“Third Eye Blind and the Death of the Rock Guitarist”

I used to be obsessed with it. Write a riff as good as the one in Lit – “My Own Worst Enemy,” I’d tell myself, 15, in my basement with my $150 Fender Squier. It was damn near impossible.

The same goes for the work of Kevin Cadogan, with the likes of “How’s it Going to Be”‘s riff, and come to find out he was a contributing “songwriter” in Third Eye Blind, up through Blue, and not just guitarist, thus explaining the artistic ebb beginning with the band’s third album.

And none of us will ever really know EXACTLY how the creative interplay transpired, in the studio, in living rooms, wherever, between Cadogan and Stephen Jenkins, but think about it… what’s the first sound you hear on Third Eye Blind? It’s that crooning, dominant guitar riff to open “Losing a Whole Year.” Cadogan was the lone guitarist in Third Eye Blind from 1993-2000, and never in that time did they seem like a band lacking in melody, or sound punch. They were a full rock act all the way, with a great live show which would include vulgar, personal and memorable stage banter, and things like a cover of U2’s “I Will Follow” interjected into a “Narcolepsy” medley. Third Eye Blind was a band that from 1993-2000 lacked exactly nothing (except for maybe a little killer instinct on drums), and more power to ’em, because now it seems like the formula is doomed.

Of course, they can all put some mayonnaise in Queens of the Stone Age’s drink, because it’s extremely hard to imagine a band making a better album than Songs for the Deaf. It re-set the bar impossibly high in realms technical, creative as well as theoretical — being as it is a democratic project with undeniable star appeal, Dave Grohl and now Moistboyz (Dean Ween) bassist Nick Oliveri. It was that last squirming, honest awkward white dude capable of mind-boggling ragtime blitz stumbling around in 2002 that didn’t own a cell phone, hated war, hated white people, hated expensive clothing.

Well, I’m sure Jenkins and Cadogan keep in touch, and two great albums is pretty good for any band.. not to mention, damn, these guys got paid: “The songwriting duo of Stephan Jenkins and Kevin Cadogan signed the band’s first major label recording contract with Elektra Records in 1996, which was later reported as the largest publishing deal ever for an unsigned artist” (wikipedia.org). And sure, Blur got together this year and put out a new album, but it takes a mad scientist of unusual proportions to ape what Blur does… I’d say if anyone would be capable of it, it would be like Fountains of Wayne, or The Tragically Hip. But they’re too busy making fun of people to write songs in minor chords.

And Third Eye Blind didn’t need minor chords, either, in their hey day. Blur use minor chords, and they jump right in sync into the aquarium of Radiohead songwriting, but they’re more a brainchild rock band than they are a “jamming” one. You can tell, because there’s like no “jamming” on their albums — even the loosey-goosey stuff on Think Tank was so stylistically deviated that it just had to be a one-off, some levity to entice, ably, the critics, as well as die-hard fans, one of which I am.

So why don’t bands get together and “jam” anymore, to fruitful result? Well, for one, I happen to think that they do, but for whatever reason this type of thing just isn’t marketable these days. Last year in South Bend, Indiana, following one of our worst winters ever (all the better for getting together in basements and plugging in those Strats), around August through October we were having concerts every week, on every block — bars that usually didn’t house rock bands all the sudden were, and The Go Rounds came to South Bend from Kalamazoo, Michigan and played a show that tore the room off the mother — a sort of hybrid Ryan Adams rockabilly with psychedelic elements of My Morning Jacket, and miscellaneous Michigan hoe-down type stuff. Unfortunately, their new album is disappointing.

So maybe rock is just made for small venues, small arenas, small audiences now. It’s hard to imagine, after all, too many frontmen the world over channeling the kind of emotion, genuineness and topical breadth that Stephen Jenkins did. He’d write about relationships, friendships, he’d write from an assumed perspective (“Narcolepsy” actually pertains to a band mate), and he’d come through with razor-sharp wit: “I’m the one for you / ‘Cause I know all the dirty things you like to do / I’m the fear in your eyes / I’m the fire in your thighs / I’m the sound that’s buzzing ’round your head.” This was relationship education for me, a 14 year old. White-people street-knowledge, if you will. Maybe you can find all this stuff on the internet now, or something, or maybe Zoloft, and the war, came around, and we’ll all never get over this fear we have.

Either way, let’s just take a look at the artist lineup at our South Bend festival this past year. South Bend, though pretty white trash (man, someone woke up on the wrong side of Hacienda Family Dining, whoever put that South Bend blurb together for Urban Dictionary), but it is a college town of 100,000 situated between Chicago, Michael Jackson’s birthplace Gary, Indiana, and Detroit. There’s gotta be SOME musical photosynthesis going on besides radio country shmear from Nashville, right???

A lot of people are into jazz here, but I think the city made the choice not to stage any jazz at our festival, because there is a separate event devoted entirely to said genre, later in the year. There was one “rock” act, very Wilco-ish, Up the Chain from Philadelphia. They even seemed to sort of sing in a hick accent, imbibing I guess the whole “alt-country” thing. The songwriting, the lyrics, were memorable, the guitar riffs weren’t. Then there was an actual folk/singer/songwriter act from St. Louis, whose name unfortunately is escaping me, but what was funny was when he’d banter casually, he spoke in this deep country accent, but then in his songs his enunciations were vastly more urbane. But then, he was just him and his guitar. We have one “indie” band, so to speak, The Ember Jar, but they didn’t show up to their gig, somehow the gigs got jobbed around, and South Bend is so dead that when somebody shares an Ember Jar event and says something about it (me) they chime in and say something to you.

Chicago has been known to produce fantastic rock shows as recently as 2010 (the impossible-to-find-on-search-engines “The Clergymen”), but the aesthetic was punk, no guitar solos, and not many riffs at all. But the music did seem contemporaneously authentic, the type of thing that spawns a healthy sort of self-consciousness — what am I doing with my life, how could I be a better person, how can I offload some of this great feeling I have right now in the most efficient, powerful way possible. And I guess if we have that, then we’ve got everything we ever did. So this is all just reminiscence, like looking back on the typewriter.

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