Semi-Charmed Life

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They say it takes half the time you were together to get over someone, which is why it took a while for me to finally come to terms with my feelings for Third Eye Blind lead singer Stephan Jenkins. Though it’s a lopsided one, this is a San Francisco love story – one that led me to all corners of the Bay, gave me a chance to hobnob 

with the city’s upper crust, and fulfilled a childhood fantasy of hanging out with a rock star like it ain’t no thing. I fell for the bad boy and I got burned. But make no mistake, this isn’t a cautionary tale. It really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

And to anyone interested in enriching their San Francisco experience, I would highly recommend pursuing an object of affection who, while maybe not at the peak of his or her popularity, is still several rungs higher than you on society’s ladder. 

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It all started a year or so after I moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1998. Like many great romances, it began unexpectedly, but that was mainly because I’d been in denial. So what if I’m transfixed by these singles, especially that doot-doot-doot one from the movies.  I thought,  This isn’t the kind of music I listen to. I’m just going through a phase.

But we can’t always choose whom we fall for. Soon after the release of Third Eye Blind’s criminally undervalued sophomore album, Blue, I finally surrendered to the radio-friendly alt-rock with huge choruses, and came out of the guilty-pleasure closet. 

Like Stephan sings in “Deep Inside of You,” I’d walk with my people if I could find them, and sure enough, I discovered others just like me – 3EB fans who know that it’s not cool to like the band, and yet every time we see each other we’re breaking things down: Is it possible that Blue is better than the first album? What’s the real reason Kevin Cadogan was kicked out of the band? What must it have been like to bang Charlize Theron? It’s like living with the shame of having webbed feet, then meeting other people with webbed feet, and inevitably every time you get together you end up talking about webbed feet. And loving every minute of it. 

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Over the years my feelings for Stephan blossomed, and in 2006, around the release of the greatest-hits album A Collection, I jumped at the chance to finally make contact. At the time, I was the editor of the A.V. Club for the Bay Area, the local entertainment section of the Onion, and we were putting together a back-to-school guide aimed mainly at UC Berkeley students. Stephan says he was a valedictorian at Cal, so I arranged an interview with the idea that he could give advice to kids about making the most of the college experience. Within a day, I had his cell-phone number. Who said stalking was hard? 

I’d heard so many horror stories about Stephan being an egotistical jerk, so I was bracing myself for the worst, but he couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating when we met. In fact, he actually seemed a little nervous and anxious, apologizing for not being funny enough for a story that was going to be in the Onion, of which he was clearly a big fan. Suddenly it dawned on me that  he was excited to be talking to me because of the company I worked for. I started to explain that he didn’t have anything to worry about, that I didn’t write for the satire side of the publication, but I realized that it was like admitting to the gold digger of your dreams that you aren’t that rich. I quickly changed the subject, and the next two hours were pure joy. 

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Two months later I found myself lounging inside Stephan’s home studio in Pacific Heights, checking out his guitar collection and getting the stories behind them, listening to songs that would end up on the band’s fourth album, Ursa Major, and getting a tour of the main house, a gutted mansion owned by the Gettys. As in the filthy-rich Gettys. Stephan introduced me to his girlfriend at the time, Vanessa Carlton, who perked up when he mentioned where I worked. “Oh, we love the Onion,” she said for the two of them. 

We exchanged some emails over the next few months, but I sensed that absence wasn’t making his heart grow fonder, so in advance of Third Eye Blind celebrating the 10th anniversary of the first album with two sold-out gigs at The Fillmore, I was back in the studio for another interview. A month later, I got a thank-you note in the mail for coming out to the show and “for everything else.” I was inching closer to the inner circle. 

But when we were apart, I’d worry about his true feelings for me, wondering if he only liked me because he thought I wrote hilarious stories for the Onion. I didn’t want to seem too eager, but when I heard he and Vanessa had broken up, I immediately fantasized about us hitting the Marina Triangle, Stephan showing off the charm that made the ladies beg him to “put it in with my animal ways” (as described in Blue’s “1000 Julys”), and me being his ever-faithful wingman. I’d have no problem with him putting a ho before this bro, as long as he promised to always come back.  

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I was ecstatic when Stephan started inviting me to the chamber-music nights he was hosting at the remodeled mansion. With the wine flowing freely (and hired help serving it), live classical music wafting through the house, and Stephan offering me a fat-ass J, I was consumed by the feeling that everything I’d done in my life had led to this one moment. When Peter Getty introduced himself and asked who I was, I replied that I was a friend of Stephan’s. Enough said. 

Two months later, I was a little nervous admitting in my A.V. Club SXSW blog that Third Eye Blind was a guilty pleasure, not because of what the cool kids on the site would say about me, but because I didn’t know if Stephan was aware that my seemingly unconditional love was actually pretty complicated. Then, out of the blue, he sent an email thanking me for the mentions, agreeing with my assessment of the band’s less-than-stellar show at the convention center, and saying that he’d seen me in the audience at Stubb’s the following night, but that I was looking away at the time. Had the stalker become the stalked? 

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But then the unthinkable happened: the Onion closed the San Francisco office. Without the glow of @ theonion.com  attached to my name, I was just some guy who writes about music and loves big pop songs. Big deal. Emails from my home account congratulating Stephan on Ursa Major debuting at No. 3 went unreturned and invitations to the chamber-music parties dried up. Almost overnight, it seemed I’d been completely wiped out of Stephan’s life – in the same way that Kevin Cadogan isn’t mentioned in 3EB’s greatest-hits album. Like Stephan sings in “Losing A Whole Year,” I kind of get the feeling like I’m being used / And now I realize that you never heard / one goddamned word I ever said

But I don’t give up that easily. I eventually summoned the courage to attend an acoustic Third Eye Blind show at the Bently Reserve, where Stephan announced the formation of the poverty-fighting organization True Meaning, which, like my relationship with him, appears to have been quietly abandoned. I held back the tears when Stephan didn’t recognize me as we passed by each other at the after-party. Maybe it’s because I cut my hair during the requisite post-breakup makeover. Maybe it’s because he really has forgotten me. Or maybe it just hurt him too much to see that I was clearly getting ready to move on. 

Last I heard, he’d been spending a lot of time in Bolinas. If the locals would just put those signs back up, maybe I’d be able to find the damn place and he and I could finally have some closure. Then again, maybe the story hasn’t ended. Who knows what the future will bring? Like Stephan sings in the band’s best song, “The Background,” The plans I make still have you in them / ’cause you come swimming into view / And I’m hanging on your words like I always used to do / The words they use so lightly, I only feel for you / I only know because I carry you around in the background

Okay, maybe I’m not over him at all.

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As long as you have the time, energy, and resources, it isn't hard to get close to your celebrity crushes – it's the maintenance that's difficult. Bumping into them in the most natural way possible is a good start, since pressing palms backstage alongside a bunch of riffraff can really muddle your message. Milk your job like I did to get some serious face time, or use related skills like a songwriter acquaintance of mine did. (He made it into Stephan's inner circle by befriending Third Eye Blind's engineer, who recorded his band at the studio.) Or use a friend of a friend of a friend who has access to the apple of your eye, then continue to stroke their ego, making them feel as though their lot in life is better with you in it. Then hold on for dear life to whatever it is they find attractive about you. Or if all else fails, just 'Like' them on Facebook.

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Published on June 28, 2011, 2011

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