Words matter. The writer in me knows this as an essential truth. They don’t always have to be neat or pretty or elegantly spoken; they can be simple and rough around the edges but no matter what words you choose to say they are always heard. So think about the ones you choose to be spoken. I don’t understand people who toss words out of their mouth like spitballs in a middle school classroom, without thought or much attention but then grow upset when they are called out on those words. When you say something, when you use words you offend, encourage, affirm, accept, neglect, negate, humiliate, liberate, comfort and reassure, compliment, challenge, or enrage. Be ready to accept whatever words you speak. They are powerful. They can evoke revolution and throw over governments. They have won over hearts and flattened souls.
Writers know this… musicians know this too. (Well, some.) Lyrics are words made more powerful to a rhythm. Although, Dave Matthews makes it insanely hard to choose just one song with lyrics that move me, my first choice would undoubtedly be from his Before These Crowded Streets album, a song called Don’t Drink the Water.
The song with its already powerful musical arrangement could seem a bit dark if you don’t know what DMB is singing about but the lyrics force down your throat an overlooked truth, one our country rarely talks about; that the development of our country was made at the expense of its native inhabitants. It poetically sings about a dark time in our nation’s history when colonization caused near extinction of the Native American population. But the reason it is so powerful is its point of view:
“Interestingly, the song is written from the perpective 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,” one analysis states.
The opening words sound playful like an adult playing a silly child’s game. It’s eerie, really, the way he talks to “them” making it known what will happen like a parent giving commands. “So you will lay your arms down. Yes, I will call this home.” But perhaps what I find to be the most powerful line(s) are when he asks:
What’s this you say?
You feel the right to remain
Then stay…. and I will bury you.
Powerful words that show no compromise. Words that show no room for disagreement. Words that tell a story, that send a shiver down my spine every time I hear them.
This song is one of the most genius-ly written musical creations ever written (in my humble opinion). I say that with honest words, words I would defend to anyone. DMB finds away to make his commands sound like requests to his new neighbors. He makes the commands of the “typical white man” so reasonable while attacking furiously with threats, with words.
Words that are powerful. Words that make you listen.