“Dolby’s Rupees: Third Eye Blind – ‘Burning Man’”

Oh, how simply do you want me to put it? There was just more substance on rock albums back in the ’90s, back when it was a lifestyle, when your singer went on a strict regimen of The Clash and A Tribe Called Quest and your guitarist went on one of U2 and Tom Tom Club and it all met in the middle in one zany, radio-ready stew. It was when your bassist was the best one in San Fran not named Les Claypool, from a band called Fungo Mungo, a more visceral incarnation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (way too goofy and innocent to be Primus), when your drummer was “just this musical guy… whatever he did sounded good” [1].

And so you get lyrics with a veritable semblance of depth, a la the platonic and sympathetic “Jumper”; the medical examination of “Narcolepsy”; “The Background” and its mournfulness over tragedy and the sharp political commentary of “London.” And, I mean, the songs about his girlfriend are pretty rad, too, especially when you’ve got one that sneers in the face of the most daunting, most drug-soaked existential malady, riding a stupefyingly simple chord progression and some wicked “Doo-doo-doo”’s like he’s some gold-hearted Motown choir boy.

“Burning Man,” one of the more low-profile songs on Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut, kind of resides somewhere in the middle. Actually, in the entire song, the topic of romance is never explicitly introduced, although it’s hinted at pretty much throughout, hence constructing this sort of weighty paradigm of constant entrapment and subservience, an interesting foil to the allusion to constant need in “Good for You,” the following song: “Everything is fine / I’m lonely all the time”. 

I mean, maybe Stephan Jenkins is just writing a song about a girl because he can, showing off, like John Coltrane or Miles Davis might, just with lyricism instead of instrumental virtuosity. Either way, he pulls it off in fine form, and more importantly, the song eschews convention in that Jenkins is still more in love with himself than anyone else: “Hold me down / But I’ll find out / We say no / ’Cause I live my life like a burning man / Like a burning man”. There’s this sense of reckless abandon in how Jenkins issues these invigorating, fearlessness-leaning lyrics, a willingness to throw it all away at any time if something comes around that’s more alluring, or, better yet, makes the spontaneity-prizing, staunchly original interface of his ubiquitous band seem more destined. Kevin Cadogan would keep the same girlfriend upon incurring fame and success in Third Eye Blind: Jenkins lunged for Charlize Theron. I mean, with a maneuver like that, you definitely can’t have the fear of assassination in you. Maybe that’s what “Burning Man” is about. Either way, to me, it’s a great anthem of seizing the day, possessing this sort of autonomous pocket of fiery energy less systematic and, in a way, wilder and more noxious even than “Thanks a Lot,” which is pretty da**ed defiant and staunchly independent, or at least self-adoring in a bratty, entertaining Third-Eye-Blind type of way, in itself.  


[1] This quote comes from “No Guitar is Safe” podcast host Jude Gold in his episode with Kevin Cadogan, a classmate of his from Berkeley High.


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