Several years ago, I saw Third Eye Blind play a minorly tragic show in a smoky, carpeted casino basement in Reno. Please don't ask. If you had told me then — as the band's singer and lead songwriter Stephan Jenkins begged an essentially comatose crowd to enjoy themselves— that I would find myself writing words, any words, even somewhat indifferent or confused words, that were words related to the band, I think I would have been flustered and incredulous. And then, if you had told me further that these words would be words not just about the band whose music I enjoyed circa 2000, but instead words about the band's CONTEMPORARY music, I may have even become upset. But here we are today. Yes, "Semi-Charmed Life" came out in 1997, and while the current year is 2016, the band is still semi-charmed... alive.
What happened? Last week the San Francisco-based group took the stage in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert nearby, and instead of playing the hits like "Jumper" and "Never Let You Go," lectured the conservative crowd, criticizing the GOP. "Raise your hand if you believe in science!" Jenkins addressed his audience.
@hunterw Great question. We were not, as musicians on call were well aware of who we are and our take on things (like science and rights!)— Third Eye Blind (@ThirdEyeBlind) July 20, 2016
And now 3EB, as the band is sometimes known to fans, has released a new song with a contemporary political message. "COP vs. PHONE GIRL," as SF Weekly writes, is about a 2015 incident in which a South Carolina high school student was arrested by a police officer in her classroom, at one point thrown to the ground. CNN's coverage of that event is here, and it's an event that Jenkins tells the Chronicle he could relate to because of his time spent working in a school after college. "Sometimes, we had to restrain kids who were having violent outbursts," he said. "We were trained not to frighten them much less cause harm. The contrast really hit home to me just how surreal and insane this incident was."
While this isn't the most specific or recent incident behind which Black Lives Matter activists have rallied, Jenkins expands from it. "Was it so hard to say black lives matter, doesn't mean that you're anti-white," he sings. "take it from me: I'm super fucking white." Have a listen?
Initially I found it odd that the song was as catchy as it is given the subject. But I think that makes sense. Releasing a song in a wildly different style than their usual would have been weird. This is an ally anthem, not an, I don't know, Kendrick Lamar "Alright" **anthem** anthem, sometimes chanted at rallies. Last, while it's easy to be cynical and imagine that aligning their music with the Black Lives Matter movement is an effort for their band to matter, it doesn't really feel like it, at least to me.
Anyway, Jenkins and 3EB will be at this year's Outside Lands Festival, and while I welcome their right to speechify at that occasion, I bet he'll treat the San Francisco home crowd to some classics.