mega-farms (think helping inefficient mom-and-pop retailers survive in the face of a Wal-Mart moving in to grasp why this is a noble whiter cause).

[UPDATED 6/27/12 - DMB bassist Stefan Lessard wrote an op/ed urging people to "Keep instruments free of illegal wood".]

- The putative achilles heel of this otherwise impervious outfit is in what it calls itself. Unlike say, the String Cheese Incident, the Dave Matthews Band name comes across as pretty vain. So the lead singer is the band, huh? Hell, even that warmongering John Ondrasik had enough sense to give create the veneer of modesty by naming his solo act after one of our (whiter people's) sports.

Joke's on the fool who goes this route, though. The band toyed with the name Dumela, which means "hello" or "greetings" in a Bantu language. But even something as golden as projecting tolerance and friendship through the use of a foreign word (African, no less!) was too tainted. The band didn't buy into the whole corporate entity thing. They didn't even have a name when they first started playing local gigs around Charlottesville, and that was after the EarthDay performance.

However the name came about, it was by default. Some say it was due to an employee generically booking the group as Dave Matthews band because he wasn't given anything to call them. Other explanations are equally obscure. Whatever the case, it wasn't even an after thought. It just stuck). Even though the band's collective hands are clean of any wrongdoing, they still frequently refer to themselves as DMB, or more precisely, dmb (presenting the acronym in lower-case letters creates a nice left-right symmetry and is less pretentious than using all caps).

- Clander, the authority on whiter people, clearly had dmb in mind when he posted on the musical tastes of whiter people. A nancy will immediately notice the post is Clander's 41st. Coincidence? I think not, as #41 is arguably the best in the band's arsenal but largely unknown outside the nancy ranks. It's blatantly non-commercial, too--live performances can run half-an-hour in length despite the song having no chorus. See the magic for yourself (skip forward to 3:45 to see what whiter people really dig--the whiter guy feeding off the energy of the black stallion):



Is there any other musical enterprise that could beat dmb in a head-to-head preference poll of America's whiter population? I don't think so.

* For those who are not whiter, do not be confused by how the passage of time effects this ignorance. It is embarrassing to be ignorant of the band when everyone else is ignorant of it, but once people have heard of it, it's embarrassing not to be ignorant of it.

10 comments:

Sleep said...

I guess I fail the whiterpeople test. Not that I have never heard of the band, but I know only one song by them and didnt really know any of the things you said about their members.

My main reason for posting here, though, is to ask: is the idea of a band pushing liberal activist views really that modern, or is it just global warming specifically that's come into vogue recently?

Audacious Epigone said...

Sleep,

It's not novel. Remember the Live Earth marathon from last summer? Take a look at the performers--they're mostly all well past their primes.

But global warming (or "climate change" as it is now phrased, due in part to it being cooler today than it was a decade ago) hadn't really revealed itself as the next manifestation of liberal activism when Dave started raising awareness about it back in the early part of the decade. So he's ahead of the curve in that respect, and that's always a good thing in the whiter status game.

Anonymous said...

Dave Mathews simply does not have a nice singing voice.



I dont know why musicians get together, learn to play instruments, work on melodies and lyrics and recording studio magic, but do NOT take the time to audition for a vocalist with real vocal talent. Its amazing.



What do you remember about the truly "great" bands that sets them apart? The singers voice.

Steve Perry of Journey (an enduring 80's band whose product has aged well)
John Lennon and Paul McCartney (best 60's band)
Robert Plant of Zeppelin (best 70's band)
Paul Rogers of Bad Company
Don Henley of the Eagles (runner up best 70's band)
Lane Staley of Alice in Chains (the best 90's band)
Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac
Nancy Wilson of Heart
Ian Gillan of Deep Purple


Plant in particular stands out. I once seen a vid of Plant playing with Pearl Jam. It was almost funny.............his voice in his fifties was still three times as clear and powerful than Eddie Vedder's, who just doesn't have much rain or vocal strength.

The singer's voice, a natural talent one is born with and hones with work over time, is the most important instrument in any band.


Dave Mathews voice frankly is very ordinary and hence why their music just doesn't stand out and they have to resort to being something of a "jam" band.

Anonymous said...

Does Dave return to the new South Africa at all to take part in the richness, beauty and diversity of that new nation now that the shackles of apartheid have been cast off?

A nice takedown of this pompous crew and his average, white band.

Anonymous said...

"The band's most infamous logo, the firedancer, is a curiosity that can't really be tied to anything in particular that the band has done. And it's eloquent and influenced by abstract works of art. As only true fans are cognizant of it, the firedancer helps reduce the dissonance whiter fans suffer from being involved with a band that has become this mainstream"

Can you please explain why the firedancer is infamous and how it helps with dissonance of fans?

Justin Halter said...

That is one solid analysis! I had no idea that what I used to call being a stupid poser had gotten so damn complicated... But you have made me see the light: it really isn't posing. No human can possible pose in such detail and depth. That is truly an expression of his soul, and shines forth as the idealized archetypal projection of the soul of an entire generation. You are doing graduate-level cultural analysis here.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon1,

I'm not musically literate enough to add to your comments. But at the height of my fan days, when I'd introduce people to dmb's music, when the response was negative that tended to be the reason why--his voice wasn't pleasant.

If he's not an exceptional vocalist now, he was even less so in the past. I've always liked Dave's whiney-to-growly voice, although my musical capabilities are mediocre at best.

Anon2,

I think he's spent about as much time in South Africa since moving to the US for the second time as Barack Obama has spent in his father's homeland of Kenya. For whiter people, that's more than enough to be an authority, of course!

Anon3,

Yeah, I guess that doesn't really make sense, calling it infamous (the "in-" was just a typo/overlook on my part; I meant famous and have changed the post to reflect that) and then saying only true fans are aware of it.

Justin,

I don't detect sarcasm well via text, so if you're being facetious, that's in the spirit of the post. If you're being genuine, thanks, although you're being overly generous.

Fat Knowledge said...

Dave used to be into some pretty heavy drugs. No harm done

You are telling me that he always spoke like that? :)

Rachel Lockridge said...

Audacious E,

I wanted to thank you again for lillywhitening my life back in the OE days. I knew that DMB added to my musical well being, but was unaware of the way they increased my social status. I still have the disc you gave me and plan to break it out in honor of your insightful comments.

I share your struggle with detecting sarcasm via text, and so I was hoping you could make plain that stuffwhitepeoplelike blog for me. I have seen it before, but somehow I always seem to come up short as to the direction of the irony. Maybe I am not white enough to find it helpful for laughing at myself; or maybe I am too white, and thus don't even realize I am being laughed at by others. Can you please help me understand the ambiguous nature of whiter humor? Thanks in advance.

AL

Audacious Epigone said...

FK,

Hehe, yeah.

AL,

Heh, you didn't need the status booster like I did. I've always admired in you what I haven't been able to find in myself--security in who I am, as a thinker, as a friend, and as a moral being.

"I always seem to come up short as to the direction of the irony. Maybe I am not white enough to find it helpful for laughing at myself; or maybe I am too white, and thus don't even realize I am being laughed at by others."

You're hardly alone. It's humorous in how it points out the sometimes silly excesses and inanities of hip, white lefty intellectuals. Yet at the same time it's clear that as far as lampooning goes, there's scarcely another group to be made fun of that I would rather spend time with in thoughtful conversation. Because even though their feigned (and often skin-deep) erudition is often worthy of ridicule--that is, the motive is often vanity--the outcome of expanding one's understanding of the world (other cultures, the arts, etc) is admirable. More so than what Chris Rock makes fun of in the urban black community or the laddism of Britain.

If you have a few minutes, I suggest you read Agnostic's post on the subject. He gives a more satisfying answer to the quandry than I'm able to.