KMB 003 Sex Drugs Rock n Roll

Title: Musical Response to Drug Abuse

Proposal

Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind has been my favourite song for as long as I can remember, due to the catchy, up-beat rhythm, but it wasn’t until I got older that I understood the references to sex and drugs, and realized there is a darker meaning behind the song. The song was released in June 1997 as the first single from Third Eye Blind’s self-titled debut album and was a major hit of the 1990s.

The style of the song reflects changes that were occurring in the San Francisco music scene, particularly a growing interest in hip-hop. The band’s lead singer and lyricist, Stephan Jenkins, explained that the song gives “the bright, shiny feeling you get on speed” and uses speed as a metaphor for “the allure of false delights that lead us away from life’s true pleasures. Like sex” (Himes). He also explains that the title “Semi-Charmed Life” “refers to a life that’s all propped up. You know, the beautiful people who lead bright and shiny lives that on the inside are all fucked up”(Bambarger).

Section 1- The Groove, Hook, & Sound

Groove: embodied response- how it connects us to ourselves peers and culture. “”When speed came rolling into San Francisco a few years ago,” Jenkins explains, “it seemed very innocuous at first. Before we knew it, though, a large part of our peer group was pretty ravaged by it. Speed’s a very bright, shiny drug, and I wanted the song to sound like that, but I also wanted the frustration in there. So a real poetic decision is determining the music. That’s why you have that bright, melodic chorus but also that dirty guitar sound. A lot of things are going on at the same time, which is the crux of all our music” (Himes).

Hook: draws us into the narrative or confession of the artists sonic narrative- the song’s catchy, upbeat melody is like the feeling you get on speed, and distracts us from the dark undertone of the lyrics being about how speed distracts us from the real pleasures of life. “Deceptively upbeat, ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ soars on a poppish “doot-doot-doot” intro, jagged, supercharged guitar and Jenkins’ rapid-fire singsong rap. The bouncy style and quick pace make it easy to miss the dark undercurrent” (Scribner).

Sound:structures and affects our attention on how we experience sound

“Neither punk nor rootsy, neither metal nor techno, ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ opened with loud guitars and a thudding rhythm section but then gave way to chirping scat vocals. It was the blend of power chords and catchy melody mainstream-rock radio had been waiting for” (Himes).

Section 2- Key Concepts

Authenticity/Identity- The lyrics make references to sex and to the drug crystal methamphetamine. The band is open about their experiences and aren’t trying to hide anything. Singer & lyricist Jenkins says the references are honest, which is what rock is all about. “Sex is raunchy, it’s earthy. I don’t dress it up. I’m not an exhibitionist, but it’s an emotional thing. You have to report on it without judging. Sometimes it doesn’t make you look that good, but if you don’t it’s sort of fraudulent’” (Scribner).

Gender/Sexuality- references in the lyrics to sex

Narrative- The meaning conveyed (fusion of words/sounds) “The song, Jenkins explains, captures something far more intense than first meets the ear. ‘It’s heavy subject matter,’ says the singer, an articulate 28-year-old with a pencil-thin beard tracing his jawline. ‘In some ways it’s a cautionary tale. It charts the decline of a relationship due to a speed addiction.’” (Scribner).

Drugs & Transcendence- “Controversy erupted, however, when a closer inspection of the lyrics revealed that the song made frank references to crystal Methedrine and fellatio. This caused some anxious moments at Elektra and MTV until the band’s lead singer and lyricist, Stephan Jenkins, explained he wasn’t glorifying speed addiction, not after what it had done to so many of his friends. In fact, he said, he was merely using speed as a metaphor for the allure of false delights that lead us away from life’s true pleasures. Like sex” (Himes).

Syncretism/Tradition – the coming together of different religious/philosophical beliefs

As Jenkins said, “We don’t do it for fame, we’d do it for free, but having that audience connection is really fun. I don’t really understand that Reel Big Fish song ‘Sell Out.’ So far, we haven’t compromised.” (Scribner)

Genre & Style-

“Weaned on the Beatles and, later, hip-hop pioneers the Sugarhill Gang and college rockers Camper Van Beethoven, Jenkins molded the band’s sound into a stylistic melting pot” (Scribner).

“The members of Third Eye Blind met through a club-roving musical network in San Francisco, where Jenkins had been performing spoken-word in an “acoustic hip-hop thing” called Puck and Zen. He split to form Third Eye Blind with the goal of creating a group that embraced a do-it-yourself ethic while breaking free of the constraints of indie rock” (Scribner).

Jenkins said, “I didn’t feel like I fit into that whole post-grunge noise-pop scene, that movement to democratize the form by playing badly. The emotional range was really limited. To me, rock music is all about putting yourself out there, and there was an emotional correctness, a safe-ness in the San Francisco scene. We got into it to not to fit in” (Scribner).

“Neither punk nor rootsy, neither metal nor techno, ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ opened with loud guitars and a thudding rhythm section but then gave way to chirping scat vocals. It was the blend of power chords and catchy melody mainstream-rock radio had been waiting for” (Himes).

"What most people don’t pick up about that song is how it’s influenced by hip-hop," Jenkins adds. "We all grew up listening to hip-hop, and we like it a lot. When I was writing that song, I was banging on my guitar as if it were a drum and free-associating a rap over it. It’s manic storytelling with very quick shifts between time periods, present tense and past tense. But there’s also a real sweetness to it, even when things are going wrong in the story. At one point, I sing, `I believe in the sand beneath my toes … and the four right chords that can make me cry.’ These are the things that really matter, and the song is about how we get separated from those things." (Himes)



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