Monday, October 01, 2007


Riff on Matthews' Quote

Something Dave Matthews recently said spun me into a mental riff.

According to an article called “Matthews Battles to Get It Right on the Stage and in Life” by George Varga on (of the Union-Tribune), Matthews doesn’t like to do interviews because he doesn’t care for how the media oversimplifies things. The quote from Matthews:

“Because of what it is, ‘rock journalism,’ like much of the other mainstream media, is an attempt to sell an oversimplified, nicely packaged vision of the world that will be palatable and easy to travel, when the truth is far more confusing. I can assure anyone that gets their news from the mainstream media that there’s a far more inspirational, complex and breathtaking world out there than the one portrayed to us in general by the purveyors of information.”

You bet. Rock journalism is trying to sell something. Music, for one, but also the glamour and gossip of the rock scene, all in an effort to sell publications and advertising. It’s about readership. If you give people something juicy, they’ll let it dribble from their chins while they eat it up. Sales soar. Ka-ching!

Whether that news is palatable is another story altogether. I have never cared for rock journalism’s concentration on the underbellies of performing artists – the sex and drugs part of the equation, not to mention the liberal shots of liquor. Fine, musicians are human. They have peccadilloes. It’s a rare article about Dave Matthews that doesn’t mention his alcohol consumption. You’d think the guy was a raging alcoholic, and maybe he is, but I doubt it. Raging alcoholics tend to have difficulty remaining upright, let alone maintaining a productive and profitable creative life. But rock journalists keep writing this aspect of Matthews’ life because it connects with the majority of their readers. Besides, who has time to go any deeper? Rock stars are busy. Rock journalists are busy. Time is money. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Get the story out to readers.

Without making excuses for the mainstream media, which, as Matthews and many other critics point out, have plenty of flaws, how can they possible give us the entire, complicated story? The reality is that no one, not even the great PBS documentary directors of our day, can tell the full story on anything. If one could, there’d be no reason to revisit topics, to reexamine the truth, which can be slippery and multi-faceted. Instead, the story is revealed in dribs and drabs over time.

This is the way of all creative works, not just the machinations of rock journalists. The products of creativity, be they songs or books or paintings or stories in the mainstream media, are necessarily distillations. Why does Matthews continue to write songs? I’d venture to guess that, like most artists, he can’t capture everything he wants to express within one song. Neither can rock journalists, or other purveyors of mainstream media, serve up everything they’d like to say in one story or report, even if they desperately wanted to. The flaw is not only with mainstream media’s oversimplifications, it is with all of us who don’t have the patience to allow the story to unfold. We want the final story immediately, so we can make decisions and live our lives accordingly. We won’t be satisfied with any less.

If you want to get a bigger picture of Dave Matthews, you can’t read one article in Rolling Stone and take it as gospel, the last word. You have to listen to his band’s music and his solo music, follow the band’s website, and see the films he’s been in, plus read material and comments posted by fans, along with reading what rock journalists have to say about him. Even then, you will only get a glimpse of the fullness of his being.

Extrapolate this process to any news item and you can begin to see why the mainstream media chooses oversimplification. This does not mean they’re off the hook, however. They could be telling us more of a story than they do; building upon what has gone before, rather than resorting to banal questions like the examples Matthews gives in the SignOnSanDiego article. How many times should he have to answer, “What’s your favorite color?” Has any rock journalist ever asked him, “What’s your favorite note?”

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