Tonight, I’ll attend my 50th Dave Matthews Band show. #49 was wonderful, and I left Madison Square Garden in a state of bliss. But I woke up this morning deeply moved and saddened. Grief is a funny thing.
Music has always been my best friend. And I mean it when I say that. It has always understood me. It has always been there for me, even as a little kid. It puts words to my emotions and has helped me understand all the experiences of being human, especially when it comes to love and heartbreak. Mom was always blasting something in the house or car: Madonna, DMB, Bob Marley, The Eagles, ACDC, and the list goes on. My dad played in a band for a long time, and even auditioned for Boston, but he was too young to go on tour. It’s in our blood.
I think it’s why I am so attracted to live music and eventually made my way into the club scene and raves. While I am absolutely an introvert, there is something about being in a room filled with people who are seeking a sense of community through song. It’s primal and beautiful. It transcends everything about us: language, ethnicity, gender, and so on. But the club scene itself is a dark and nasty place. It ate me up. Add my addiction issues into the mix, and man, complete chaos. However, that all changed when I finally connected with DMB.
Dave has dealt with a world of shit; tragedy and pain I can barely fathom. His lyrics became another best friend that made me feel less alone in a time of isolation and trying to get clean. It’s like he says: “someone’s broken heart becomes your favorite song.” His concerts also became a safe haven for me, a place where I could listen to music and not self-destruct. He beat back so many problems. He truly gave me hope through his songs that I could do the same.
My first show was in 2005, and I was politely dragged there by my Abercrombie crew. It’s not that I didn’t like DMB. I had listened to Dave since I was a kid. I’ll always remember the red and blue on the Crash album as I put the CD into the 6-disc CD changer. I played Live at Luther on repeat at the tanning salon I worked at in high school. Crush was my gateway song and will always hold a very special place in my soul. And come on, everyone knows at least three DMB songs by heart if you grew up in the 90s.
So, it’s the summer of 2005, and I’m at Mansfield with a whole group of A&F folks. My friend, Kristen, bought great seats for night 1. If I remember correctly, we were in a picture on the DMB website from that show. Night 2, we sat on the lawn. I was so tired and cranky. (I still struggle to attend two shows in a row. It takes a lot out of me as an introvert. I’m about to attend show four this week. I know it’s why I’m struggling today.) Anyway, they played Crash, and something in me just sparked. It wasn’t necessarily the song itself, but the way my heart received it.
I know this may sound silly or hyperbolic to some, but there isn’t a lot I remember from my drug years. I have huge gaps of memory loss from the drugs themselves and dissociation from my underlying trauma. Some people really hold that against me. I can promise you and them they’ll never punish me as much as I have punished myself. But I remember that moment so clearly, listening to Crash, sitting on the grass hill. And I’m sure it’s part of the reason I’ve gone to 11 shows this year. Because there is something about that band that brings me back to myself. To a place of clarity, safety, and comfort. To see them on stage night after night, giving it their all, having so much fun together, it fills a part of me that is an endless void, even if it’s just for a few hours. Say what you will about Dave, Carter, Tim, Stefan, Rashawn, Jeff, and Buddy, but they are all so unbelievably talented. They are gracious and compassionate. And they are trying to do the “right” thing in a weird, weird world. Their passion for music gave me hope at a time when I had none, and clearly, it’s still doing the same today.
So, last night when Dave came out for the encore and shared a messaged about the world and hope, something in me just started to hurt. He sang Singing from the Windows, which he wrote after he saw all the videos of people in Italy playing music and singing on their balconies. It was a moment that lifted him out of the darkness of lockdown. But today, the lyrics are driving a stake into my heart, and I just can’t figure out why.
I won’t pretend the last few years were any harder on me than anyone else. I know how blessed I’ve been through it all. But no matter what we all faced individually and are still facing today, we will be grieving the last two years for a long, long time. We have faced so much trauma as a collective and have been forced to persevere within our families, our jobs, and our communities. Outside of COVID, the US has become increasingly divided and ripped apart by politics, conspiracy, belief, and lack of trust. I am not sure I can or will ever be able to understand the magnitude of it all. Because it’s big. And it’s real. And most days, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
So, maybe when Dave said that really nice message about how we are so much more alike than different, I felt the weight of our reality, our divided country, and how he hopes a few songs and a few shows can help us find hope and keep us together. It made me think: when I sit down and write, not for work, but for me, I am always in a world of hurt. I think I feel the hurt he was trying to process to regain a sense of peace when he wrote that song.
I’m writing this with tears streaming down my face, grieving things I’m not yet aware of. Grieving things that aren’t even mine. Grieving things I wish others would grieve with me. You can think what you want about me, but I struggle to interact with people, even when I seem calm, cool, and collected. People really frustrate me, yet humanity is literally the reason I wake up everyday and continue to learn. I am a true Aquarius: I dislike people, but I adore humanity. I just want this place to be better. I want people to be better. I want to be better. It feels childish to say, but it truly doesn’t have to be this way.
Some days, it’s just so hard for me to be on this planet and accept this reality. I know I make jokes about money not being real and how our society is so backwards and how we should “burn it all down,” but it’s how I do perceive the world. It’s hard to be so aligned with your perception, yet most don’t see it. It’s gratifying to know who you are and deeply isolating to know most will never understand you. There are things on this planet I will never comprehend and refuse to accept—the violence, the greed, the prejudice, the systems created to keep people poor. And while I do accept being here, because I have to, I swing back and forth from buying into a system I don’t believe in to stay sane and sheer existential dread. But within the pendulum swing, I have a lot of gratitude and joy…
I think knowing Dave feels that, too, with songs like Rhyme and Reason, Some Devil, Seek Up, The Dreaming Tree, Dancing Nancies, Funny the Way It Is, Big Eyed Fish, You Never Know, Eh Hee…to know there is love out there like in the songs Crush, Oh, Rapunzel, So Right, Seven, You & Me…to know he grieves like I do with songs like Grace is Gone, The Space Between, Grey Street, Out of my Hands….and to know we can come together and celebrate with Two Step, Tripping Billies, The Best of What’s Around, Everyday, Granny…”it makes it okay.”
Tonight, I’ll be singing from the balcony at MSG, in pure bliss, at this weird intersection of accomplishments of what I guess is my life, “wondering what will become of me.” I know part of my grief stems from the fact that this is the last DMB show of 2021, and knowing what I know about the world, tomorrow is never certain. I am grieving the loss of teaching and starting over, and know when I wake up tomorrow, it’s time to leave the road trip life for a bit and start a new life for myself that I have been cultivating since May of this year. I am grieving the fact that things will never be the same for any of us. I am grieving who I was, so I can continue to grow into who I am--who I want to be. But like the band always does, they’ll bring me back into myself and help me find some peace tonight.
In summation of what I hope is a moderately coherent brain dump, DMB means a lot to me. That band’s music has kept me going through some dark times, it helped me get and stay clean, and it puts me into an innocent state of joy at every show I attend. If you ever want to see what I look like happy, and I mean the true essence of Platonic forms happy, come to a show with me…I’d love to share that joy with you.
I’m thankful to all the people who travel to see them with me and continue to help me along my journey. Dave is so much more than music for me, and I’m thankful for the few who see and honor that truth.
If you’re grieving today, I feel you. If you’re choosing joy today, I am thrilled for you. If you are angry, that pain is valid. If you are confused, be kind to yourself as you maneuver your way through it. Grief is not linear and the way in which we process grief will be different for everyone. I honor your process and hope one day, we can all come together in our pain and turn it into something beautiful.