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Title: ‘Mad Season’
Where to find it: ‘Mad Season’ (2000, Atlantic)
Performed by: Matchbox Twenty
Words by: Rob Thomas

As much as I think he’s a great songwriter, I never quite forgave Rob Thomas for recording ‘Smooth’ with Santana. It seems like lead singers (and lead songwriters for that matter) don’t understand how soul-crushing it is for the other members of a band when their leader goes off and does something without them. It’s unfortunate, because 1996’s ‘Yourself or Someone Like You’ was an amazing musical milestone, but momentum was lost. I don’t think Matchbox Twenty ever really fully recovered, and the unevenness of their sophomore album, 2000’s ‘Mad Season’, confirms this. I have the album and I’m always skipping tracks.

Compared to the rest of the album, ‘If You’re Gone’, ‘Bed of Lies’, and ‘Bent’ are all brilliant. They stand as excellent examinations in relationships gone wrong. But, at least in my perception, all three of these are very obvious lyrically. The title track ‘Mad Season’, in comparison, seems to have a beguiling split personality, and I give Thomas major props for having put on his own personal demons – substance addiction and mental illness – on public display through his words. I’m so sick of songs that are emotionally vacant lyrically in the 21st century. Get a clue, songwriters.

First, the words:

Verse 1
I feel stupid, but I know it won’t last for long
I’ve been guessing, and I coulda been guessing wrong
You don’t know me now
I kinda thought that you should somehow
Does that whole mad season got ya down?

Verse 2
Well, I feel stupid, but it’s something that comes and goes
I’ve been changing, I think it’s funny how no one knows
We don’t talk about the little things that we do without
When that whole mad season comes around

Pre-chorus
So why you gotta stand there, looking like the answer now?
It seems to me you’d come around

Chorus
I need you now
Do you think you can cope?
You figured me out, that I’m lost and I’m hopeless
I’m bleeding and broken, though I’ve never spoken
I come undone, in this mad season

Verse 3
I feel stupid, but I think I been catching on
I feel ugly, but I know I still turn you on
You’ve grown colder now, torn apart, angry, turned around
Will that whole mad season knock you down?

Pre-chorus
So are you gonna stand there, are you gonna help me out?
We need to be together now

Chorus
I need you now
Do you think you can cope?
You figured me out, that I’m lost and I’m hopeless
I’m bleeding and broken, though I’ve never spoken
I come undone, in this mad season

Bridge
And now I’m crying
Isn’t that what you want?
And I’m trying to live my life on my own
But I won’t, no
At times I do believe I am strong
So someone tell me why, why, why
Do I, I, I feel stupid
And I come undone
And I come undone

Chorus
I need you now
Do you think you can cope?
You figured me out, that I’m lost and I’m hopeless
I’m bleeding and broken, though I’ve never spoken

Extended end chorus
Well, I need you now
Do you think you can cope?
You figured me out, I’m a child and I’m hopeless
I’m bleeding and broken though I’ve never spoken
I come, come undone
In this mad season
In this mad season
It’s been a mad season

Now, the analysis:

Thanks to the internet, back in 1997, I discussed the meaning of the songs of ‘Yourself and Someone Like You’ with a girl I met online who was, how do I put this nicely, obsessed with the band that was then known as matchbox20. I didn’t know much about the band and it was really helpful to learn more about Rob Thomas, the relationships he’d had, his mother’s battle with cancer (which coloured ‘3 AM’), and his own battles with drugs and anxiety. I’d always sensed that the best songwriters who had suffered through life were the ones I tended to gravitate towards, and in some strange way, I felt closer to him, once I understood where his words came from.

On and off over the last 17 years, Matchbox Twenty have made their name with songs on dysfunctional relationships: single ‘She’s So Mean’ from their latest album ‘North’ is so damn catchy, but it won’t win any awards in the lyrical meaning department. But as I mentioned in the introduction, I find ‘Mad Season’ genius because it’s not obvious. Is about a man getting upset with his woman? Is it about two friends talking? What is this “mad season” he keeps going on about? And who’s the person suffering in this “mad season”? Let’s discuss…

Verses 1 and 2 show Thomas in one of his usual self-deprecating writing styles: he’s calling himself stupid, or at least admitting “I feel stupid”. But then he goes on to say that it’s a feeling that “won’t last long” and “comes and goes”. I read this as self-doubt. Probably the most difficult part of life for a person suffering from any sort of mental illness is not being able to control your moods. You can feel fine and “high” from life at one moment, not knowing that you’re going to plummet at some given time soon in the future. At its worst, mental illness without professional help is a ridiculous roller coaster of emotions, and we’ve lost some of the greatest minds of our time from this, simply because they could not cope.

Throughout the song, the voice is talking to someone who he’s become frustrated with. I think it’s too easy to assume that the person he’s talking to has to be a woman, his wife, his girlfriend, his lover, whatever. I like how if you choose to, you can read most of this song as if he’s talking to his best friend, whether that best friend be male or female. The point is, he’s trying to talk to this person who’s very close to him and he’s saying, “I thought you understood me. But clearly, you haven’t been listening to the signals I’ve been sending out. I’m in pain. And you couldn’t hear me.” This is evident in the lines “You don’t know me now / I kinda thought that you should somehow”. These two people are no longer on the same wavelength anymore. The other person was someone he trusted, but it’s become painfully evident to him that the person just doesn’t understand what he’s going through, if he/she can’t see how badly he’s hurt.

Probably the most unique part of this song is how Thomas employs this image of “this mad season” throughout. In the first verse, he’s asking the person, “Does that whole mad season got ya down?” It seems strange, given that he’s the one one feeling stupid. Shouldn’t he be the one caught up in this mad season? Maybe, maybe not. The easiest explanation to what “mad season” is the protagonist of the song getting caught up in his hurt, which is causing him to “come undone” from life. (The words “come undone” are an echo of Duran Duran’s ‘Come Undone’, from their 1993 “Wedding Album”, another song I adore.) However, asking the other person how the mad season is affecting him/her seems to indicate a more vengeful side to Thomas’ protagonist.

See verse 3. Oof. The question to him/her is asked again. But look at the context. “I feel stupid, but I think I been catching on”: he feels stupid for being misled, but he’s woken up from this dream he had about their perfect relationship. “I feel ugly, but I know I still turn you on”: okay, this is the one place in the song where I concede it’s probably been written as a poison pen letter to a lover. He lacks self-esteem, and it sucks that they no longer have that magical connection they used to, but he’s got an ace in his pocket: he knows that deep down, she still fancies him. Score! “You’ve grown colder now, torn apart, angry, turned around / Will that whole mad season knock you down?” These lines bring a smile to my face. He’s come to his senses. Thank god. She’s the one in the “mad” state now: like a wounded animal that doesn’t know what to think and can’t control her emotions, she’s the one experiencing the turmoil, and he’s watching her make this terrible transformation. The upshot is in verse 2, “I’ve been changing, I think it’s funny how no one knows”: hooray, he’s come to his senses. Yet no-one else has caught on that he has, in a way, grown up.

You’re probably wondering at this point why I’ve avoided discussing the chorus. Now I will, and you will see why. Let’s do the pre-chorus first. The first pre-chorus reads “So why you gotta stand there, looking like the answer now?” This doesn’t make sense until you’ve figured out he’s not only hurt, he’s also angry. You know how when people break up, usually the one who’s getting dumped will initially be all like “you’re making a big mistake. You’re going to be so sorry you dumped me. I was the best thing to ever happen to you”? It’s called saving face. She thinks him getting rid of her is the worst decision he ever made, because she’s somehow perfect. “It seems to me you’d come around”: she’s so full of herself, she couldn’t see he was the one that needed help. She needed to stop thinking about herself and realise they had a problem. “So are you gonna stand there, are you gonna help me out? / We need to be together now” echoes these feelings, though I think instead of the physical “together”, he’s saying they need to be on the same page.

Next, the chorus. “I need you now / Do you think you can cope?” Is she even strong enough or giving enough to be the support he needs? It’s not made clear in here, even when you get to the end. “You figured me out, that I’m lost and I’m hopeless / I’m bleeding and broken, though I’ve never spoken”: most men have trouble expressing their emotions. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do, but he never said what issues he was dealing with, but he’s upset that she couldn’t pick up on how badly he was hurting. People who are close to each other, best friends, they don’t need to be obvious or say outright what is wrong. Best friends should be able to sense something’s wrong. And friends step in and offer support, even if they can’t help fix the problem.

I have problems with the bridge. I’m not saying that I hate the bridge. Far from it. I find it so, so cutting. “And now I’m crying / Isn’t that what you want?” As much as I think men should cry when they’re upset – us women do it enough, don’t we? – because I think it would help men get closer to accepting their emotions and therefore be willing to put their own on the line like we do in relationships, it’s painful hearing this part of the song. “And I’m trying to live my life on my own / But I won’t, no”: this poor guy is struggling with trying to get away from the feelings he has from this woman. BUT HE CAN’T. What is the problem, I wonder? Is his head stuck in an idealised relationship? No, I think he just really, really loved her. And on some level, he still loves her, as evidenced by “At times I do believe I am strong / So someone tell me why, why, why / Do I, I, I feel stupid / And I come undone”: there are moments where he think he can break free of this relationship, but he’s wondering aloud why other times he’s weak and can’t, even though he’s recognised what they had is over. Not being able to free yourself from the emotional shackles of a relationship is probably one of the worst feelings in the world. You’re suffering and no-one else on the outside can see what pain you’re feeling on the inside.

I also wish to bring your attention to the line from the chorus “You figured me out, that I’m lost and I’m hopeless”: there seems to be some level of sadism that he’s sensed on her side. He thinks she knows how terrible he’s feeling about himself. That makes this situation further upsetting: she’s “standing there” knowing he feels “lost” and “hopeless”, yet she’s not willing to be the bigger person to help him. Whether the sadism is real or imagined, this is most definitely a relationship he needs to get out of, if only for the preservation of his own self-worth. Again, I can see this applying to friendships that have gone sour. No-one wants to be in a friendship where you feel like you’re being used. Unfortunately, it’s a hell lot easier to talk about the strength you need to leave someone than to let it come out from within and actually act.

Lastly, the song, in its promo video. I still remember seeing this video on Total Request Live and thinking it was the funniest thing ever, with its nods to Beatlemania and West Side Story. Now, though, I think it was Rob Thomas who decided he needed to add some levity to the subject matter of the song by making the video very funny.

Possibly too, the video was done this way to just show you how ‘mad’ the music business really is. The moment where the fangirls grab their “ROCK STAR” necklaces and then run away, even though the band are still sitting in the limo and they could have hung out with them, reminds me of a conversation I had once at SXSW over how fangirls/boys often fall in love with the objects of their affection and are blinded by the image they see: the guys and girls they see onstage. They seem unable to understand that the rock star you see onstage is a real person and an entirely different one to the person they are when they’re offstage. I think about all the bands I’ve become friends with and how very uncomfortable I’ve been, surrounded by girls who want nothing more out of life than to sleep with my guy friends just to say they’ve slept with a rock star. Awkward. As one of the few women who run a music Web site, I don’t think my band friends realise just how awkward this is.

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