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Once Upon a Time

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One of the best parts of being at a Dave Matthews Band concert is the way that anticipation gives way to surprise when an unforeseen song is presented. Since we are not privy to the night's set-list beforehand, it's always a treat to hear something unexpected. But even with tunes that aren't high on the rarity index, DMB still finds a way to make every performance unique; otherwise we wouldn't need 98 versions of “Ants Marching” on our ipods, would we? Perhaps one of the most meaningful variations can be found in the impromptu introductions to certain melodies. While researching here on DBTP, I found that Chris, our tireless administrator, took the time to document 12 years of “Two Step” intros (1996-2008)! And after looking through them, I discovered some fascinating patterns that offer a glimpse into the mysterious mind of Dave himself.

In true dichotomous fashion, some of the world's biggest conundrums are explored in these tiny vignettes, and if you read them in chronological order, you can almost extract an ongoing storyline. The first major theme that surfaces in these intros, is the idea that life and time are elusive and can slip by like good weekends. Often painting an image of a childhood spent, “under the table and dreaming,” Dave speaks of a youthful phase when, “all these hours, they seem so long and days would last a year.” But through the wary eyes of an adult, “the time grows short, each minute second, each year a day, and time seems flickering by as if we're almost done.” After acknowledging the ephemeral nature of our existence, Dave goes on to question whether God is real or just a dream, “we search for God to answer every roll on,” but seems to surmise that a storm of great proportions is coming to end it all, “I swear the rain will come, I promise you this place will wash away.” But in an effort to ride the storm Dave has “built a boat of huge dimensions. For you to march to, and to dance along the boat, until the waters dry.” I think this speaks well of Dave's characteristic way of acknowledging darkness without getting completely lost in it.

What's really captivating about these verses is that although they are all different, they seem to appear in clusters. After the boat image was mentioned, for example, it endured several renditions usually as a means of survival, although once it was described as “sinking.” There are also many references to lyrics from other songs both past, “remember mother's words,” and future “while dreaming I saw from above a space man floated down onto me.” In 2002, there are a couple of references to the upcoming war “and so did all the soldiers pray that maybe God will watch over them,” illustrating the importance of weaving world events into the music. An overall and encompassing motif throughout these narratives is Dave's unending questioning. In fact these stunning poems create far more doubts than certainties. But in 2006, a spectacular shift occurs wherein Dave starts to view the unknown through his own child's perspective, “Daddy, won't you tell me a story that's true?” And in that moment we see the heavy burden of a father whose own queries have never been resolved, yet who is being asked to “make me believe in things wiser Daddy, won't you raise your hands to the heavens, point them skyward (?)” So the story comes full circle, with a new generation of curiosity to satisfy. We'll have to hear the latest versions of “Two Step” to see which way this tale winds, but I'm confident that whichever way it goes will be pure genius with a sprinkling of magic.

Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.

Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self

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