Sunday, April 29, 2007

Third Eye Blind explains existentialism

Wikipedia tells us that the San Francisco based-band got its name because lead singer Stephan Jenkins had just read a book about the metaphysical idea of a third mind's eye, and the rest of the band apparently agreed that the name didn't suck. But this has nothing to do with why their music helps me to understand a relatively obscure philosophical form of thought. Nor does my understanding have anything to do with Stephan Jenkins at all, who by all accounts is a loud-mouthed prick. Instead, it has to do with turning 16, getting my license, and having to commute to the city every day.

I think that we can all agree that we don't really have much choice over what kind of music that we listen to until we start to drive. When you're in the house, you either listen to the kind of music that the rest of family listens to, or the opposite of the kind of music the rest of your family listens to. This applies in all situations with some generational gaps; for example, if your parents listened to The Rolling Stones, our generations logical equivalent would be Nirvana, The Eagles probably correlate with Fall Out Boy, and Marvin Gaye probably leads to Jay-Z. Then again, if you choose to react against the music the rest of your family listens to, that could potentially lead to the awkward situation where the mom that grew up listening to The Beach Boys walks in to her son's room while he's blasting the Wu Tang Clan's "Gravel Pit."

But the thing is, all of this changes once you turn 16 and start to drive. Suddenly you technically have control over the radio, you have control over the volume, and you have control over what CD is blaring at any specific moment. Which brings us back to existentialism, which is (grossly simplified) the idea that we control each of our own universes and as such ought to take accountability for our actions. The classic example that is posed to explain the theory is that anybody who worked for the Nazis in WWII made a choice to do so, despite what kind of pressures they may have been facing to take part. But we all know that it would be unfair to apply this theory to anybody too young, because they have been proportionally influenced by their parents. So, what better cut off date than when you turn 16 and start to drive? Your parents might not like it, but when you get behind the steering wheel and put the pedal to the medal, you can go wherever you want. And listen to whatever kind of shitty music you'd like to.

And when I was 16 I started to listen to Third Eye Blind heavily. For the longest time, I rationalized my liking of the band whenever anyone questioned me by saying that my brother stored all of their CDs in the car anyway, or that I was obligated to support them since they hail from San Francisco, or that I was just really high. But when I heard two months ago that they were coming to Poughkeepsie for a show, I faced the theoretically existential but very real dilemma of whether I was obligated to drop everything and go see them. Does listening to their stuff for such a long time mandate that I am a fan, or can I just right it off to mere circumstance that I ended up hearing so much of their music? Do you blame everyone that participated in the Holocaust, or just those with a certain degree of autonomy?

Sitting at the Chance Theater last Wednesday, with its overpriced drinks but surprisingly clean bathrooms, I realized that it doesn't really matter, and I realized that it really matters a lot. It doesn't matter why I was there because I was there anyway, but it matters why I was there a lot because I would have to explain to everybody why I went. Which, in a way, is a lot like Third Eye Blind's music: if you really listen, it's not that deep, but if you don't expect anything and just listen, it's really deep. So, best of luck to Third Eye Blind as they continue on their tour across the country. I hope they bust out again in 2007 with their fourth album. They are from San Francisco, after all.