Matchbox 20 songwriter Rob Thomas’ hard life is in his lyrics

Matchbox 20’s debut album has been in Billboard’s Top 200 for 74 weeks.

By Kevin Ransom/ Special to The Detroit News

Matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas is only 25 years old, but he has a wisdom beyond his years — a perspective gleaned from living a hard life.

On the surface, the songs Thomas writes for Matchbox could pass for shiny-snappy alterna-pop ditties. But dig a little deeper and you’ll hear lyrics riddled with emotional turmoil, confusion and self-doubt.

That's not surprising for a guy who, when he was only 12, became primary caretaker — and sole emotional support — for his cancer-stricken mother after doctors gave her six months to live. She survived, but the experience aged Thomas. He left home at 17 and spent the next three years drifting through a rootless, virtually homeless existence.

“I guess those experiences do build a person’s character,” says Thomas, who brings his chart-topping band to Pine Knob on Tuesday for a sold-out show. “Going through those situations gave me a perspective that I wouldn’t have if I’d only looked at one side of life.”

At the moment, Thomas’ life is definitely on the up side. Matchbox 20’s debut album, Yourself or Someone Like You, has sold 7 million copies, has logged a phenomenal 74 straight weeks in Billboard’s Top 200 album chart and is currently in the No. 15 slot. Matchbox also snagged Best New Band honors in Rolling Stone magazine’s 1998 Readers Poll — beating out the likes of Prodigy and the Wallflowers.