The unprecedented amount of tension between the Republican establishment and its expected nominee, the discomfort many Americans felt with the nominee even when he seemed like a sideshow, and the sudden outbreaks of gun violence in urban America had led observers to expect a violent, confrontational Republican National Convention in Cleveland this year. But large numbers of protesters haven’t shown up yet. Even a performance by Prophets of Rage, a politically oriented supergroup that includes Chuck D, did not attract a huge crowd.
Somehow, the most incendiary cultural protest so far has come from… Third Eye Blind.
If you followed the band during its early years, you probably don’t think of it as a rabble-rouser. Third Eye Blind is both an arena-rock band and — especially on its 1997 debut album — what’s typically called “post-grunge.” They worked in a musical style that had been pretty well mined, their songs were fairly simplistic, and they didn’t seem to be bringing a whole lot of originality to the table. The song “Semi-Charmed Life” doesn’t really announce them as socially conscious.
But from the very first album, the Bay Area band has songs like “Jumper,” the story of a gay friend who killed himself. That was one of the songs the group played in Cleveland Tuesday night, with singer Stephan Jenkins offering: “To love this song is to take into your heart the message and to actually have a feeling to arrive and move forward and not live your life in fear and imposing that fear on other people.” This came after he and his bandmates avoided their hits. Some of the crowd cheered, but there were a lot of boos as well.
“You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherfuckin’ artist up here,” Jenkins offered, after asking the audience to “raise your hand if you believe in science.”
The concert was part of a benefit for Musicians On Call at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and not an official RNC event, but it apparently attracted a lot of angry conservatives.
Jenkins may be on his way to becoming a hero of the left, and he deserves a few minutes in the sun for standing up for tolerance and rationalism at a time when much of the nation seems to have abandoned both.
But beyond the paradox of a band that seemed to be both lightweight and clumsily “heavy” turning into heroes is this one: Its leader sounds like a pretty difficult guy. Here’s an excerpt from a Deadspin story from last year:
Jenkins is, by several accounts, an incorrigible asshole. John Vanderslice, the owner of Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco, described his only interaction with Jenkins to the AV Club, and the encounter reads like a hostage situation. “He takes a folding chair and then flips it around backward and then puts it uncomfortably close to me, considering we’re in a large room, and sits face-to-face with me, sitting backward in a chair,” Vanderslice said. Third Eye Blind had scheduled time in the studio, and Jenkins was trying to reduce the studio’s rate through the form of a staring contest. “I think he imagined that I would have been flustered,” Vanderslice continued. “He was doing like 101 intimidating negotiating tactics or whatever that he Googled the night before.” The two guitarists that have abandoned Third Eye Blind over the years, Kevin Cadogan and Tony Fredianelli, both sued Jenkins for undelivered songwriting royalties.
The whole thing is still a bit ambiguous. Politics aside, it’s frustrating when a band fills arenas and makes a lot of money with music that lacks the distinctiveness and emotional depth of acts that remain poor and obscure. But, between the bile on the political right these days, the more-patriotic-than-thou posing, the odd speeches by Scott Baio and Rudy Giuliani and others, Jenkins and Third Eye Blind should be, for a few days at least, rock ’n’ roll heroes.