Growing up here in South Bend, Indiana, where today there are 14 and a half violent crimes per 1,000 residents per year, I would come across certain people who were especially hard to please, when it came to music. The black people around here often term Wu-Tang “white people sh**” (especially ironic as one of their lines reads “Stickin’ up white boys in ball courts”) and even some of the honkies gravitate toward that brand of hip-hop that’s like a guy who sounds like he has Down’s Syndrome furnishing lyrical themes that are like stridently banal and mammalian. These, generally, would be the people who said “Third Eye Blind sucks.”
Anyway, we’ve come now to the 2020’s, I’ve witnessed a kitchen full of kids who weren’t even alive in 1997 singing along to every work of “Semi-Charmed Life,” I’ve heard the song on pop radio alongside Paula Abdul and Boy George (in the absence of Everclear and Fastball, as it were), and, well, it seems Third Eye Blind is here to stay. What is it that gave their music that staying power?
I’ve kind of had a rough year this year so the thought formed in my mind that, maybe, I might have outgrown my beloved Bay Area rockers I grew up maneuvering onto mix tapes at a solid clip. So I did an audit. The song I chose was “Darkness.” “Darkness” is not a track I would have ever thought to name as my favorite even on Blue (1999), let alone by the band at large, but it was always a solid album cut that I thought helped hold Blue together as an overall operation. Like the underrated “The Background” on the self-titled debut, “Darkness” trudges along at a rather deliberate pace, leaving nothing, anyway, on the shelf in terms of volume and intensity, a true grunge-rock blueprint.
“Darkness” is also quintessentially “grunge,” you might say, for its obstinately dark subject matter, which is a topic I could broach at a later date. Suffice it to say, anyway, I thought it would make a credible audit because of its various elements of disctinction — the slow tempo belying the muscular, explosive energy of the chorus, the themes of depression and hopelessness in the lyrics, etc. And I do declare: the whole thing rolled around with a raucous, almost rebellious energy, the way rock and roll is supposed to be, but most important might have been the chord progression, which just gave the song this feeling of being WHOLE and, as it were, fortified with the correct musical elements to grant purpose and authenticity, at the risk of sounding garrulous. It was the type of thing where the merit of the song was so resounding and unmistakable that it made me question why I’d doubted my attachment to the band in the first place — then again, it was a fun little expedition, amusing in the way that these right-brained reconnections can sometimes be. I’m currently working on a book, on the side, called Third Eye Blind Theory, which explores the curious confluence of the questionable ethics prevalent in the band’s history and what I deem to be their lasting, ironically potent, artistic efficacy.
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