April 13th, 1998
Ask Dave Matthews the meaning behind "Don't Drink the Water," the first single from the band's new album, Before These Crowded Streets, and out comes a long, passionate speech which reveals much about the singer's personal beliefs on a part of American history.
"There's some part of me that makes me wish that our guilt was less directed at the rules of our religion than the actual things that we've done," explains the South African- born/ Virginia- based Matthews about the song, which condemns the white man's treatment of Native Americans. Interestingly, the song is written from the perspective of a typical white man, who comes to a new land where he hopes his dreams can come true, only to find that there are people living there already that "don't fit into his idea of paradise, so he asks them to leave."
"If I just imagine that..." Matthews explains, "sitting in a Manhattan apartment building above a river that used to flow where now there's just a highway -- you only know the river was there when it rains and your basement floods up -- just imagining this huge population of all these varied civilizations or societies that made up North America before us... the phenomenal disregard and the exceptions to all of the rules that maybe we today, and even then, thought of as common rules of ethics and morality -- lying and murder and that sort of genocidal attitude toward other people -- I think we forget about it somehow, behind the horrors, whether we're talking about South Africa or all of Africa, really, or South America or Japan going to China or China going to Tibet.
"There's this method of writing history with slogans [in which] you can erase the real part of history, you know," he continues. "I was reading Noam Chomsky when he said this country was built on freedom and justice... he says you can just as easily and more accurately suggest -- at least for the first 300 years -- that in the development of this country and the arrival of the English and the battle between the English and Spanish, that it was more [built on] slavery and genocide. But if you put behind it a good idea underneath it all, say we were fighting for free ideals and a just society -- you know, it was those curly- haired, clever handsome fellows that were on top of everything -- they were the ones who had the freedom... that was the inspiration. I'm sorry, I'm rambling."
"Don't Drink the Water" is No. 5 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 36 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart this week.
Another interesting song on Before These Crowded Streets, due April 28 on RCA, is "Spoon," which includes the haunting backing vocals of Alanis Morissette. "She has a pretty voice when she sings quietly," offers Matthews.