Rob Thomas is the next Bob Dylan

Just when the weather starts to get hot in Upstate South Carolina, just when cotton candy starts to wither in the humidity and Tilt-a-Whirls can make youngsters puke in one spin, just when you think, “Damn, it’s time for the stupid summer festivals to start…,” well, that’s when the commercials for Freedom Weekend Aloft start playing on the TV and Radio.

Stick with me here. On Memorial Day Weekend, we South Carolinians (or, at least the South Carolinians without something else to do–I will be giving the dog a bath, organizing my iTunes, and talking to Mormon door-knockers) celebrate Freedom Weekend Aloft. You got it right, folks. Aloft. This is an entire weekend of bad carnival rides, hot air balloons (hence, aloft), and b-list rock bands. If you’re trying to make a decision about whether to go, I would ask if you wouldn’t rather get your tongue tattooed or go to a Danielle Steele book festival.

The highlight of my week thus far was the promo for this year’s concert line-up. Collective Soul (Heaven, if you have the chance, let your light shine down, and if not, let me sing through a distorted microphone and let people believe I have a lot of talent) will be one of the bands on stage. But headlining…gawd, I feel like Santa here…is Rob Thomas.

That’s right. Former frontman for the much-ballyhooed Matchbox 20 is going to be headlining a hot air balloon festival. It’s perhaps so embarassing that the show isn’t even listed on his Ticketmaster page.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who can make a lifetime career out of music is certainly someone worthy of some respect and admiration. My point is this: The mighty can fall so quickly these days, it’s barely worth considering anyone mighty until they have been around for five or six years without being the main attraction at an event that has a Tilt-a-Whirl.

For the past five or six years, I’ve developed a reputation among my friends for my 1990s rock band singer voice. To do this voice, think Eddie Vedder singing the chorus to “Alive,” sing from the back of your throat, and say “Ehhhhhhhh, Ahhhhhhh” a lot. This started as a parody of how every band to come out of the 1990s could have had the same lead singer and nobody would’ve noticed. I consider Rob Thomas to be among the chief examples of this phenomenon, which is why I’m so happy he’s headlining a balloon exhibition

In recent years, I’ve noticed a couple of other phenomenon’s in pop music culture. The first was the “Dave Matthews Syndrome.” To do this voice and become the next hot frontman, work on your falsetto voice and reference Five For Fighting to make sure you have the tone down correctly. Perhaps the most blatant recent singer tend is the “John Mayer Experience.” This one is not as easy to do, but once Mayer gave us his sensitive, arsty, suburban white boy, picking guitar and signing with an airy half-rasp, music producers tripped over their stacks of money to find as many people like him before America ran out of arsty white boys and pubescent girls who love them. If you need any indication this is true, witness the Teddy Geiger
CD in my wife’s car.

(As I reached the end of this paragraph, my wife laughed, smiled condescendingly, and said, “Too bad honey. You were just a little too old to be the artsy, suburban, guitar-picking guy. You could’ve gotten so much pussy with that.”)

Back in the 1990s, a folk-satire artist (someone once called him post-punk) named Wally Pleasant sang a song called “Sons of Bob Dylan.” The basic premise is that Bob Dylan kicked off a few generations of new Bob Dylans, including Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty. I suppose the concept is that there is rarely any true originality (funny, I think I’ve just penned any entire post about the lack of originality that was based on earlier works about the rarity of originality…).

Here are some of the lyrics:

Bob Dylan was the first Bob Dylan
Who was billed as “the next Woody Guthrie”
He travelled this land with pen in hand
And wrote about what a mess it was in
Bob Dylan was the first Bob Dylan

Lou Reed was the next Bob Dylan
And he was ready able and willin’
To study the urban landscape with a cynical grin
He wrote about S&M and heroin
Lou Reed was the next Bob Dylan

Bruce Springsteen was the next Bob Dylan
A working-class blue-collar spokesman
Columbia Records found him on the Jersey shore
Rolling Stone says “the future of rock and roll”
Bruce Springsteen was the next Bob Dylan

Tom Petty was the next Bob Dylan
A late-nineteen-seventies Bob Dylan fill-in
He could really rock and roll with his Heartbreakers
Now he’s got season tickets to the Lakers
Tom Petty was the next Bob Dylan

And I wanna be the next Bob Dylan
Yeah I’ll make my imitation calculated and cheap
I’ll sing songs with a raspy attitude and voice
And people will think that I’m deep (let’s think about it)

Neil Young and Donovan, Billy Bragg
John Wesley Harding, Jackson Browne
Even the lead singer from Motley Crue
Has a little Bob Dylan in him

Rob Thomas is, in fact, not the next Bob Dylan, but you see my point. I mean, if we re-wrote Wally Pleasant’s song, Eddie Vedder was the first Eddie Vedder, who was billed as the next Jim Morrison… Rob Thomas was the next Eddie Vedder… You see my point.

To be fair, fans of the 1990s rock singer voice, the Dave Matthews Voice, the John Mayer Voice…all of them can say that a lot of my hippy jam-band, bluegrass, jam-grass, alt-country, folk music sounds the same. And, I’d be hardpressed to disagree.

But that won’t stop me from making fun of the Rob Thomas Balloon Exhibition for the next couple of weeks. Because, again to be fair, that shit is funny.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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9 Responses

  1. I’m still waiting for “the next William Hung”.

    SHE BANGS!!!

  2. Let me know they next time you listen to your Widespread Greatful Phish CD. Thanks! ;-P

    By the way, 6 degrees of musical separation. Rob Thomas is in Acadiana next weekend at Shorty’s, the new 24 hour casino with a 15-thousand square foot nightclub.

  3. I’ve actually seen live music at a hot air balloon festival. Yonder played on a flatbed trailer, and it was fucking beautiful.

    06/09/01 (Sat) Vermilion County Airport – Danville, IL

    Set 1: Easy As Pie, Good-Hearted Woman, Left Me In A Hole, Jesus On The Mainline > Elzic’s Farewell > Jesus On The Mainline, Hit Parade Of Love, Life’s Too Short, Half Moon Rising, High On A Hilltop, Bluegrass Breakdown, A Father’s Arms, New Horizons, Mossy Cow, If I Lose, The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me, Spanish Harlem Incident, Dawn’s Early Light > Boatman > Bolton Stretch > Peace Of Mind > Girlfriend Is Better > Peace Of Mind, E: Yes She Do (No She Don’t)

  4. First…what a damned set that must’ve been.

    Second, my point was not that people who play a hot air balloon festivals are bad…it was that Rob Thomas–Rolling Stone cover boy and one time arena rocker– is playing at a balloon festival.

    Third…I want to go to a Yonder show with you and my buddy Ted.

  5. Bob Dylan was at the Shrine Mosque March 25th in Springfield.

  6. Who is the next Rob Zombie?

  7. I saw Yonder at House of Blues in Chicago once, but I really don’t remember it much.

    I saw Little Feat there too. I don’t remember much of that whole night. Remind me to tell you THAT story sometime.

    Most importantly, if your wife actually said this :

    (As I reached the end of this paragraph, my wife laughed, smiled condescendingly, and said, “Too bad honey. You were just a little too old to be the artsy, suburban, guitar-picking guy. You could’ve gotten so much pussy with that.”)

    I hereby enter her into the Ted and G-Rob Otis-mocking Hall of Fame.


  8. To this day, every time Joe comes to my house he tries to steal that CD. Ah Wally, where are thee now?

    (and I think G-Rob is selling it a bit short – your wife should get a lifetime achievement award from the hall of mocking…)

  9. Anonymous Anonymous says:

    Who has the better life? A rock star that lives in a mansion with a model and gets to travel the world playing before thousands of people every night or a no-name blogger sitting in his basement writing about famous people?

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