‘Standing on the Sidelines Is Political’: Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins on Riling Up Republicans in Cleveland

By
Stephan Jenkins, believer in science. Photo: Harmony Gerber/Getty Images

This week, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether will be in Cleveland covering the Republican National Convention for Vulture.

The Republican Party is about as “rock and roll” as a bar of soap. So I was surprised that the GOP chose as its logo for the week what looks like an updated version of the famous Woodstock poster, with the dove replaced by a weirdly tiny elephant, and the hand of the dirty hippie removed and kept as far away from the Quicken Loans Arena as possible. The Republicans are capitalizing, of course, on the fact that Cleveland is the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and all of the convention merchandise you can find around town is covered with guitars. If the Republican convention were the world’s most Christian bar mitzvah, the theme would definitely be “Rock and Roll."

It’s just that, you know, no famous rock bands are performing. The bands that have played kept the shows outside of the arena, like the benefit concert that happened Tuesday night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the charity Musicians on Call. Third Eye Blind was scheduled to perform, and their lead singer, Stephan Jenkins, had not been planning on making any political statements outside of the politically minded songs he chose to play. But, as he stood up on stage, about to start playing their hit song from 1998, “Jumper,” Jenkins changed his mind.

“I said, ‘This next song is about a gay kid who jumped off a bridge because of being bullied,' Jenkins told me on a call yesterday day. “There were some guys in the front, and I’m up there talking about how people like my gay cousin are still not considered to be enfranchised fully into the American fabric, and a guy is booing me saying that. And I’m just like: 'That’s what this song is about, so you can boo me all you want.'” According to the video clips that were all over the internet by the next morning, what he actually said was: “You can boo all you want, but I’m the motherfucking artist up here.”

For all those watching from home, Third Eye Blind instantly became the heroes of Tuesday night. Which was a weird feeling — all day yesterday, people who hadn’t paid much attention to the band in years were singing their praises. What started as support from Third Eye Blind fans grew to include Patton Oswalt and actress Melanie Lynskey, who tweeted out, “My ex-husband once tried to convince me that Third Eye Blind were a lot deeper than I thought. Today, my scoffs return to haunt me.”

I asked Jenkins how he felt waking up this morning in the middle of what has become one of the most divisive elections in our country’s history. He said that he didn’t feel like he said anything too controversial. “I said ‘Who believes in science?’ and it’s caused an uproar. Only in the Republican Party in the United States would that be a cause of chaos. The story here is how berserk that is. Not ‘Gee, do you think it’s controversial to say something political?’ All music is political. Standing on the sidelines is political.”

But it was the thought of playing the song “Jumper” — a song that had been inspired by the suicide of a friend’s high-school classmate — to an audience of people who supported the current Republican platform that pushed Jenkins to do something. “Their idea of religious freedom is allowing you to discriminate against someone in the workplace. That’s not an opinion. That’s what they have come up with. Now their nominee doesn’t know this, because he hasn’t read their platform, because he is clearly, clearly a buffoon.”

On the phone, he refused to even say Donald Trump’s name. And though convention planners might not have realized it, Jenkins told me that Third Eye Blind has always been a progressive band, in his mind, and he plans to continue his activism into the future. “I came up in punk rock clubs. I am not a wilting lily. I am not a song and dance man. What I do is true to me. And if you step away from that, then you’re out there hustling. You’re out there just hustling for a buck and that’s just not where I’m at.”

He told me he plans to continue his activism into the future. And vote for Hillary Clinton. Then he had to go. He was in Binghamton, New York, where he was to perform that night to a sold-out crowd.