Another Case Study in Trauma Driven Genius: Dave Matthews

I don’t think I love any artist more than I do Dave. Like many fans, I didn’t really get into his music until much later. Not that I didn’t know who he (or they) were, I knew a few songs and thought it was okay but not the greatest thing out there. Plus there was a bit of a stereotype of early DMB fans, and I preferred metal anyway.

Until I found their cover of All Along the Watchtower, which blew my mind and made me dig more into their live stuff…

Which is how I learned that they are one of the most talented jam bands to ever grace a stage!! I spent days watching live show after live show, completely in awe at the raw talent. Not just Dave but everyone he plays with. We’ve been huge fans ever since and we’ve been to see them in the Gorge many times, so it’s fair to say we love Dave and co.

Still, it’s hard to not notice that he, too, seems to be one of those creative geniuses who had a really traumatic childhood. He grew up during apartheid in South Africa, his sister was murdered, his father died when he was young, and he struggled over the years with his mental health but seems to have not only come out of it but has developed an interesting life view because of it perhaps.

In an interview with Rolling Stone he says:

Death is often a major focal point of your songwriting, partly because so many people close to you — your father, your sister, childhood friends — have had untimely deaths.
I find it much more surprising that death is not part of the conversation at all. I guess as a culture we’ve grown to admire youth and the naive wonder of youth as somehow better than the wrinkles and wisdom that come with age, and that somehow there’s a fault in accepting mortality. That is fucking stupid. Not to say that death isn’t shocking, but if there wasn’t death, life would be fucking useless. We’d be bored to tears. Mortality makes it so much more spectacular. That’s the thing we should talk about more than the delusions of grandeur that come along in the afterlife. What an utter waste of time. But I guess it’s more comforting if you think there’s this Santa Claus in the sky who’s waiting to make us happy, or if we haven’t been good, he’s not going to give us any presents. God has no plan. It’s simpler to think that we’ll go to heaven or hell when we die. To me, that seems like a way to avoid living.

At what point in your life did you formulate your ideas about death?
If anything, I think of the times I contemplated suicide.

When was that?
It comes and goes. I don’t know that it will ever end. When things inside your head get kind of crazy, and you go, “OK, let’s go through the list of options.” And suicide was one of them. I’ve never indulged in it where I was sitting, snot pouring out of my nose, tears pouring down my face, saying, “This is it. Fuck it. I’m gone.”

What’s the closest you ever came?
Just thinking about ways, which I don’t think is uncommon. But I’ve had a few doctors tell me that it’s not necessarily that common.

Did you come up with a method?
The idea of throwing yourself off a bridge, but I’m afraid of heights. I thought about a gunshot, but it’s so violent and messy. Gassing oneself is kind of peaceful.

When was this?
In my late teens, early twenties. What turned me away was something a friend of mine said, someone I used to wait tables with. Her name was Carter, and she was a wonderful girl. She told me that my death was done the minute I was born. It’s the only guarantee, the only thing that you know is gonna happen. What’s the point in hastening it? Why not stick around, if for nothing else than for curiosity?

It can be shocking to read one of your favorite artists talk so casually about death and offing themselves and even detail how they thought of doing it but it’s also comforting to know we are really just all the same at the end of the day. Dave has just mastered channeling his trauma into his creative arts and like Till Lindemann, who I posted about in my last post, he also paints and acts and does a lot of performance art. He’s so much more than just the leader of DMB.

He’s pretty inspirational but again, you know what they say about meeting your heroes. It’s easy to read a few lines or watch a concert and see a movie clip where Dave’s being silly and goofy and it’s another thing to realize that like so many artists, he probably has his darker moments too and I bet he slips into places he’d rather not go to just like the rest of us while assuring the world that everything is fine and dandy.

You just never know. Yet there’s something genuine feeling about Dave and I do hope he truly has conquered his demons, which are some of the same ones we all fight in life. Of course he has millions of dollars and millions of adoring fans plus a lot of close friends and family to help keep him going. I do think that helps. 😄