Third Eye Blind There is a handsome man stumbling over a dirty snowbank on the edge of Tyler St. He has pale blue eyes and dirty cowlicked hair. The Just Been Fucked look, some would say. It's a fair assessment, but a larger measure of his handsomeness is that he is sporting what I would call Lush Hair?a dark, pungent cock's comb that says he sleeps where he lays and doesn't care if he comes or prays, as the song goes.
He, the former Johnny Bender of Bumlake High, the dark star in a long coat, should be naked and smoking in a motel room right now, his hangover assuaged with coos and quim, but now, this weekday, he's on the tall side of 30 and the short side of his preferred midday blood alcohol content: a beautiful loser without a ride in a town where rides are hard currency. He might very well be a derelict, a bum in the old language. He looks almost homeless. There is a liquor store, inevitably named Cappy's, or Crappy's, across the street. That's where he's going. A lonesome day for this handsome man.
He finally gets over the snowdrift and the traffic is slow enough for me to observe what he does next. He doesn't do anything. I pass by; eventually he lurches between the cars and is gone.
Handsome men don't know what they are, and no one knows what to do about them, so they wincingly endure and use the cliches at hand, to pass time and try to make some sense: they "don't fit in"; they "walk with the mighty"; they "lie like dogs" with the tired, pretty young women who are still willing. They are neither the tough guy nor the fey boy. They give head and they cry with equal amounts of gusto. They might be good-looking, but they don't necessarily look good. They are not the male equivalent of a beautiful girl. They act as mortal as they can. They do not feel blessed. They feel deep. What's that Devo line?half a goon and half a god?
The handsome man walks on, looking for handsome things. Walk on baby, walk on...on and on, Stephan Jenkins begs a "hottie" in one of his songs. He's singing about one of his damaged women, but I'd like to think he is singing about himself.
Stephan Jenkins of Third Eye Blind: the unapologetic frontman in a climate where frontmen are treated with derision and arid awe, a full-time handsome man. A man handsome enough to make me crumple in front of my stereo, lyrics sheet in hand, when Blue, Third Eye Blind's second record, is played in the apartment for the first time. You want to absorb and memorize every inch of Jenkins' lyrics. He effortlessly plunders what was the last secure realm of the crazy, moneyed female: conversational psychobabble. And not only that, he makes this hollow crisis management rock. Really hard. He even makes it fertile and interesting.
During our recent conversation (on Valentine's Day, naturally), Jenkins described "Wounded"?unarguably the best song on Blue?as a "sexy song about sexual assault." He's not joking or being disingenuous; "Wounded" is four minutes of the gunkiest, most freewheeling arena nosebleed rock this side of Montrose, topped with a strenuous vocal catharsis that would make Bikini Kill's Hanna go red: "The guy who put his hands on you/Has got nothing to do with me," he reassures a violated female over a misleading strummy intro. By the end of the track, he's hooting up and down the scales like a girl uninterrupted: "rock on baby, rock on/you say you can't grow."
Much of the hugeness of Third Eye Blind's sound on Blue (and on its self-titled first album, the sleeper of 1997 that gave the world that heinously tuneful doot doot doot single) is provided by the not-quite-handsome men who surround Jenkins: Brad Hargreaves' tumultuous drumming, bassist Arion Salazar's arrangements, the driving, alpha-male landscapes of lead guitarist Kevin Cadogan. But it's Jenkins' limelight, all the way. Perhaps this is why Cadogan left the band right after a gig at Sundance in January. According to an anonymous source at Elektra, Cadogan's departure came after "a unanimous decision" within the band, since destructive "creative differences" had been evident during the recording of Blue. Cadogan has since been replaced by Tony Fredianelli, Third Eye Blind's original guitarist, who left the lineup in 1996, before the band was signed.
Of the return of his once and future guitarist, Jenkins says breezily, "We're a closed society. We hire from within." If there's pre-divorce tension between Cadogan and his bandmates on Blue, I can't quite hear it. I wish I could, because a touch of genuine, unintentional sonic angst would have made this perfectly damn good record into a rough jewel. For reasons I can't quite name, the notion of trying to rock Sundance gives me the heebie-jeebies. Then again, I am not a confident, handsome man who has caressed Charlize Theron's hair.
More things about Jenkins: sometimes he ends statements in question form? Like this? In that Newspeak that seems to have been borne straight out of the halls of Choate or Pencey Prep? For example: "The girl in "Wounded"?it's very personal?" Any elaboration would "ferret her out, and that's not okay"?
My question to him had been, "Who was she?" Because there's a she embossed all over Third Eye Blind's narrative; an unnamed and gloriously screwed she who often finds herself waffling, thrusting and ODing under the long shadow of Jenkins, who has more than just a knack for slipping graphic, clumsy references to sex and death into what could be just another good 'n' forgettable breakthrough hit. She is the wan, intelligent presence who makes Jenkins into a handsome, pained man. Without her, he would be museless, or, at worst, a good-looking 6-foot-2 jock with an acid tongue. He's got her though, and she's got him, and Jenkins is definitely the most cleansed when the ending is an unhappy one. "When I walk out of a tragedy, like Lear," he says, "I feel good. The demons were exorcised. I'm like, 'Drinks for everybody!'"
Occasionally, Jenkins serenades this she, and it's bedroom bard-dom at its most ugly beautiful: "I lift your head while they change the hospital sheets/I would never lie to you," he blurts to his burnt-out babe in "The Background," an excellent power ballad from the first album that cops Jimmy Page's mincing "Over the Hills and Far Away" intro. And occasionally he's bragging about the skills all over the FM?Blue's "1000 Julys" is flanged and phased-out gratuitous Apocalypse rockdom about making some girl come. "She goes down on me" was the cutest, clearest line in "Semi-Charmed Life" (doot doot doot), and this worried a lot of talk show folks when special guest Third Eye Blind refused to change the line into something more like "Let's spend some time together."
One of his favorite words might be "fucking," used adjectivally, flatly and casual, as in, "Some days I feel like a giant, like a demon, and some days I'm invisible and fucking flawed, and neither one is true." His literary heroes (he graduated UC Berkeley in '88 with a lit major) are Kerouac, Sam Shepard, Wordsworth, Tennessee Williams and "their sons," Lou Reed and Bob Dylan. "Guy writers," he says with a chuckle. He refers to Shakespeare as a "guy." His Valentine's Day plans included rehearsal and a radio interview thing. No date? "No date," he replied, like this is a foolish question. I wanted to ask, "No Charlize?" But I don't know how to pronounce her name.
He is happy to talk about the trustfund cutie on Prozac who inspired the shouty "Losing a Whole Year," the first track on the debut album, which begins with an alt-rock sledgehammer riff and the line, "I remember you and me used to spend/The whole goddamned day in bed," and disintegrates into a "routine deceit" by the end of the song.
"She'd say she was trying to be down. I think she's a painter now. She sounded like money," he adds, copping his own lyric. "It was funny and fragile, her desire for grit." Next.
We return to "Wounded." It has been my favorite song for what seems like forever, and Jenkins likes it too. A manifesto for the bloodied, damaged and unbowed, which becomes evident when he eagerly sings a stanza for me, a cappella, in a reedy, breathless voice. Anybody could go around singing this. In the Third Eye Blind merchandise catalog, included in the Blue CD case, there are "Wounded" baseball caps for sale.
"Boom, I'm out there." He's talking about visiting the "Wounded" girl, who apparently went to NYU. He seems to be warming to the idea of discussing the story. "I visit her one semester, and she's dressed all sexy. Suede miniskirt. Big butt, big tits, big legs, long strides." Then the bad thing happened to her. "The next time I see her, she's got her hair in a bun, loose clothes, and she's protected and angry."
But time happened, the bruises she feels will heal, to paraphrase the song, and eventually she shows skin again, and goes back to sexiness and her long strides. "That's where I get the line 'you walkin' down shakin' that ass again, and then you walk on baby, walk on,'" he says. I would say this is a happy ending. It is during this moment in the song that the music and the words hit a triumphant climax, spurred by Jenkins' perfectly timed "Ow!" Chiming, sustained power chord to fade. Don't tell me you can't get your hands in the air.
David Lee Plath. Sylvia Lee Roth. I can't think of a more chic, more durable morph: the star who has a few trials by fire in his back pocket, the in-jokey nut who has the balls to thank Klonipin by brand name on his first record, crossed with a man who likes a big blast of anything with a summertime hottie walking on and on like a cherry on top of it all.
Third Eye Blind plays the Hammerstein Ballroom, Mon. & Tues., April 3 & 4.