The Song That Mark Co-Wrote
By Jake Vigliotti
July 27, 2004
“With this the letter, I signed, resigned,” is what the sketchpad said.
He even said it like that, but it didn’t seem right.
Mark said to him, “The song is an active song, we should end it with an action.”
Dave agreed, and he flipped the ending words.
“With this resigned, the letter, I signed.”
That was about the only change Mark Roebuck made to Dave Matthews’ lyrics to The Song That Jane Likes. Mark did add lyrics he wrote, but we’ll get to that eventually. Who knew that the two bartenders’ songwriting adventure would produce a song that still draws raucous applause from the crowds.
You probably know Mark Roebuck only by his name in the Remember Two Things liner notes. Who is this guy? Why did Dave write a song with him? Why did he write a song with Dave?
In order to get to the bottom of the hows and whys, you have to go back to the 1980’s and give a listen to who was playing music around Virginia.
Mark was a member of another band to come out of Charlottesville, The Deal. They came within an “aching whisper”, as Mark puts it, of going national. A series of bad breaks is all that kept The Deal from being the predecessor to DMB and their success. The Deal’s first album was recorded in the same studio in Bearsville where DMB did their first studio album. In 1988, The Deal was done. They broke up in the fall of that year.
It’s 1989. Charlottesville is one of the most sanguine cities in the US. An eclectic group of musicians frequented the bar scene. They mixed with the artists that lived downtown. Bars had open-mic nights for poetry. Anyone who lived through that time looks back at it nostalgically. Mark is in Charlottesville, and like every other musician in C’ville, he’s a bartender. Every night after the bars close, all the bartenders would get together somewhere, anywhere, and drink. Eastern Standard’s Mark Roebuck ran into Miller’s Dave Matthews. Mark knew Dave from his singing - basically freestyling - a few songs during TR3 shows. (TR3 was a Tim Reynolds-led band) Mark’s reputation is as a gifted songwriter, Dave’s is a yearning songwriter.
Mark and Dave get together, pass around the Jack Daniels – or Evan Williams to save a bit of cash – and play songs. Both are self-taught guitar players. Mark is a natural lefty who plays guitar right-handed, with his dominant left hand making the chords. He is a rhythm guitar player. Dave, well, Dave is something entirely different. He plays a lead guitar part and sings. No one does that.
“I’ve never seen anyone play a guitar like him.”
They decide to take a look at Dave’s sketchbook.
Mark’s admittedly a bit hazy on the month, and even the year, but the details remain fresh in his mind. “Dave always had this sketchbook with him, with drawings, partial lyrics, etcetera.” But Dave had never finished a song.
Dave plays chords with some phrases from his sketchbook. What he plays is The Song That Jane Likes. But it wasn’t The Song That Jane Likes. It has no middle. Dave doesn’t know how songwriting works. Mark writes songs all the time. He was in a successful band. So Mark takes a shot at the fragmented song.
“The song seemed to me like it was about being away from a loved one, and longing to get back [to her]. I did the middle part, using [playing] cards, like the cards of fate you’re dealt, and then the sea, kind of like being out on a ship, and going where the tide takes you. I just played with those metaphors.”
Mark added in his part, and, as you now know, got Dave to flip the end lyrics. To this day, Mark’s still not exactly sure what the true meaning of the song is. “I have no clue what ‘in plays to write the wire in’ means”, he admits.
The provocative writing is part of what attracted Mark to Dave. Even back then, the sketchbook also contained parts of what would become the current DMB catalog. Dave played What Would You Say for Mark and a few friends one night a few years later. It was probably the first time Dave played it for anyone. When the song ended, Mark’s comment was, “Bear ate its head? What’s that mean?” Everyone else loved the line. Mark loved it too, but still didn’t know what it meant. It stayed.
“Some of Dave’s stuff resists interpretation.”
As Dave wrote more songs, he’d give Mark a dry-run listen, and Mark would honestly tell him what he thought. Maybe a slight change here, a different word there; nothing too big. In 1991, songs like Ants Marching, Spotlight, and Satellite made it by Mark before they made it by too many people. Mark remembers the song Spotlight. “That’s the one with the line ‘peachy’? Dave said that people used to tell him to change that line, but (Dave) said, ‘I can’t, I love that word!’”
Dave and Mark completed their song. Now all it needs is a name. “I guess he was playing the song around the house in its partial state, and Jane, Dave’s sister, liked it a lot. I said to him, ‘What are we going to call it?’ He said, ‘we’re going to call it The Song That Jane Likes.’ There was no question (or debate) about it.” The Song That Jane Likes it is.
During that 1989 timeframe, Dave and Mark wrote a few songs together. The song Imagine We Were is copyrighted by Mark Roebuck and Dave Matthews (the online version misspells Dave’s last name). Mark wrote some others on his own, and Dave and Mark sang In God’s Country, from U2’s The Joshua Tree. They sang all these songs, and played their guitars for Greg Howard and recorded them in his studio. Greg rolled the 8-track reel to reel, and even added some keyboards on a few songs. Dave and Mark recorded 10 songs in two separate sessions. The recording, called Tribe of Heaven, was shopped around but did not get picked up. The Song That Jane Likes was in record limbo. A few years ago, Mark had a copy of the original 8-track recording burned onto compact disc.
In 1990, Mark filed a copyright on behalf of Dave, giving Dave 75% of The Song That Jane Likes. He took 25% for his contributions. With that, the first DMB song legally became a song. But it wasn’t a DMB song. It was a Dave and Mark song on the Tribe of Heaven project.
Dave returned to Greg’s studio in the fall of 1990, almost a year after the Tribe of Heaven effort, and recorded 4 tracks of his own. Three he wrote himself, and the remaining song was from the Tribe of Heaven project, The Song That Jane Likes. That’s why it’s known as a DMB song now.
Speaking of the songs that Dave wrote, there has always been a slight mystery of what song came first. Dave often says that I’ll Back You Up was the first song he completed. But in 1992 (September 1 to be precise), Dave said, “My friend is here tonight that wrote this song with me. It’s the first song I finished and I finished it with my pal Mark Roebuck… this is called The Song That Jane Likes.”
“My Memory is that I’ll Back You Up was Dave’s second song.” Mark recalls.
Mark’s favorite DMB song is I’ll Back You Up. He fell in love with it the first time Dave played it for him, and Mark notes that Dave didn’t sound like that when he had first heard Dave play. "The learned process had not applied (when we began writing). If he wrote (I’ll Back You Up) first, he didn’t need any crafting from me.”
It’s 1991. In addition to the stuff on I love the 90’s that VH-1 has the guy from “Ed” tell you is important from that year, Dave tricks some talented musicians, Carter Beauford, and Leroi Moore, to help him on another demo. They find a talented 16-year old to play bass, Stefan Lessard. They asked a popular C’ville bar-band regular to guest on a song for the demo, so Boyd Tinsley sat in on Tripping Billies. The guys had a lot of fun, and they played a free show on Earth Day, 1991. Then they played a private party in May. Steady work would be nice. Enter Mark. Again. He’s already filed the first copyright for a DMB song, why can’t he further use his connections and help out in other ways?
Mark is still tending bar at Eastern Standard. The Eastern Standard could use a regular act, so why not the skinny kid with a few songs to his name? Mark talks to the owner, and DMB got their weekly gig. It’s their first recurring gig, and first regular paychecks. Every Tuesday is DMB live, playing their seven or so original songs, with a few Beatles and Bob Marley covers mixed in. DMB is very grateful for the $50 a show and all-you-can-drink bonus that came with it. Even from the beginning, they’re packing ‘em in! The crowd took immediately to DMB. Life is good at the Eastern Standard. There’s a guy named Dempsey who used to videotape performances of all the bands around town. People who’ve seen the videos from back then say you can see the same energy that DMB has now. Everything was, well, ‘peachy’. Then Mark got fired from Eastern Standard. Mark wasn’t too upset, because he was tired of the bartending thing, and it sent two careers soaring.
DMB left Eastern Standard shortly thereafter; Mark always heard it was because of his firing. Then DMB met Coran Capshaw, of Trax nightclub. Now the chrematistic Mr. Capshaw manages one of the largest bands in the world. I think you know that story.
Mark went to California, came back to Virginia, got a masters degree, and now is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. You know he still plays music. “Songwriting is my thing,” he says. His musical career helps with his job today. He keeps a mini-guitar at his office, and he’ll teach kids to play Smoke On The Water, Deep Purple’s legacy to the musically challenged. “If nothing else, they’ll leave knowing how to play one song.”
Don’t bother looking for a live recording of Dave and Mark doing STJL. The two never performed the song live together. In the mid-90’s, Mark did the song live a few times, but it didn’t feel right. “The Chords are just so [Dave]. Musically, it has his stamp.” He’d still love to try it once with Dave and the DMB, but his modesty is overwhelming. “I don’t know where I’d fit in. They’re all great players.”
Don’t believe his hype. He still plays in a band too. Big Circle is made up of a newer version of the old C’ville All-Stars, a Best Of What’s Around of musicians. They play a weekly show every Tuesday at the Outback Lodge in Charlottesville. They also have an album coming out, through Notlame Recordings. There’s even going to be a record release party – a la what DMB pulled off many times in C’ville – in October. It’s what they like to call ‘power pop’, and it features Mark’s strong songwriting.
The Tribe of Heaven CD will be released some time in 2004 (keep checking the link for the exact date – but it will be this year). The version of Song That Jane Likes is slightly different from the version we know. The release features 9 tracks (one song, Stillborn Child written by Mark and Dave did not make the cut). Dave and his old Tribe of Heaven co-writer Mark still keep in touch. When Dave makes it back to C’ville, he and Mark usually get together. They usually talk about the old times – kind of a ‘walk in time’ with the ‘old friends’. They think to back when one bartender helped another bartender write his first song, copyright it, and get his new band their first gig. Things worked out pretty well for both guys.
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