Many years ago, I was a young, beginning teacher with very little discretionary income, yet still I shelled out for a CD called Yourself or Someone Like You by Matchbox 20. To give you an idea, that album and Live’s Throwing Copper were what my teenage students at Mulwaree High and I bonded over –but ‘my’ copy of Throwing Copper began life in my brother’s collection and may or may not have mysteriously travelled to Goulburn with me when I moved out. (Sorry, Justin).
I’ve loved every album from MB20 and also from their frontman, Rob Thomas. I have the INXS track where he sang lead; his Christmas single, and his track from the Meet the Robinsons soundtrack, Little Wonders (more on that later). You could say I’m a bit of a fan.
There was a track on Yourself or Someone Like You that always resonated for me: Real World. I love it. I do wish the Real World would stop bothering me. As someone who is an overthinker, it doesn’t happen often. But most of all, I loved the line, “I wonder what it’s like to be the head honcho.” Not because I do–leadership is not something to which I particularly aspire–but because my tiny, erratic, loud Scottish grandfather used the phrase. A lot. He would ring the phone company, or the electricity company, or the local K-Mart, and bark down the phone in his inimitable and almost incomprehensible accent to whatever hapless person answered, “I want to speak to the Head Honcho.”
So, in November 2000 when my Grandpa, Tom, was in hospital for the last time, I was staying at his house when a competition came on the TV. Ring up, answer one simple question, and you could win two tickets to see MB20 in Wollongong, they said. The question was, “Name the frontman of Matchbox 20.” I did. I won. My friend Jody and I went to the concert the night before my Grandpa’s funeral and I said a private, quiet goodbye to him when I heard the head honcho line.
At the concert, I was impressed. I have always loved musicians who wrote their own music: Lennon and McCartney, Andersson & Ulvaeus, Billy Joel, the Finn brothers. (Don’t bother hating on my musical taste; I’m way too old to care). These guys also write their own stuff. Thomas played: guitar, piano, even drums. Part of the set was acoustic, and I was awed. At one point I saw Adam Gaynor (who has since left the band) beckon a security guard, indicating that he wanted to give his plectrum to someone in the audience. I rolled my eyes, expecting it to be some buxom blonde. It wasn’t. It was a kid, about ten years old, there with his Mum and floating on air when he received it. I was impressed. These guys, it seemed, were class acts.
Jody and I were both pregnant with our second babies at the time. I came home from the concert and my husband asked how it was. Two things, I said. From now on, I want to go see these guys whenever they tour. Also, Rob Thomas is a nice name.
Now in my defence, Robert and Thomas were both family names that were already on the short list (along with one other). It just wasn’t a combination we’d put together before. But I had a moment during that concert when I thought, I wouldn’t mind if my son turned out like one of these guys. And so I have an almost-15 year old whose given names are Robert Thomas, in that order. And last week, Live Nation contacted me to say I’d won two tickets and a meet and greet in Sydney with Rob Thomas in Sydney next week, because I shared the story of my boy’s name and said I’d like to introduce him to his namesake. I have been quietly freaking out ever since. Via email, Roslyn reassured me that my worst fears were unlikely to come true: Rob Thomas probably won’t think I’m an unintelligible idiot who can’t string a sentence together; and if he thinks I’m nuts for naming my kid after a pop/rock singer, there’s nothing I can do about it now. But, as I confided to my daughter, my greatest fear really is: what if he turns out to be a jerk, and I’ve named my kid after him?
The love affair with MB2o and RT is ongoing, and has seen me through some tough times. When my Rob was 3 and my daughter was 5, I was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma; a cancer that is rare, aggressive, and thankfully, treatable. I had a clunky blue Discman and my MB20 albums to get me through long lonely nights in the oncology ward, away from my husband and kids. The song 3AM came to have particular significance. So did others. Years later, I was being interviewed on-air at Relay for Life about my cancer experience and Ricardo Bardon, a wonderfully supportive local DJ who was there with our sponsors Power FM, asked me how I got through it. “Well,” I said, “I discovered just how dark my sense of humour is. And I listened to a lot of Matchbox 20.” He raised his eyebrows, so I elaborated, citing lyrics: “I’ve got a disease/down deep inside me.” He laughed. I continued, “I’m not crazy/I’m just a little unwell.”
I’ve been in complete remission for more than a decade, but having had a serious illness changes your views on mortality a bit, to the point where I’m no longer scared of it, and I tell the kids what I expect at my funeral. Well, I am the planning queen of the household, I won’t be able to do it, and I want it done right. This makes them a bit uncomfortable, but their father has the memory span of a goldfish (in fact, most days he can’t remember the names of his own goldfish), so there’s not much point telling him. So I’ve told the kids that they are to play “Little Wonders” at my funeral, or I will haunt them. This makes them roll their eyes, complain, and also look at me in sort of amused horror when the song plays on my iPod in the car.
My daughter was once complaining about this to one of my young students whom we sort of semi-adopted, Josh. Josh grinned at me and said, “it’s the perfect song.”
Josh is Koori.
Several years back, I wrote my PhD thesis about Indigenous writers and writing, looking specifically at how colonisation and forcing people off country caused social problems, and influenced Indigenous writing. I’ve tried to walk the walk, too; teaching academic literacies to students in the Aboriginal Education and Training Unit in Nowra (a site opposite the Bomaderry Homes), working with the fabulous staff and students at Woolyungah Indigenous Centre whenever I get the chance, teaching into the Djinggi Project, being a “yellafella” volunteer at the National Reconciliation Conference in Wollongong way back in 1999. We’ve blogged about racism in Australian sport, and the power of inappropriate comments. Last month, I was in a class at UNSW when a friend who is an immigrant from Britain said that she couldn’t really understand the link to country, but that she respected it. The lecturer pointed out that many Australians don’t really understand the symbiotic link to country, either, and commented on the current government “plan” to shut down some remote communities. Hang on, I argued, even if we don’t get it, surely we know that this doesn’t work, because they tried this in Cherbourg in Queensland, and Bomaderry in New South Wales, and Moore Rover in Western Australian, and a whole bunch of other places, and it didn’t work then, either. The lecturer looked at me and said, “yes, but most Australians aren’t as well educated as you.”
Back to Rob Thomas. So, for my birthday, my firstborn decided I needed concert tickets. She enlisted her father’s help, because the ticket price was a bit beyond her, and then I further complicated things by insisting on going to Melbourne because none of the NSW concerts were indoors, and we once booked the whole family tickets to Day on the Green at Moss Vale on Valentine’s day (Rob Thomas’ birthday!) and it poured, and my husband said we couldn’t take the kids out in that, and I wept all the way back to Nowra. I’m sure I’ll get over it one day, but I’m still at the point where I’d rather pay for airfares and accommodation than have that happen ever again. So we were at Rod Laver Arena for the first show of the Australian tour. We were there for that comment.
Basically, the story in a nutshell goes: there were technical difficulties. Rob Thomas turned and asked his band if it was all of them, and one of the backing singers clearly said, yes. He then tried to fill for a bit, saying he’d tell a story. He decided to share his cure for jet lag. First, he said, I start drinking as soon as I get on the plane, and I drink until I think I’m Australian. We all laughed. Then, he said, I drink until I think I’m a black Australian. There was a collective gasp. I turned to my daughter in disbelief. This is a guy who sings, “My sisters and my brothers/of every different colour;” a guy who had a clearly multicultural band, whose wife and in-laws are Latina, and someone who advocates for all kinds of human, as well as animal rights (in the picture above, my daughter is wearing an anti- animal cruelty Sidewalk Angels shirt). It seemed out of character. Then he said to someone up the front, “don’t be racist.” He went on to say that after that, he drinks until he thinks he’s a little girl, and then his wife gets worried about him.
Right then, I was worried for him. I couldn’t reconcile it: how could a “drink until I think I’m black” comment be OK, anywhere?
The concert went on, we had a good time, we managed to navigate the vagaries of Melbourne public transport and we got back to our weird little hotel and went to bed. I woke up and the first thing I read on Sunday morning was Rob Thomas’ apology on Facebook.
OK, I thought. Seems sincere. I still don’t get why it would be OK anywhere, or why he thinks it’s only at this point in time, but it seems genuine, and it seems like it’s him (not some PR person). That’s good.
Then people started messaging me: Oh dear. Hope this didn’t ruin your night. And so on. And they were sending links to the media reports of it.
I made the mistake of reading some of the comments under the FB post. There were waaaay too many people saying Aussies have lost their sense of humour; the PC “police” have ruined the world; people should drink a cup of concrete and harden up, no one could/should/would be offended unless there was something wrong with them; Aborigines do drink (seriously?) … and on and on it went.
Read the man’s apology. He’s not saying, “I wish that I didn’t have to be politically correct.” He’s saying, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t politically correct.” Being politically correct is not a bad thing; it’s the same as the great Aussie practice of “giving a stuff.” He was upset that he had caused offence, not complaining about those who took it.
A number of people were obviously thinking along the same lines as me, in terms of, how could that comment be OK anywhere? And a second apology, with a further explanation, was forthcoming.
OK, that makes a little more sense. Again, many commenters missed the point and were telling him that “true Aussies” got what he meant.
Well, no. I’m not sure we did. Once I read the context in the second apology, I was closer to “getting” it, though.
It is very tempting, when you are a “fan,” to excuse even the inexcusable. You only have to consider the etymology of the word to see why this happens: only a fanatic will think that their idol is right, all the time. I am not apologising for or excusing the comment. It was the wrong thing to say.
Rob Thomas has acknowledged that. He’s apologised. He’s said what he’s going to do–educate himself–in order to rectify that.
So: the guy is not, as it turns out, a jerk (one arguably inadvertent jerky comment notwithstanding). If my son grows up to be someone who admits his mistakes, explains them without making excuses for them, apologises, and attempts to make amends, I’ll be a very proud mother. Rob Thomas is still a nice name, and I will still be pretty happy if my son grows up to be a little bit like him … because I want both my kids to take responsibility for their actions, and their mistakes.