A THIRD EYE BLIND MEMORANDUM
by Van the 3eb Fan
After four years of listening to Third Eye Blind, I'm still smitten. Still ever eager to hear more. Still trying to figure why this incredible band is so overlooked by critics and the musical community altogether. Which is not to say that Third Eye Blind has not been in, thrived and remained in the spotlight. I only mean to say that this San Francisco quartet has been tossed into the bin of late nineties post-grunge pop rockers. This angers me. It is simply a pathetic dismissal. Also, lest I fail to mention, Third Eye Blind might just be too smart for pop culture to dig just yet. Just as Elvis shook below the waist and was censored because he was misunderstood (or too understood), so is 3EB taken for something they most certainly are not - another bunch of pretty pop rockers poised for Carson Daly and the TRL generation. This is just not happening. Why? These guys are the real thing. Which is rarefied these days. Simply put, Third Eye Blind is too good.
Undeniably centered around the always ingenious and quite often naughty lyricism of the cantankerous front man, Stephan Jenkins, Third Eye Blind poses questions with their songs that often go unanswered, by themselves or anybody for that matter. The mere mention of Third Eye Blind being anyway similar to bands such as Matchbox Twenty (I once heard a critic refer to them as Matchbox Blind) or other ready-made, genre-pegged, prepackaged bands like Limp Bizkit (I beg the tangential question: Where would this ridiculous rap-metal genre be without the ingenuity of Faith No More and the Beastie Boys?), makes me cringe until my face implodes and I become annoyed to the point that I have to write memorandums such as this at five in the morning. Third Eye Blind is perhaps the most innovative, energetic and interesting pop rock group out there these days. Let me tell you just why.
My freshmen year at college I was a DJ at the campus radio station when a copy of Third Eye Blind's first album found me (I am listening to this very same "Promotional Copy" right now). I immediately wanted to marry it. Figuratively, I did. At the time, my favorite track was "Burning Man" (I was alone, away from mommy and daddy, had a surplus of leftover teenage angst - I was empathizing), and I grew more and more intrigued with the album on the whole. I would listen to the entire thing beginning to end and over again because there was something different in this music. There was something I could not pinpoint, something I still can't properly describe with any level of satisfaction (language always defeats meaning), that I simply fell in love with. I do not use the word "love" loosely, either. I love the music. Always have and always will. Anyway, I was soon trying to turn on my friends to the band. But, much to my chagrin, it simply did not take. They did not "dig" 3EB as I so earnestly did and still do. I didn't get it. Mind you, this was during that time when Dave Matthews took over the phony title of "true musician" in the realm of pop rock. This is a myth unto itself in that pop rock, by its very nature, is not a matter of what is "true" or "talented" but rather what sells. Here was Stephan Jenkins cultivating such magnificent lyrics such as "...Visions of you on a motorcycle drive-by, the cigarette ash it flies in your eyes but you don't mind, You smile and say this world doesn't fit you, I don't believe you, You are so serene, careening through the universe, your axis on a tilt, you're guiltless and free, I hope you take a piece of me with you..." Ladies and gentle strangers, that is incredible writing. Every heard of alliteration? Well, it is the formula of a lot of Stephan's lyrics, and that isn't easy. Stephan has read some books. Alongside him were Kevin Cadogan on guitar, Brad Hargreaves on percussion and Arion Salazar on bass. Cadogan's guitar was a driving and undulating rhythm of tweaks and droning runs perfectly complimenting Jenkins' lyrical delivery (Narcolepsy being the perfect example). Meanwhile, Arion's bass was and remains a force to be reckoned with in it's sometimes thick, sometimes thin, and always hard-ass, swarming presence (take for example Thanks A Lot or the aching coda God of Wine). The guy plays the machine like it's a weapon. Be weary. And Brad's drumming was the icing on the cupcake, kids, as the percussion kicked in and saturated the music at hand, on such tracks on London and Semi-Charmed Life. Quickly I learned these guys were the real deal. In all fairness, picking and choosing songs dedicated to the work of one musician is nearly impossible if not arrogant. Third Eye Blind is a band with their own sound, not like that of anybody else out there. As band mates, they mesh so tightly as to make a sound so complete and so full that their debut album never lulls for a second. It's a masterpiece. So why wasn't anybody digging this stuff as much as I? Easy enough answer - Third Eye Blind was and still is too good. And then there is that everlasting stigma of the big hit. Need I even mention the name?
Just as Creep deflated Radiohead's credibility as a serious rock band (you might have heard of them recently, they've sort of transcended the one-hit wonder disease brought to you by none other than grocery store television such as the wretched MTV), so has Third Eye Blind long since passed the days of when their credibility went as far as the four and one half minutes of Semi-Charmed Life. They have moved on with a strange dismissal and accepted this dismissal with a cryptic grace that only underscores the actual beauty and genuineness of this band. Which is not to suggest that that song in particular has any specific flaw. If it did, I'd say it's just too catchy. Too catchy. Weezer has made millions off being simply catchy (I do like Weezer). Look at any one band who had that one song that you remember from that one summer that now is cache to hear and will soon be on some Time-Life Big Hits of The Time After Kurt Cobain Killed Himself Post-Grunge Pop-Rock Era! They're all catchy. Too fucking catchy. What I'm getting at is that I believe this time, after Semi-Charmed Life took over radio waves across the globe during the summer of 1997, 3EB has not been studied closely enough, if ever they were. The song's about death and crystal meth, as Jenkins has explained again and again. Yet it's a happy song. And I don't think it to be ironic. I think it to be honest. It's a pure, beautiful song full of brilliant writing and musicianship that takes an incredibly tender and difficult message and wraps it up in a unique and undeniably catchy package. I beg the question, what's the best elixir for pain? Laughter.
So Third Eye Blind's first album gets completely overlooked, in my opinion. Not in the most literal sense, but within a different mode of thinking. It was, indeed, too innovative and too goddamn good for critics and the pop-culture public alike to digest. Too much weight to it. How could a "one-hit wonder" band actually be talented? How could their album be that good? Wait a second? I thought these guys were a happy band? Play that one catchy song, honey. Did he just say panties? Something about a mattress? What's going on here?! Forget it, folks. These people didn't even listen to the whole album. Track 3, track 3, track 3! You come out with a nice gem of a rock and roll song and the mass public wants you to reproduce it a hundred times over. I beg the question - Do you stop reading a book after one chapter because, although very intriguing, the story changes after that? Sadly, people actually do this. Are you guilty? I am. Nevertheless, not in this case. I have been paying attention.
Still, back then and even today, I wonder why Third Eye Blind has not caught on to a bigger audience. They have two full albums of pure, innovative and important rock and roll. Yet, there is something about them that escapes them from more serious notice. As aforementioned, I can't pinpoint that exactly. And, in a way, that's the point. What it is about Third Eye Blind (who have now replaced guitarist Cadogan with the "monkey" Tony Fredianelli), that makes them so unassuming and unreachable? You can't really categorize them as pop-rock or alt-rock. They are somewhere in between. They escape categorization. Semi-Charmed won't allow them to be alt-rock because of it's popularity, and their simply too original and elusively high-brow to be too commercially accessible. This is a good thing. It makes them worth considering and reconsidering a thousand times over. They are ever-changing like everything alive. Culture wants to know what they are dealing with. We don't like mystery much anymore. We don't like the truth, either. We want the instant gratification shit like Smash Mouth and Crazy Town. It's easy and nice. The rub is that it's not at all good. It has no lasting aftertaste. It's there and then it's gone. Third Eye Blind lingers, makes people think. Most of mass culture doesn't like that - the challenge to think. Hence, maybe they skip to track 3 and move on.
I am twenty-four years old, and very few of my peers are into Third Eye Blind. Those who are took some convincing on my part. They had to listen. Oh, wait. I forgot that large element to the problem. We don't like to listen, do we? If we did we'd all know who Sigur Ros is and understand every word Jonsi (their front man) sings with a never before known lucidity of language and meaning.
3EB's The Background is a perfect song and I think is the moment on Third Eye Blind that is the crest of the ceaseless wave. In Stephan's voice you can hear the most sincere and honest revelations ever heard musically. And it's done with such simple lyrical ingenuity. And the entire song is saturated in an ocean of calm-then-storm provocation. Listen to the refrain when Stephan sings, "...The plans I make still have you in them..." Listen to how he says the word "in". Really. Listen to it. It's crushing. Then you might know what I'm writing about. It is most assuredly moments of brilliant like this, however so slight, that allow Third Eye Blind to slide through the years with relative anonymity, unless it's in useless jest. Another critic referred to them as "Three Blind Mice" or some such really trite and unoriginal comment. Again, in this particular case, I'd have to say that 3EB is just too good for him to comprehend.
That's the big rub. They're too good, aren't they? They're ahead of the game. Exploring new territories. Even with their definitive seventies, late eighties hard rock undercurrent if not most explicit characteristic, (more featured on their latest album, Blue, than their debut), they're eons beyond the other shit that is out there. And I don't use the term "shit" lightly, either. I'm incredibly literal about it.
Like I wrote, very few of my friends listen to Third Eye Blind (Chris, Aline, here's to actually listening, d-o double g's). They don't like it. This is a dilemma for me because I enjoying sharing the things I adore with the people I adore. (Granted, that is a limited number). Still, it's frustrating not getting it across that these guys are for real. I believe, and I state this firmly, that Third Eye Blind will be more appreciated in the future, when people realize that they are, in fact, still around and still breathing life into a dead genre.
Let me give you a list: Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Mogwai, System of A Down, Boards of Canada, Tool and Third Eye Blind. These are, in my humble estimation, some of the most important bands in the wide scope of rock today. Who's the least known? Probably of Boards of Canada, maybe Mogwai, and equally as tragic Third Eye Blind. The difference being that Boards of Canada are cutting edge ethereal electronica and Mogwai is, for the most part, pure instrumental rock. And both bands are from Europe. Third Eye Blind is in smack dab in the slippery realm of American pop rock. Most of the bands listed above are, in some way, on the cutting edge of what they do and most are not from the states. What's the point of the list? Well, I believe it fundamentally sound as a listener of music to know what's out there, what's going on and what's innovative and not just clever and/or accessible. 3EB is on the cutting edge of American pop rock. Perhaps it's the fault of pop rock for really having no edges. It's polished and simple by nature. Therefore, since there is no edge to be found and because Third Eye Blind creates that edge, it's own edge, it doesn't' fit. Hence, fuck pop rock. Anyone following?
3EB is straight up rock and roll with their own identity and their own innovative sound that is ever-changing, ever-evolving. Take the leap from their first to second albums. I'll be the first to admit it took me awhile to get into Blue (I blame this on the before noted proclamation that their first album was a masterpiece). It didn't take long, though, before I was singing 3EB just a little louder and with a smidgen more kick in my poor but enthusiastic delivery. What's so great about this album is the change of focus from the lyrical platform to the musical foundation. It's a much more instrumental work. It's still catchy and still ambiguous (I certainly can't figure out why she interacts with the "the ocean" or she would "climb up the bedposts." This is naughty stuff, as most all Third Eye Blind is. Blue is a shotgun where Third Eye Blind is an arching arrow. 1000 July's is not only the best description of sex I've heard in my few but formidable years, but it also is the dopest epitome of what a rock song is that I've heard in a long time. There's not an ounce of relent in the entirety of this album. Again, it's honest and innovative and yet keeps it very focus on the rock and roll at hand. It's a rock and roll album! And nobody fucking knows it! Fools! What vexes me is how can an album this good be so overlooked in the capacity of important rock albums of the past few years? Do I even have to say it? It's too good. Too smart. Too innovative. Too alive. Too pure. Too tainted with experience. Too sexual. Too literary. Too literal. Too melodic. Too not at all like Semi-Charmed Life (again, I love the song, but let's face it, the song is the beginning of the mystery for me.) It's just too fucking good. That's all.
So what's my beef? What the hell am I getting at? Honestly, I can't tell you. I've been fortunate enough to meet Third Eye Blind on a couple of occasions and they are very genuine fellas. Definitely rock stars. Very personable. Very grateful towards their fans. And they are incredibly down to the ground. They leave footprints. So my beef is that those close to me who won't listen to me hearkening from the wood's afar that "Third Eye Blind is an important thing happening in rock!" I am relying on time if, for no other good reason, to tell my friends who I so fervently dangled the possibility of engaging with a great and significant band of our time, to stare at the "red summer sun" for a good while, until they burn their eyes. As for pop culture, I suppose I don't actually care if they pay attention to Third Eye Blind or not. I don't watch television anyway. I'm not ignorant to the fact that Third Eye Blind is about as commercial a band as there is out there. They did a Microsoft conference this past summer. (I'm hoping Starbucks was served during the set). What irks me is that, if anything, people assume that that is Third Eye Blinds total modus operandi, that that is the way they work. That they are a product, when, in fact, they are so much more.
In closing, I hope this work has made some sense to somebody out there. Thanks to Jen for posting this. If anybody has any questions or wants to contact me about this or 3EB or any of the previously mentioned bands, I'd be more than happy to respond. E-mail me at Sigur22@aol.com. As for all those who are missing out on Third Eye Blind, I'm done trying to let them in on the secret. It only makes the music all that more sacred. And all that more good.