April 14, 2009

Fell in love again with a once lost treasure.

"...and I can't understand why
something good's got to die
before we miss it."
Shannon Hoon, 1967-1995

This image stabs me in the heart now as much as it did 15 years ago. If the alternative music scene of the nineties did anything for us, it was to point out the flaws in all of us and make us feel vindicated/validated from/for our own personal "flaws." Think Nirvana, think Jane's Addiction, think Smashing Pumpkins, think Pearl Jam, think also, for me own sake, Blind Melon, as musicians who were capable of tearing up your heart with edgy and true to your own goddamn situation music. They all nailed the time in which we lived. For me Blind Melon were the Smith's of the 90's, if only for a brief moment/album. Lord knows my rooomate and I at the time of the release of Soup were completely okay with running this album into the motherfucking ground at high volume.

The above picture is of Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, with a sharpied question mark on his forehead, performing the first song he ever wrote on David Letterman, 3 days after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. That was fifteen years ago today a few days ago. Kurt's suicide affected Hoon deeply, who was having his own problems, and was dead a year and a half later himself, shortly after recording what I would consider from that era as one of the best anti-alternative albums by a music group labeled as "alternative." I mean the final track ends with a performance by a New Orleans Jazz Death March Band. And just months before the artist's actual death. The world of music is spooky like that. It gets spookier.

The album Soup was recorded in New Orleans. An interesting array of sounds provided by jazz musicians from the French Quarter is smartly interwoven with biting grunge rock that refuses to stay in one place. It's incredibly dark and eerie. Hoon has really mastered his voice and his songwriting. You feel as if you are in the house in which Hoon is howling. In one track you can hear him whispering excitedly about the sounds of cats outside the window, just seconds before ripping into an acoustic guitar.

By dark and eerie, I really mean downright creepy. "Skinned" is a happy go lucky honky tonk about carving up a living body and making a room full of furniture from it. "Car Seat (God's Presents)" is a gypsy number that begins with a mother and father in the woods
behind a truck stop, burying their two children in the middle of the night, and ends with a 19th century poem by Blanche Bridge, read through a watery walkie talkie behind a mournful violin. In "St. Andrew's Fall," a homeless man is thinking about how great it would be to be stinking rich as he stands at the edge of a 20 story building.

New Orleans. Shannon Hoon.

Hoon in the "No Rain" Video, for which Blind Melon is probably best known.

The producer of the album, Andy Wallace, who produced Nirvana's Nevermind, claimed that drugs weren't an issue during the recording, which happened after a tour in which Hoon was arrested several times for drugs, indecency, and otherwise very erratic behavior (he peed on a crowd in Vancouver, hurled congo drums at the crowd at Woodstock '94.) Despite Wallace's claims, Hoon could not recall the recording sessions of Soup.

He and his girlfriend had a daughter during or after this time and Hoon went into rehab, but a month later the record company pressured him into a tour for the new album and negotiated his way out of rehab with the stipulation that he would be bringing his drug counselor along. It was only a matter of weeks before the counselor was kicked off the tour, and after arriving in New Orleans after an all night coke binge on the ride from Houston, Hoon was found dead by a roadie trying to wake him. The tour bus was parked just a few blocks from where Soup was recorded.

Axl Rose, a friend of Hoon's sister, touches heads with Hoon in a video from the double album, Use Your Illusion, in which Hoon performed backing vocals on several tracks. It was Hoon's first lick of stardom.

Hoon, Stage Right, on "Don't You Cry"

Hoon died on October 21, 1995, leaving behind his 13 week old daughter Nico. The album Nico, a posthumous release of various recordings he left behind, donates its proceeds to both his daughter and to drug abuse programs for musicians.

I am grateful I have Soup in my paws again, having been without it for more than a decade. I am grateful to have known about the album at all, I found it by accident. It's one of those gems that was for the most part, overlooked, and not talked about much. It's as good as it was when I heard it the first time, and there's a lot I loved back then that I just can't hang with these days.

I won't whine about what's been lost. But if I die and don't get to see what all these young and dead musicians have been up to since they'd left, then I must be somewhere besides heaven. I'll leave you with that poem by Blanche Bridge, which Hoon had carved into his arm.

God's Presents was written by Blanche Bridge on February 11, 1884
(Recorded February 11, 1995)


If my path be smooth or rugged
If with thorns or roses strewn
Where I go the Father seeith
And He will leave me not alone

If I take the wings of morning
far within the silent sea
Even there His hand will lead me
Even there my God will be

Though the gloom of night be round me
Though I cannot see my way
Yet the Lord will see and guide me
Because unto Him the night is day

If my thoughts are good or evil
Set me think to hide them not
there is one above all seeing
And He beholdth every thought

And ever more my eyes beholds me
And all my ways to Him are known
And His loving arms enfolds me
He will leave me not alone

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