I just attended the DMB concert in Vancouver, BC on Wednesday and was telling a friend about it. My friend asked me yesterday if I ONLY listen to the Dave Matthews Band or if I listen to other music as well. Since I’m such an avid fan of DMB, I’ve been asked this before, so I thought I’d write a post about my relationship with the Dave Matthews Band and explain how they saved me.
When I was a child, I had a stereo in my room with a turntable and an eight-track tape player. I loved music. By the time I was in Jr. high I had a collection: Pat Benatar, Styx, Queen, Rupert Holmes. I loved a WHOLE album when I bought one. The deep cuts on side two of a record often became my favorite songs. To this day, I know every word to every song on the Styx Grand Illusion album, for example.
Home life was hard for all of us kids in that house where I grew up, and we all hid ourselves in different ways the best we could. For me… I read and wrote stories and listened to music. For me… music and lyrics sometimes took me into the possibility of a better life and other times took me deeper into the sadness I felt about the state of my family—my parents’ divorce, my stepfather’s cruelty, my mother’s mental illness, my heavy responsibilities as a parentified oldest child with three younger siblings. And whereas in the rest of the house, where I had to keep a neutral look on my face (you know the rules of a dysfunctional home: “Don’t know, don’t speak, don’t feel.”), in my room, music let me FEEL real feelings.
But music was taken away from me when I was about fifteen years old. Here’s how.
In the eighth grade, I met Jesus. A dear friend of mine, a girl whose life was even harder than mine, invited me to church. I asked Jesus into my heart and got myself baptized. The people at that church were so warm and inviting and kind. That place became a sanctuary for me away from the chaos in my home, and I’ll never say a negative word about the people in that little Baptist community.
What I will say is that my entry into the fundamentalist Christian realm introduced me to a multitude of very damaging ideas. And because I was a sincere kid who took things to heart, when I read that God didn’t want women to speak in the church or that marriage saved a person from burning in hell due to how otherwise they might give in to their unclean sexual desires or THAT ROCK AND ROLL WAS INSPIRED BY THE DEVIL, I followed the directions that “God” set forth about each of those “truths.”
In the years that followed my walk down the aisle to “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,” I took several radical steps to comply with God’s rules.
I kept myself pure. Yep… no sex or even any heavy petting in high school (I’m sorry, High School Boyfriend!!! I’ve always been sorry).
I didn’t swear.
I didn’t drink.
And I THREW AWAY ALL OF MY MUSIC.
Now, before you go into complete despair on my behalf, I want you to know that I replaced Styx with the Sweet Comfort Band. And I replaced the harmonies of Queen with The Second Chapter of Acts. Even Rupert Holmes got swapped out for Keith Green. So I DID have some music in my life after age fifteen, but I didn’t have popular music. And I didn’t have MUCH music. The options were limited.
What this means is that between the years of 1982 and 2000, the only popular music I was acquainted with was whatever I heard playing in restaurants or department stores. I heard a little Madonna and Cindy Lauper, even a little bit of Police. And the high school boyfriend I mentioned above did his level best to get me to listen to Genesis and Rush, mostly to no avail. The bottom line is that the only music I let influence me was the music that was reiterating the doctrines the church put forward. For almost TWO DECADES. I missed Prince entirely. And I had no acquaintance at all with metal. None.
Fast forward to the year 2000—the year I lost my faith. How I lost it is too long for this post, but suffice it to say that through graduate school and my work as a therapist with children who had been harmed in families as (or more) damaging than the home I grew up in, I came to understand that while the church had given me structure when I needed it most, the God of the church was a jerk who gave mixed messages of love and eternal punishment and thought I was a second class citizen as a woman. And I didn’t have to keep believing what I’d been taught anymore if I didn’t choose to.
The loss of my faith undid me, though.
I became desperate to get out of the marriage to the man I’d been married to for ten years—a marriage I myself had insisted on constructing around Christian principles.
I started drinking wine.
I started to swear (what a relief!).
And, I gave up listening to all of my Christian music—tossing it in the garbage bin just as I had done with Styx and Rupert two decades earlier.
Also, incidentally, during this same period of undoing, I developed an infatuation with a married man.
I was a mess.
This married guy and I never had a full-blown affair. He was a person with strong values. And even though he was as drawn to me as I was to him, the time we spent together was mostly spent talking or… listening to music.
I’d explained to him that I didn’t know any popular music, and as a huge lover of all kinds of music himself, he felt the dearth of music in my life was beyond tragic. So, one day, sitting in his car, he said, “You have to hear this song.”
He popped a CD into his stereo and played the DMB song “The Space Between.”
“Really listen,” he said to me.
And because I was infatuated and would have done anything he asked me to do, I closed my eyes and I listened. Like… really HEARD.
The hauntingly sad tone of the music and Dave’s voice blending with the lyrics as if it were another instrument took me over. Because you’re not supposed to quote lyrics (per copyright laws) in a blog post, I can only say here that every line of that song described my feelings for this man and hooked into the grief I felt about my life in that moment. It was like the song climbed inside of me.
Something came alive in my belly. Something moved in the core of my body—like a stuck bolder being dislodged. And I felt an avalanche begin. Years of not feeling and not speaking and trying not to know that I was living a too-small life started tumbling into my conscious awareness.
I needed to hear the song again.
Later that very night, I went to the music store and bought the CD: Everyday.
My husband had moved into another bedroom by this time, so I spent night after night with that CD playing on repeat. And as I listened—both awake and asleep—I cried.
I cried for “Dreams of Our Fathers.” I cried for “What You Are.” I cried for the fact that most of my life there had never been any “Space Between.”
By the time I knew the words to the songs, The Dave Matthews Band had done the work of helping me grieve.
And then I got angry.
I started singing the songs at the top of my lungs when my husband was at work. I shouted out “If I Had it All” over and over. And when I finally decided I needed to leave my marriage, I hurled “I Did It” out to the universe.
I blew up my life.
But DMB had given me back my soul.
As I moved out of the marriage into a little apartment where I could try and wrap my mind around what I was doing, I bought all of the other DMB albums I could find. And by the time the band put out Bust Stuff, I was ready for “Grey Street” to slay me like it slays everyone else whose ever lived an uninspired life. But for me, I’d already taken it on myself and had gotten out of that place!
That “place” to me was not really the marriage (my ex-husband is a very nice man I still respect and have good thoughts about). Nor was it the house I was living in or even the churches I attended. That “place” I needed to get out of was the place where I gave away the right to decide what was allowed to inspire me, teach me, and make me feel alive. And the “man” standing outside the door encouraging me to take what I could from my dreams (a reference to a DMB lyric–in case you aren’t a fan) and to bring them to life was the Dave Matthews Band. Every pluck on Stefan’s bass, or beat of Carter’s drum (happy birthday Wednesday, Carter, BTW)… every violin solo or horn solo or (now) sequence on Buddy’s keyboard… and certainly every vocalization Dave renders—no matter how creative—calls to me: “Really listen.”
So, the answer to my friend’s question is… Yes, I listen to other music besides The Dave Matthews Band. But Dave and the Band saved my soul. So, I pray only to them and worship at the church of the Gorge every year. They don’t ask much of me. They don’t even know I exist. But they don’t need to know. I know I exist.
There is a Bible verse that says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.” -Psalm 42:7