Looking At The Light
“Then comes the day
Staring at myself I turn to question me
I wonder do I want the simple, simple life that I once lived in well . . .”
Proudest Monkey, Dave Matthews Band
Dave Matthews is easily one of the best acoustic guitar players in the rock world. His technique is astonishing. Matthews deftly weaves chords, rhythm and lead lines together with the seeming ease of a magician. The songs he writes, whether alone or collaboratively, mix elements of rock, jazz, and folk, and despite his tendency to meander musically, which infuriates his critics, he never loses the context of the song. An engaging and charismatic frontman, he is also a talented actor, an activist, and a shrewd business partner in several companies related to his music.
The Dave Matthews Band, likewise, is a multi-talented musical unit. Everyone in the band contributes in unique ways—from Boyd Tinsley’s insane violin solos to Carter Beauford’s nail-tight, jass-influenced back beat. Their high caliber of musicianship allows them to improvise live, something many bands neither have the ability nor the willingness to do. How terrifying to hit a wrong note in unfamiliar territory!
Morgan Delancey, a freelance writer from California, wrote the first book on life behind the scenes and called it Dave Matthews Band: Step Into the Light (signaling an unreleased solo song by the same name). Obviously a product of significant research, it was immediately hailed as an authoritative reference on DMB. First released in 1998, it quickly gained popularity among DMB fans and is often quoted and offered for sale on fan sites. Rereleased in May 2001, it was updated with information on recent releases “Before These Crowded Streets” and “Everyday”, and is still considered to be an accurate, if stiff, biography.
To be quite honest, I have very mixed feelings about this book (when I say “this book,” I am referring to the second edition, although much of the comments could be directed at the earlier edition as well). To paraphrase the words of the poet Li-Young Lee, who insisted that in order to criticize something, you must first learn to praise it, I will talk about what is good about this book first. (For those of you looking for the dirt, skip the next few paragraphs).
The problem with this style of writing, of course, is that is distancing and authoritative. We never get a feeling for Dave Matthews or his band as real people. We never really get past the veneer of facts. It is ironic, therefore, that the most interesting writing in the book comes in the form of two appended pieces, written by other authors: a Rolling Stone article by John Colapinto, and a travelogue by Jack Bailey. These pieces are like a breath of fresh air, and display the style and finesse that is missing from Delancey’s work.
Delancey does a very thorough job of taking readers through Dave Matthews’ metamorphosis from a young bartender in the college town of Charlottesville, West Virginia, to a hungry musician making demo after demo using talented local musicians, to a musical phenom that sells out arenas as soon as concert dates are announced. The author reveals intricate details about DMB song development, location of gigs, changes of management, and all the little things that establish believability. All of the factual assertions are referenced, and there is a “works cited” section for further investigation. The author’s attention to detail leaves no doubt about the authenticity or the factual accounts of DMB’s movements across the globe for the last decade.