1985: "Robert Randolph" on the birth certificate, but he'll go by "Randy." That's the original plan. Named after his grandfathers. Then Dad starts having doubts. He's a Robert too—doesn't want his son to be Little Bob or Bobby like he had been. So one day, it just hits my parents. "David Andrew." David Matthews. Dave. A new name for a new kid.
Looking back on it now, Randy Matthews probably would've been a good guy. Sure, he still would've shared a name with a band leader, but one less well-known and -ridiculed. There are tons of memorable Randys: Johnson, Hundley, Newman, Marsh, Jackson, Watson, so it's not like it would've been terrible. But no matter. The choice was David. In my parents' defense, they had no idea what they were doing to me. Besides, if they had named me after their musical tastes, this story would be appearing under the byline "Three Tenors Matthews."
1994: September. Under The Table And Dreaming has dropped. Suddenly the radio and air waves are alive with the sounds of violin, jangly guitars, and harmonica from that fat fellow from Blues Traveler. I find this fascinating. Someone has the same name as I do, and this guy has a band. He's even on VH-1! I own the album, of course, courtesy of the BMG Music Club. Bought it for a penny, along with Cracked Rear View, by Hootie and the Blowfish. I am 9 years old.
1996: Another album, this one filled with even lighter, more adult contemporary jams. It is clear by now that Dave Matthews is not going anywhere. People start asking me if I actually like his music. I am 10. I don't know what I like. Sure, that's about to change. Soon enough, I'll be familiar with the merits of STP and Pearl Jam, and when someone asks me who sings a certain song, I will announce with authority Dishwalla or Seven Mary Three. I will even think it perfectly acceptable to admit to liking Stabbing Westward. But hovering over all of it is my name. His name. No, Dave Matthews is not going anywhere, and it won't be long before American crap culture takes a perfectly good name and fashions it into my own personal crown of thorns.
1997-2000: Things have gone downhill. Terrible music is all around me. Korn and Slipknot are mandatory daily listening. All day you dream about sex, Jonathan Davis? Me too! Got the life? I don't know what you're talking about, but that guitar riff is a lot of fun. I ask for Korn merch for birthdays and Christmas. I am perilously close to getting a seven-string Ibanez at one point. I put my parents into the shameful position of buying me concert tickets multiple times, forcing one or both of them to accompany me. Family Values Tour '98? Yes, sadly. Sick & Twisted? Yes, unfortunately. Let's not even discuss issue after issue of Hit Parader and Guitar World. Maybe I should mention that I do not play guitar.
I start going to a pretty tony high school in Chicago's Near West Side. For the first time I meet what would stereotypically be described as "stoners." Or, more accurately, "people who smoke a lot of pot and think very highly of the Dave Matthews Band." At first, it's nice that people think my name is cool; not that I am cool, mind you, just the name. But soon, my tastes evolve. I'm listening to different music—Weezer's third album, the green one, comes out my freshman year and leads me back to their blue one, a long-forgotten BMG Music Club selection, and things progress from there. I settle on "indie rock" as my music of choice, thanks to the early records of Modest Mouse and Beulah. Dave Matthews represents the distant pole, the middlebrow crap against which I try to define my own tastes.
2002: Mr. Schmittgens's English class. We've been writing essays on Steinbeck or maybe it's Their Eyes Were Watching God—which I'll never like—and Mr. Schmittgens (a fellow Dave no less) is not pleased with our work. He begins to read from each one as condescendingly as possible, taking care not to name names. My turn comes. Mr. Schmittgens reads my crappy introduction, then stops, stares straight at me, and then, a bit off-key, sing-says: "Well, that one just crashhhhhhed into the wall."
2003: Dan is my friend Paul's buddy. Dan really likes the Dave Matthews Band and thinks it is really funny to call me "Satellite" or croon "Ants Marching" in my direction during lunch. Then this kid Chris starts with the "Tripping Billies" references that go over my head, but I can tell by the tone of the singing what's going on. Then this kid Adam starts in on it. My horizons expanding, I wish my name is Donald Fagen or Bryan Ferry.
2004: College. Things are different here. I'm at a small Catholic school on New York's Upper West Side, and the bros are blessedly absent. Sure, there's always the first day of new classes each semester, when the roll is called and a frantic search begins among the other students to see if maybe, just maybe DMB is hiding in the class, ready to spring into a little adult contemporary jamming. And sure, there are the drunk friends who interrupt my attempts at hitting on women with an exquisitely timed, "You will not believe what his name is." But those incidents are rarer by the day. In fact, one of my friends freshman year is a kid named Beck. He handles the whole situation a lot better than I did, merely rolling his eyes or saying, "Right," when people marvel that they are in the presence of Dave Matthews and Beck. Sooner or later I just start going by David all the time—it makes me sound more grown-up or whatever, and it gives me crucial extra seconds before people connect the dots, allowing for shifts in conversations.
2005: Then comes Office Space. It was out a while ago, but it has recently gone into heavy rotation on Comedy Central, and everyone loves it. I like this movie, too. I understand the Michael Bolton character's predicament. Do you like his music? I've heard that. The problem is that now people keep asking me if I have ever seen Office Space, asking me if I feel like that one character from Office Space, declaring that my situation is just like that one character from Office Space. "Why should you change your name — he's the one that sucks, right?" they say to me. "Get it? Like in Office Space?" Yes. I get it.
2010: And then, somewhere along the line, it stops bothering me. At a party, the DJ—a friend—plays "Crash Into Me," and I give him the finger the whole time, but I am also belting out every word. The culture has changed. Dave Matthews isn't the generally oppressive figure he once was; people don't align their musical tastes in opposition to him and his ilk. He is kitsch, harmless. After a concert the other day, I'm hanging out with this girl I ran into whom I hung out with a lot two years ago, and she runs into some girl she knows. I am introduced to Girl No. 2 by my full name, and she says: "Oh, man. That sucks. I'm sorry." And I don't know what she's talking about and look back at Girl No. 1 curiously. Girl No. 1 says, "Your name." I nod and say: "Oh, yeah. That. No, it's OK."