Of all the strange, unfathomable events that we’ve had to process during this exceedingly strange, unfathomable summer, among the most peculiar is the unlikely resurgence of ’90s alt-rock band Third Eye Blind. For those who missed it: the group performed at a fundraiser earlier this week in Cleveland for an audience of Republicans in town for the party’s convention. What would normally be a low-profile gig for a journeyman rock band went viral when frontman Stephan Jenkins mocked attendees (“Raise your hands if you believe in science”) and pointedly prefaced the anti-suicide song “Jumper,” the only hit in the set list, with a call to “move forward and not live your life in fear and imposing that fear on other people.” When the audience responded by booing Jenkins, he replied, hilariously, “You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherf*ckin’ artist up here.”
Because someone shot a video of these shenanigans, the Third Eye Blind story was picked up by pretty much every media outlet. I even saw it on my local evening TV newscast. The tone of this coverage tended to vary between grudging admiration for 3EB’s trolling and bemused bewilderment that we were all talking about that band, which most people remember (if at all) for the irritating/indestructible ear worm “Semi-Charmed Life,” a top five hit from 1997 that was recently described by the Los Angeles Review of Books as having “everything you might have hated about the ’90s, there in one place.” Implicit in this discussion was the assumption that after a few days the world would go back to forgetting that Third Eye Blind ever existed.
My friends, I am here to report that this will not be the case, because Third Eye Blind is more beloved and important than you might realize.
I didn’t get it myself until recently. But over time I noticed that Third Eye Blind came up consistently whenever I talked about ’90s music with people at least five to 10 years younger than me. They seemed to revere Third Eye Blind beyond all reason. I couldn’t believe my ears, but eventually I couldn’t argue with it, because this is how music history gets written (and rewritten). Sometimes, the bands you least expect to endure wind up going the distance, thanks to a new generation of gatekeepers. And, in this case, those gatekeepers happen to really dig Third Eye Blind.
For people like me in their late 30s or early 40s, who likely encountered Third Eye Blind while in college, the band is commonly associated with what I call “bubble-grunge,” which refers to the class of alt-rock bands that infiltrated radio in late ’90s in the wake of Nirvana’s implosion and Pearl Jam’s retreat from the mainstream. This was the “cash-in” stage of alt-rock that unwittingly hastened the genre’s end, signified by Collective Soul, the Goo Goo Dolls, Eve 6, Matchbox Twenty, Marcy Playground, The Verve Pipe, and other bands of that ilk.