Maybe it's just because I was on the downhill side of high school and had a car for the first time in my life. But I consider the summer of 1997, when "Semi-Charmed Life" hit the radio, to be the high water mark of the 1990's oft-bemoaned brand of pop-friendly rock and roll.
The music business was good in 1997. People still listened to the radio. CDs were still selling (Third Eye Blind's self-titled debut has sold 6 million records worldwide). Although the mp3 was already beginning to rear its shadowy head, an iron grip on distribution would continue to make insane amounts of money for the majors for years to come.
Third Eye Blind was able to sign to a major label (Elektra, now defunct) and maintain more than a modicum of artistic freedom: "Semi-Charmed Life," of course, is quite explicitly about meth and blowjobs. That dirty, dirty, disgusting, dirty little song (as Stephan Jenkins has introduced it in the past) blew the doors open for 5 top-notch singles from the band's debut to soundtrack the summer of '97.
4 more singles would be released from 3eb's follow-up Blue, to no shortage of toe-tapping (especially to "Never Let You Go") but to slumping album sales. Many hardcore fans (and the band had many) were alienated at the very ugly dismissal of lead guitarist (and prominent second songwriter) Kevin Cadogan almost immediately after the record release. In all fairness, 2 million (which Blue sold) is hardly a small number, and almost any band that sold 6 million units of its debut will resignedly tell you it's all downhill from there.
The song "Slow Motion" appeared on the record only as an instrumental; apparently "artistic freedom" has its bounds and songs about gunshot wounds and heroin cross a line songs about blowjobs and meth do not.
(Here's a completely random video of Panic! at the Disco performing a cover of "Slow Motion" (lyrics intact) to an audience that's was probably in diapers when Blue was released. Watch it if you aren't familiar with the lyrics that accompanied the instrumental version that ended up on the album.)
Elektra was imploding by the time Stephan Jenkins & Co. began work on Out of the Vein. 2 singles were released, and I'll not-so-guiltily admit I think "Blinded" is among the best 3eb's ever done. In fact, although I remember being unimpressed at the time, listening to that record now is a good reminder of how far pop-friendly rock has fallen: 3eb's least-liked effort blows contemporary counterpart pop-chart rockers out of the water (I'm looking at you, Linkin Park). Regardless, hardly any promotion was done, practically nobody bought the record, and although they continue to tour to this day, 3eb has all but disappeared from the public's eye.
That hasn't stopped them from working on new material, and an album tentatively titled The Hideous Strength may be released this year:
"I think this album is going to be more political, but there's nothing worse than a political song," Jenkins says. "Over the last few years, I realized I've been personally so oppressed by government and the way so many people in our country have been silenced and duped. It's had a personal effect on me and I had to write about it."In 2003 to promote a Third Eye Blind concert WBRU was holding and the impending release of Out of the Vein, I interviewed Stephan Jenkins on air 3 times. Some things I remember:
- The man is huge. In person he looks a lot more like a Heisman Trophy candidate than a musician.
- He came into the studio for our first meeting with a few records he was into at the time that he wanted to play. I can't remember all of them, but they included the first record from The Streets, and a Cat Power record. Another DJ who happened to wander into the studio saw the Cat Power CD in his hand and asked him "Are you in Cat Power?" He was gracious about it.
- Towards the end of the first interview, a girl called the station saying that she was the hugest fan and asking if he would wait for her to get there so he could get a picture with him. He seemed a bit put off, but obliged.
- Being a big fan myself, I insisted on playing "Tattoo of the Sun," the b-side to "Semi-Charmed Life." He told the story of a meeting in which he was trying to get signed by his first manager. He played "Tattoo of the Sun" acoustically, and the guy started crying. That story may have been embellished.
- There was nothing remarkable about the 2nd interview. It happened on the phone and I don't remember any of it, other than that he asked me to play a song from his record other than the single, and I didn't have anything but the single.
- The third interview happened in the band's hospitality trailer behind the stage for the outdoor concert. That remains the only time I've ever been into one of those trailers and I remember the decor in the kitchen was a little outdated.
- The best way I can explain the dynamic shift was that now I was on his turf, backstage before his show, but it wasn't anywhere close to as warm and personal an interview as the first one. Maybe we'd just run out of things to say to each other. I couldn't wait for it to be over because I couldn't shake the feeling that I was wasting his time.
- He told me in that interview that 3eb was only playing the show because they liked us, and that there was no way our station could really afford to pay them their going rate. That happened on air and at the time it felt a bit dickish. Other people at the station were much angrier than I was about it.
- The show was, unsurprisingly, pretty good.
[Third Eye Blind @ Wikipedia]