Man, Rob Thomas. There’s a blast from a baby-blue past. One would have thought the appeal of an oeuvre that suggests the sound a chambray shirt might emit if overwhelmed with Cuddly fabric softener had washed away. Not so. The guy who makes Dave Matthews sound like Stockhausen is still around and still offering large crowds his constipated account of the emotions American bros are wont to feel rather late at night.
On Saturday night at Melbourne’s Rod Laver arena, the Matchbox 20 frontman bore out the botched priorities of Australia’s border control and was permitted to publicly sing such hits as I Feel Things Very Deeply But In A Totally Heterosexual Way and This is the Sound the Hegemon Makes. If this news were not bad enough, apparently, he engaged in “banter” with his audience of devout clonazepam fans as well.
Perhaps you have heard that Thomas made an appalling “joke” to match his appalling noises. I would be surprised if you had not as the incident was very widely reported and is just the sort of toilet paper scrap that sticks to one’s heel of consciousness notwithstanding all efforts to loose it. Thomas has attempted to explain the “joke” in which he characterised himself as drinking to the point where he was sufficiently drunk to feel like a “Black Australian” twice now on Facebook. What he hasn’t really done, though, is apologise.
Look. I’m hardly the sort to demand acts of public redemption. I admire, for example, the fuck out of Charlie Sheen for his ongoing refusal to take the prong of regret between his lips and tell us all that he is so, so sorry when he is plainly still enjoying the ’90s and is really not sorry at all. However, if Charlie had stood on stolen land and rubbished, intentionally or not, its comprehensively ripped-off custodians, even I would expect remorse.
Thomas has not provided this, to date. While it may be true that his remarks did not have a racist basis, it is also true that one must be contrite without question when one has fucked up abroad. At 18, I wore a halter top into Damascus’ Umayyad Mosque. I wish I could tell you that I did not try to argue with the caretaker that I was an honoured guest of Abraham and should be welcomed, as per the instructions of the Quran, to ponce about in a handkerchief if I wished. I cannot. But, I can say that I eventually learned that when the expatriate is said by her hosts to be in error, then, she is in error.
If you happen to get your tits out in a mosque, you cover up and apologise. And, if you happen to ram into a delicate national issue hitherto unknown to you, you do the same.
But, Thomas remains chiefly concerned not that he has offended his hosts but that his hosts have misinterpreted his intention. As is the case with many celebrity apologies, the apologist is only sorry that he has been misunderstood.
Let’s allow that Thomas has been misunderstood. Actually, if one looks at the TMZ footage of the “joke”, it seems that this was the case. The “joke” does not have, as suggested by multiple news outlets, “Black Australians” as its punchline, but clumsily proceeds elsewhere. One could go on about how these same news organisations who are currently remonstrating Thomas have themselves for many years uncritically supported the racist “they can’t handle their drink” myth (yes, it’s a fucking myth) to the point they permitted the NT Intervention. I lost count of the Sunday colour supplement stories telling soft liberal lies about the rivers of grog. But, all of this is by the by and does not change the fact that whether he intended to give offence or no, the guy from Matchbox 20 should probably get this sorry thing right for several reasons.
First, as mentioned, he’s a guest and guests must behave. Second, he is either disingenuous or a monumental dill to think that Australia’s were the only colonists in all history that had elevated an indigenous population to such a position of cultural and material primacy that it was totes cool to reference this divide freely. I mean, what sort of imported white dick just lets loose with the racialised funnies in Johannesburg? Third, if you’re going to apologise, you apologise and you don’t just whine that you’ve been misunderstood.
I’m sure the chap feels awful. I am prepared to believe that he has examined his intentions — unlike the many media outlets who have told lies for decades about indigenous Australia — and found them pure. I am also going to suggest that Rob Thomas, of all people, is now in the middle of an interesting opportunity to really examine the democratic potential of a public apology. One that does not, as I believe that more official “Sorry” did, mythologise the kindness of the white apologist, but one that really does force white Australia to examine its regret.
Thomas could contact one of scores of indigenous thinkers and leaders and humbly ask for some good advice on this score. The remainder of his tour on Aboriginal land could be given over to some deep thought on the matter of colonisation. Or, he could keep saying that he has been misunderstood by a nation as though she is some heartless beauty in a Matchbox 20 song.
If he chooses to do something a little more courageous, though, we must all be prepared in future to think of him more kindly than we would of Nickelback.