Second Opinion: Not So Smooth (Ft. Rob Thomas)

Frenzal Rhomb guitarist, ex-Triple J presenter, media man about town and renowned nonsense-talker Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall brings his seasoned take on the latest bullshit in the music world to Music Feeds.


Hey Rob. Woah, dude. You blew it. You went down that well-trodden road of slick-pop-crooner-making-a-joke-about-drinking, but you slipped over in the dog turd of casual racism. I know where you were going. A cheeky quip, a smile and a wink, like Dean Martin, maybe a little bit Hemingway, or Tom Waits and his immortal line “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”.

But I wonder if the latter option would have been preferable in your case, Rob. Or at least a frontal ROB-otomy (get it?). Because the thing is, that thing that you said, THAT thing, it’s a part of you, Rob. It was inside your brain and you let it fall out.

I have read your protestations about the way the media has edited your words. And I have seen the whole “joke”. I can see the moment when you realised the punchline didn’t work, and (at least to my ears) hastily added the next two lines (about the little girl and your wife) in an attempt to make it all go away. Smooth, Rob, very smooth.

“Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it.”. Well, Rob Thomas, just as you suggested in the only song of yours I know any of the lyrics to, you did give us your heart, your real heart, and sadly now we can’t forget about it.

Of course Rob, like you, I drink a lot, I know lots of people who drink a lot. And I have said and have heard said many silly things when I and my friends are drunk. Dumb ideas, strange concepts or ill-thought out arguments rise up from our throats like the inevitable bile the next morning. “We should jump over THAT” or “THIS is why I should be Prime Minister” or “OF COURSE this band in this pub wants me to get up and sing on this song”. But, unlike your brain Rob, no matter how cock-eyed, arse-faced or ball-chested drunk we get, none of us think it’s cool to publicly make a joke linking excessive alcohol consumption to black people.

And I’m not pleading ignorance, I grew up in The Shire for heaven’s sake (look it up). I know what the jokes are, I’ve heard them (and as a kid no doubt repeated them), I just got to a point in my life where education, or knowing the right people, or just fucking opening my fucking eyes to the world a-fucking-round me, made me I realise that those jokes are not cool, are not nice, and are not funny. You’ve been to a lot of places Rob, you’ve played a lot of gigs to a lot of people in a lot of countries. WHY THE FUCK did you still think it was an okay joke to make?

“But come on Lindsay, he apologised”. He sure did. After the show, after getting called out on it by his mates backstage. And that “apology” and the subsequent “explanation” have been dissected enough, but come on dude, if you need to wait until you get off stage to “discover” that thing you said linking alcohol and black people isn’t the right thing to say, (although in the video you seemed pretty aware of at the time) then maybe you need to do a whole lot of thinking.

I did some thinking Rob, I tried to understand. I say a whole lot of dumb shit. A lot of it on stage. And a lot of that dumb shit has consequences.

One year at the Big Day Out, we were about to play our hit* single Ball Chef, a jaunty tune about those good humans tasked with preparing “Rocky Mountain Oysters” or buffalo testicles for eager consumers. Our much-better spoken singer Jason was explaining that these are indeed a menu item in parts of America, something we’d seen for ourselves. I decided to add an extra element to the narrative, albeit a false one, and exclaimed “In fact if you go backstage, Chino from the Deftones is chewing down on a big plate of balls right now!”

Turns out that things you say on stage have a habit of getting back to the people you say them about, and an hour or so later Jason (who is often the target for reprisals being our tallest and most identifiable member) was being cornered by Chino and his merry music-makers, and being told things like “You used the D-word for your own devices!” and “If we were back in Sacramento, I’d shoot you in the foot”.

(Myf, Jason and I got to bring this up to Deftones in a triple j interview a few years later, but sadly that audio was erased to make room for the new Wolfmother single or something.)

Frenzal Rhomb on stage at Big Day Out 2012 (Photo: Andrew Pittman)

And rewind back to another Big Day Out (remember when Australia had heaps of big touring festivals?) where we had taken to the stage after that cool Sydney pop group Waikiki (who became Howling Bells and moved to London). They’d had issues during their set with our boisterous fans chanting for us and yelling dumb things at Juanita and her band, which Jason was keen to address.

Unfortunately I didn’t realise and while Jason started to talk to our crowd about Waikiki, I instead decided to bang on about a substandard amusement park ride I’d just been on that I could see poking out behind the stadium. And in my usual style, I talked right over Jason’s little speech. So what the audience heard was “Hey, who just saw Waikiki play? I just wanna say…” “… was a pile of shit!”. Which is of course what Juanita and Joel heard. And no amount of explaining would get us back in their good books.

See Rob, I know these things happen. I’ve said really dumb things and vainly tried to apologise. We’ve been threatened by Deftones, we made Waikiki upset. Not only that, once, some of our band had to hide in the van while Slipknot tried to find us. And, there was that one time I got “beaten up” by the Wu Tang Clan (which is probably another story for another time [ED: First draft by Monday please] ). But never, in all the stupid things I’ve said, have I, or any of my friends, ever thought that dropping a little casual racism into a joke in front of ten thousand people was okay.

I believe that you know it’s not okay now. But you did, that was in your brain, in your heart, and that’s what makes people so upset. I’m hoping that it also made you upset, and not just your grasping pretence of people not understanding the joke. Hopefully this is the start of some long-time-coming learning for you. And the start of some learning for everyone who thinks that it wasn’t racist or all the “he’s a beautiful human with a beautiful heart” platitudes on Twitter (including from a couple of accounts who have only ever tweeted at you before turning their attention to me).

It’s only the seventh week of 2016, and it’s been another bad week for dumb racist things done by celebrities in Australia, but you get to do something about it.

Because now you’ve got this platform, and now everyone is waiting for what you’re gonna do next.

May I suggest before you do, you should read, listen to, or even have a chat with people much more educated on this sort of thing. People like Dr Anita Heiss, Stan Grant, Nakkiah Lui, Briggs, Thelma Plum, Joe Williams, Dameyon Bonson, the great people at Indigenous X, and probably another ten thousand people on social media (me included) who want you to do better.

And, just one more time because it’s quite fitting (and once again because it’s the only lyrics of yours I know): “Give me your heart, make it real, or else forget about it”  *cue sweet guitar riff*.

Stay smooth (Ft, Rob Thomas),


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