Look Closer — Shannon Hoon, Leaving a Mark on the World, and the Ripple Effect of Our Choices
“I don’t feel the sun’s coming out today, it’s staying in, it’s gonna find another way. As I sit here in this misery, I don’t think I’ll ever see the sun from here. Oh as I fade away, they’ll all look at me and say, they’ll say, hey look at him! I’ll never live that way. But that’s okay, they’re just afraid to change.” Change, Blind Melon
Once again I am listening to music and struck by the loss of the musician(s) I’m listening to. This time I’m listening to the song Soul One off Nico, the extras and leftovers album released by Blind Melon after the death by overdose of lead singer Shannon Hoon. It’s a spare, acoustic tune, sung in a way that conveys an underlying sadness. As I listen I am thinking this is a damn good song, and I wonder why Shannon Hoon left us so early, and what Blind Melon would be doing now if he had not passed on.
I never got to see Blind Melon live. They were scheduled to play in our town in October 1995 and we had plans to go to the show, but it was cancelled after Shannon Hoon died on the tour bus in New Orleans just a day or two prior to the show we were planning to go to.
I don’t know much about Shannon Hoon as a person; I mostly know him through Blind Melon’s music. I can only guess at the combination of brain chemistry, emotional state, enabling, possibly upbringing, weak moments, and less than wise choices that led to his death. I’ve lived enough to learn a good bit about sadness, enabling, and the ripple effect of death, though.
I know there’s no one key moment that could have saved Shannon Hoon, but I imagine the possibilities nonetheless. Sometimes we only see what we wish were there, instead of what is really there. Perhaps his parents failed to accept and then seek treatment for an underlying behavioral disorder, like depression or ADHD, when Hoon was young. Or maybe they saw it but for reasons of finance or knowledge thought they could not do anything about it. A step like this can change the course of a whole life.
Sometimes creative people are endowed with rare talents, but it goes hand in hand with an inability to maintain a healthy personal balance. Hoon fell in with a guy from the old neighborhood, a friend of his sister, soon after moving to Los Angeles. That guy was Axl Rose, and one can only imagine the temptations that were laid out before a young musical dreamer like Shannon Hoon once he fell into the world of Guns ’N’ Roses in the early ’90s. At what moment did Hoon say yes that started a habit he never did break. Who gave him that first opportunity to say yes?
Hoon sought professional help for his addiction in the space between Blind Melon’s multi-platinum self-titled debut album and their much darker and more challenging follow-up, Soup. According to Allmusic, the mental health professionals in Shannon Hoon’s life advised against going out on tour to support Soup, judging that Hoon was not up to the temptations of the road. But Hoon went out on the road anyway, and soon dismissed the counselor that went with him. At what moment did Hoon decide he was going to fall off the wagon? Did any of his band mates miss an opportunity to stand up and say hey, this isn’t worth it? Or did they hope for the best, with a naiveté and wish for smooth sailing that we are all guilty of sometimes? I know I’ve been guilty of seeing what I wish were there instead of what is really there, at important moments, many times in my life.
Judging by the music, I am imagining Shannon Hoon as a young man that struggled with sadness, and everything else came from that foundation. Happiness comes hard to many people, and sadness is a burden is borne alone all too often. I always think of a line spoken by Beethoven in the movie Immortal Beloved, “It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer.”
All we do know is that a few months after recording the lyrics “down here in the Quarter, I’m pressed hard upon the border,” Shannon Hoon was in New Orleans and had a heart attack due to an overdose of cocaine. All the tomorrows that could have been for Shannon Hoon, for his band mates, for his infant daughter Nico, and for fans like me, all set to go to the show, were not to be. Hundreds if not thousands of lives affected in ways big and small due to the series of choices and moments missed until the moment of Shannon Hoon’s death.
The music of Blind Melon has held up well though. My Dad always said that staying power was the true test of music. I fear Blind Melon is thought of as a one-hit wonder by many (No Rain and the Bee Girl); I’m sad to see the band does not warrant an entry on Rollingstone.com. Allmusic.com, my go-to source for music info, has favorable reviews of Blind Melon’s two studio albums and their legacy, however. I had a roommate who played the Blind Melon album about 6,000 times in the months after it was released, and yet the music still totally intrigues and moves me when I throw it in. The song “Change” in particular has buoyed me through many a tough moment. The second album is more challenging and more revealing; sadder and mournful, music that can stop what you’re doing and get you to turn wistful and look off into the distance. Yet what else might we have heard with album three?
Pearl Jam is another great band from the same era. If Beethoven’s words carry true insight, Pearl Jam’s music also speaks to loss, sadness, and unlike Blind Melon, anger. Instead of two proper albums, Pearl Jam is at 10 and counting. Pearl Jam is in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The husbands, fathers, and sons of Pearl Jam are still here for their families and their fans. Eddie Vedder’s band mates have never had to watch all their plans for the future fade to grey and figure out how were they ever going to deal with this loss? (Of course two of them had already been through that tragedy with Andrew Wood, but that’s another rabbit hole of lost potential.)
What choices along the way are the difference between the path of Pearl Jam and the path of Blind Melon?
Shannon Hoon did leave a mark on the world. Maybe 40 people will read this piece, and I am humbled and thankful that they will do so. What could be more rewarding than to have others find your creative output to be time well spent? Blind Melon sold 4 million copies of their debut album. Even now, nearly 25 years later, I expect I am among thousands or tens of thousands of people who find deep meaning in the songs Change, No Rain, and Mouthful of Cavities, or others.
I wonder if Hoon had been diagnosed with depression at a young age and medicated if he would have ever been able to touch the world in the way he did. Maybe he would still be alive, a relatively content husband and father, working a boring job, scribbling lyrics in a notebook, and thinking about that time he was almost in a rock band, if only he’d been willing to drop it all and move to LA like that guy his sister knew who changed his name to Axl Rose. Then his thoughts would turn to his daughter Nico; maybe she’s in college, and recently brought a boyfriend home for the first time. If he could look over these divergent life paths from the afterlife, which would he choose?
Listening to Blind Melon this week has got me to thinking about how even small choices can have long-lasting ripple effects, and how we never know which moments are going to matter, or which moment will be the last.
“And as we all play parts of tomorrow, some ways will work and other ways we’ll play. But I know we can’t all stay here forever, so I want to write my words on the face of today.” Change, Blind Melon