Under the Table and Dreaming by the Dave Matthews Band was probably, more than any other, the defining album of my high school years. It wasn’t the first CD I ever bought by a long shot, but it was one of the first current albums, and DMB was perhaps the first band I really got into entirely on my own.
Here’s what I mean by that: All my life, I have loved ’80s music. People tend to love what they know from the beginning, which explains everything from taste in music to religion and all else in between. So nostalgia is arguably a big influence in a lot of my jams. In my early teenage years, I had rediscovered much of the music I enjoyed years before on my mom’s silver Panasonic boombox. This put me out of touch with most of my friends, who were eyes-deep in the alternative or R&B hits at the time, but I didn’t care that much. (I did keep up to some degree, and I think of those early-’90s songs fondly now, but they were rarely heavily in my personal rotation).
But Dave Matthews Band was one of the few 1990s bands I got into in a big way, in terms of knowing every band member’s name, instrument, history and wanting to acquire as much of their music and merchandise as possible. I didn’t get into them because of my friends or sentimentality or because they sounded very ’80s, but simply because I liked their sound and image. (In retrospect, I realize now that I like a lot of stoner culture, even though I’m not and have never been a stoner.)
Indeed, stumbling upon DMB felt like discovering a treasure no one else knew about. (In retrospect, I realize now that I exhibit a lot of hipster behavior, even though I’m not and have never been a hipster.) I was surprised to find out that my friends also loved DMB, which might have been the first time I liked music at the same time everyone else did.
Under the Table and Dreaming was my soundtrack for 1995. I jammed to it, hummed deep cuts in class and even bonded with a girlfriend over the violin solo in “Ants Marching.” When I brought my copy to a party, I wrote my name on it so friends would know it was mine and love me more. Which is why I was so surprised to the see the entirety of the AV Club dump all over it. And also that they consider it a 1994 album.
I don’t know why everyone says Under the Table and Dreaming was their soundtrack for 1994. Sure, it came out in September of that year — but I listened to a ton of hit radio in those days, and also had a lot of friends that were all up on the latest music, and still I never heard of these guys until 1995.
In fact, I can pinpoint almost the exact day I first heard them. It was on a morning during the first week of July 1995, when I was taking a driving lesson in my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana. I was about to cross the Pinhook bridge when the opening licks of “What Would You Say” came over KSMB. When Dave Matthews sang, “fleas and ticks jump everywhere,” I thought, “I think I remember this song from 1988.” It wasn’t until the DJ announced the artist and song title that I realized it was new. And a fan was born.
I have never stopped listening Under the Table and Dreaming since, and many cuts remain in heavy rotation on my iPod. DMB’s 1996 follow-up, Crash, was almost equally rapturous for me, but I don’t listen to it nearly as often these days. Their next album, 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets — the last of their albums I’ve bought to date — mostly remains in 1998 to me.
But Under the Table and Dreaming was a pivotal album of the 1990s. I think it holds up as well as anything else from the decade, and my much-younger sister’s (and all the people her age’s) love for the band seems to attest to that. The worst thing I can say about the band is what it did to my songwriting (I was a prolific songwriter from the ages of 13 to 20) — I began to model my lyrics on Dave Matthews’ style, which meant many of them barely made sense in my own head, much less in anyone else’s. ("Pay For What You Get" inspired my own title, "Start What You Finish.") But that’s hardly an indictment of the record.
I suspect that many people who dis the Dave Matthews Band now play to hippie-fan stereotypes, the band’s tendency to recycle songs and perhaps the bloat of their later mega-popularity. But in 1995, DMB was fresh, new and innovative. They scored the best of my teenage years.
And as far as I can tell, ants continue to march to this very day.