This article is part of Social Musings by Austin's The Year in Music series inspired by the Ol Skool Hangout / DFW Facebook and Instagram group (https://www.instagram.com/ol_skool_dfw).
I had just finished freshman year at The University of Texas at Austin and was sticking around in my college stomping-grounds of Austin, Texas for the summer of 1997. After spending most of my childhood years in Dallas, apparently I just couldn’t get enough of my new favorite hometown.
Perhaps playing a big, beneficial role in my mind was the recent memory of an epic event, which served as an appropriate end to my freshman year. That event was the Matchbox Twenty concert at the Sig Ep house. Similar to how Pearl Jam was booked for Lollapalooza '92 before their real fame emerged (as I discussed in the Year in Music series here: https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/the-year-in-music-and-the-concert-that-changed-me-forever), somehow the geniuses over at Sig Ep had negotiated a sweet deal to have Matchbox Twenty come play a Texas fraternity party well before they became one of the most famous bands in the world at that time.
Talk about good timing - right about the time that Matchbox Twenty was peaking at #1 in the Billboard charts with their first single “Push”, the Sig Eps were hosting the biggest end-of-the-school year party that the Forty Acres had seen in some time.
The Sigma Phi Epsilon brothers were very gracious in letting me attend their event. It felt surreal that a college fraternity in Austin, Texas was hosting the world’s #1 band. But that kind of stuff still happens in Austin.
There actually was some rhyme to the reason for remaining in Austin after my first year of college. The entire reason I matriculated at UT-Austin was to be in Austin, The Live Music Capital of the World.
While I was in a band in high school, I had the sense that playing music would not be my professional career. However, I thought perhaps a career in the business of music might be my calling. Below is a picture of me at 14 years old, shredding the Stratocaster, proudly displaying my Lollapolooza '92 T-Shirt.
That summer of 1997, I somehow obtained an internship with an artist management agency and event management company, Direct Events, which was based out at the Backyard in Bee Cave, Texas. Part of the perks of this internship was seeing every single show (backstage) which Direct Events put on that summer - both at the Backyard and at Austin Music Hall. I really wish I had saved all of the backstage passes from the summer.
I remember two shows in particular which were thought-provoking:
Concert One: Let’s play a trivia game.
Which song goes “doo doo doo doot doo doo doo doot doot doot” and is playing in every Dirty 6th Street bar every night of spring semester 1997?
The Answer: “Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind. Trust me, ask anyone who was in college at this time and they know Third Eye Blind.
I just thought these guys made great music, but after some research recently, I found out that this song was rife with social commentary:
Wikipedia states: “In regards to the style of the song, Jenkins explained that it is meant to reflect changes that were occurring in the San Francisco music scene, particularly a growing interest in hip-hop. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Jenkins said that the concept of the song was developed through his observations of friends using crystal meth at a Primus concert. The juxtaposition of the music and lyrical content was intentional, as Jenkins intended to illustrate the "bright, shiny feeling" one gets when using crystal meth. However, Jenkins maintains that the meaning of the song more broadly relates to changing periods in one's life. He further explained the meaning of the song: It’s about living in the Lower Haight [in San Francisco] and all the machinations that were going on at a time where my friend group was finally out of the [educational] institutions that we’d been in our whole lives – because we’d all been in school since kindergarten and everybody now was in their early 20s and out of college. And then probably underneath that, also the weight of coming to terms with the kind of agony that your life is always about to change and never be reliable. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semi-Charmed_Life
Reading that write-up seems to echo exactly the sentiment that I was talking about with liminal spaces a few weeks ago, (https://www.socialmusingsbyaustin.com/post/why-we-are-all-living-in-a-liminal-space).
To make some extra summer spending money, I also worked security and broke down sets at Stubb's for a guy named Stoney that summer. I don’t know if this was his actual name or nickname, but he definitely looked like a “Stoney” if there ever was one.
Usually, since I was the most diminutive of the employees, I worked as the doorman for the VIP area or out by the tour buses in the parking lot. I met artists such as Cheap Trick and George Clinton during their shows at Stubb’s back in the summer of ‘97, because I was stationed to provide security for their tour bus.
The most memorable Stubb’s show I worked that summer was Smash Mouth opening up for Sugar Ray.
Smash Mouth, based 500 miles from Third Eye Blind’s hometown of San Francisco down the California coast in San Diego, launched into the opening chords of “Walking on the Sun” and the crowd writhed in that late 90s way (90s kids will know exactly what I mean) as the sun went down on the outdoor venue. The echoes of the song reverberating through the crowd, trees and creek on a 1997 summer Austin night are etched in my mind.
You gotta watch the music video to know what I mean about the fashion, dancing and sultry chords which were a seminal part of the year in music 1997:
Similar to the origins of the aforementioned "Semi-Charmed Life", Wikipedia states about the genesis of “Walking on the Sun”:
Smash Mouth guitarist Greg Camp said about "Walkin' on the Sun":
"It was written during the whole Rodney King thing. The song was basically a social and racial battle cry. It was a sort of "Can't we all get along?" song for the time when I wrote it. It was just about all the things that were going on around me as a young person. And I'm, like, God, what is going on? I don't understand why this is happening. It's like we might as well be walking around a planet on fire. And that's how it came about."
Paul De Lisle stated the original version of "Walkin' on the Sun" was more of a rap song.
Only now can I see that the rap/rock/jazz/punk/ska music of 1997 was going through its own metamorphic, liminal space, which ultimately has landed us here on this “planet on fire” in 2021.
As Smash Mouth, the great philosophers of 1997 sang in their smash hit, “Walking On the Sun”: “It ain't no joke I'd like to buy the world a toke And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony And teach the world to snuff the fires and the liars Hey, I know it's just a song, but it's spice for the recipe” “Twenty-five years ago, they spoke out and they broke out Of recession and oppression and together they toked And they folked out with guitars around a bonfire Just singin' and clappin', man, what the hell happened?” “So don't sit back, kick back And watch the world get bushwhacked News at 10, your neighborhood is under attack Put away the crack, before the crack puts you away You need to be there when your baby's old enough to relate”
How the heck did I miss this brilliantly-put classification of society in 1997? I must not have even truly known the lyrics. To be fair, there wasn’t much internet then, so you had to buy the CD at Sound Warehouse and then the album cover would contain the lyrics. But I never read them.
All I saw was the video on MTV with its tantalizing images of a fabulous beach party, which to me at 18 years old, stirred up Freudian urges in my subconscious that deafened me to the lyrics. It is interesting to note how MTV (and the show I never missed, The Grind) might have predated social media in its dictation of popular culture back then.
Thinking about these artists’ words with 25 years of future perspective makes a huge difference obviously. For example, there are still many similarities which continue to require society’s vigilance.
We still are experiencing an addiction/opioid/mental health crisis. Many of the issues from the late 60s and early 70s, which were re-ignited in the 90s, are still with us today. I do take solace that, on a spectrum, we have made progress. Civilization may not have fully solved difficult social issues, but we have progressed towards better approaches to some of society’s greatest challenges.
At the end of the day, it’s all ok. I think we are at least more cognizant of the limitations of our society now versus in 1997, when our societal challenges were not to be spoken about broadly, only appearing in popular counterculture hidden in the lyrics of bands whose catchy-beat tracks and titillating music videos belied their underlying philosophical critique of society.
So as you start your summer, and hopefully start enjoying live musical performances again (Festival season here we come), think about what you might want the world to look like 25 years from now. You can help make that vision a reality.
Have an awesome weekend filled with musical fun, friends and family!
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