When life is hard, you have to change:
A Shannon Hoon biography
I know we all can't stay here forever so I
want to write my words on the face of today
and they'll paint it
-Inscribed on the gravestone of Shannon Hoon, from the
Shannon Hoon stands before the crowd that has gathered in
the Egyptian Room at the Murat Temple in Indianapolis, IN. The
Blind Melon frontman holds his 6-week-old daughter, Nico Blue,
in his arms. "Tonight's my daughter's first rock 'n' roll
event," Hoon announces to his fans.
Less than a month later, on October 11, 1995, Hoon is found dead
on his band's tour bus before a show in New Orleans. A long struggle
with drug addiction has culminated in an accidental overdose.
His daughter, just over 3 months old, will be left to know her
father solely through his music.
I don't know what I've gotten into
but I'm glad that it's now instead of sooner
At the age of 28, Hoon died an early death as an unwilling
victim of his own vices. In life, he was known as a talented and
charismatic, yet conflicted musician. In death, he joined the
company of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin. The lead
singer of the band Blind Melon, Hoon left behind a brief but significant
music legacy that spans three full-length albums and twice as
many years. His personal and poetic lyrics and melodic voice will
leave countless generations of listeners meeting him for the first
and last time through his music.
You know I've smoked a lot of grass and I've popped a lot
but I've never done nothing that my spirit couldn't kill
-from "The Pusher"
Shannon Hoon was born on September 26, 1967 in Lafayette,
Indiana. In high school he was a standout athlete in football,
wrestling, and track, although he also developed a reputation
for misbehavior and was arrested several times. At this time his
interest in music began to develop. In February 1988, Hoon officially
embarked upon his musical career fronting a band called Styff
Kytten, a cover band based in Lafayette. In a feature story about
the band in a local newspaper called the Journal and Courier,
the band's manager was quoted as saying, "Shannon's got
that desire. He's got the persona of a frontman. You never want
to take your eyes off him because you never know what he's gonna
After more run-ins with the police and inspired by the course
of fellow Lafayette native Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses, Hoon left
his hometown behind for Los Angeles in 1989. There he quickly
formed a group with three other musicians, all of whom had migrated
to L.A. from other parts of the country. Together, after a series
of name changes, the four men became known as Blind Melon.
The band's sound sharply contrasted with most other offerings
in the mid-90's musical palette. Crafting their style after classic
rock artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Grateful Dead, and Led Zeppelin,
Blind Melon deliberately differentiated themselves from the grunge
and industrial rock bands like Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden
that were popular at the time.
In 1991, after the release of a disappointingly over-produced
E.P. on Capitol Records called The Sippin' Time Sessions,
Hoon became re-acquainted with Axl Rose, an old friend of his
sister back in Indiana. Rose invited Hoon to sing back-up vocals
on several tracks on Guns n' Roses' now infamous Use Your Illusion
II. Most notably, Hoon lent his voice to the ballad "Don't
Cry" and even appeared in its epic music video.
Hoon's big moment, and to many pop culture skeptics, his 15 minutes
of fame, came the next year in 1992 with the release of the band's
self-titled debut, which featured the track "No Rain."
The song and its accompanying video almost instantly catapulted
the band to stardom. Hoon's appearance in the video as a flailing,
vibrant, and colorful character etched his unique persona upon
the viewing public's mind. His fragile, southern-tinged voice
was perhaps the greatest gift to popular music accompanying the
release of the single, and it brought the band to the attention
of many a future fan.
Although "No Rain" was an upbeat tune, perfect for
radio and television play, many of the other tracks on the album
expressed darker themes and thoughts from Hoon's musically adept
yet internally troubled mind.
When you feel your life ain't worth living, you've got to
stand up and
take a look around you then a look way up to the sky
and when your deepest thoughts are broken, keep on dreamin' boy
when you stop dreamin' its time to die
The band rode out the next couple years with a heavy touring
schedule, while Hoon's reliance upon drugs increased. Blind Melon
were forced to take a brief hiatus from their tour when Hoon sought
treatment. When they returned to the studio to record their second
L.P. in late 1994, Hoon's substance abuse problems returned. During
this period, he was arrested for fighting with an off-duty policeman,
indecent exposure, and an attack on a security guard at the American
Music Awards. He later admitted to not remembering most of the
recording sessions. Upon the completion of the album in spring
1995, and at the insistence of his bandmates, Hoon checked himself
into another rehabilitation facility. His stay there delayed the
release of the new album, Soup, to the summer of 1995.
Alternately a humanist who loved to watch people and a hedonist
who just wanted to be happy, Hoon began to surface as a conflicted
figure in the music press. Some lambasted him for failing to take
control of his drug use while others praised his music and his
hyperactive and sweet character. Even in interviews he contradicted
himself. In a 1992 story with Rip Magazine, he lauded the
link many young artists make between drugs and music and emphasized
the importance of his friendship with his bandmates, while in
a 1995 interview with Request shortly before his drug-induced
death, he discussed growing communication problems and frustration
among the band members.
Not surprisingly, Soup was a considerably darker album
than Blind Melon, with a substantial portion of Hoon's
lyrics centering around his own mortality and troubles with drug
addiction. "New Life," however, expressed hope that
the birth of his daughter would put his life back on track. Musically,
the album was a distinct step forward, and it was widely accepted
by fans. Unfortunately, although many critics now acknowledge
its value, it received poor reviews at the time.
Anxious to return to the road, Hoon assured his bandmates and
rehab caretakers that his drug problems were under control. Although
the tour began under the condition that a drug counselor accompany
Hoon, he quickly reassumed the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle,
and prior to one of Blind Melon's first shows away from home,
his addiction proved fatal. Two months after the release of Soup,
Shannon Hoon passed away.
MTV and radio abruptly abandoned the band, despite the early success
of the first single, "Galaxie." Blind Melon's tour supporting
the album derailed. The band disappeared from the public eye,
while Hoon's accusers labeled him a neo-hippy slacker and his
bandmates, friends, and family struggled to recover from the loss
and reassemble their lives. Kurt Cobain, who had killed himself
a year and a half earlier, remained in the public consciousness
as Hoon faded away.
In 1996, the remaining members of Blind Melon compiled and released
a collection of demos and outtakes. The album was named Nico
in honor of Hoon's daughter, whom he considered to be his greatest
contribution to the world. It received highly favorable review
and many believed it to feature the band's finest work.
Hoon is remembered to this day by all who were touched by his
music and his uniquely compelling and varyingly rude, friendly,
and troubled presence. In retrospect, what matters most is not
what his critics said and wrote but what his fans still feel.
"Shannon was a man that slipped through the light of fame
but cast a huge ray of sunlight on so many unlit souls,"
writes a fan named Drew in an informal tribute to Hoon. Every
year since his death, a vigil has been held at Hoon's gravesite
in Dayton, Indiana, where people have come from as far as England
and the Netherlands to remember and honor him. A lyricist and
singer of rare talent whose tragic death was overlooked and whose
life is perfect fodder for a Behind the Music drama, Hoon
is a largely forgotten figure who deserves to be remembered fondly
for the music he created and for the music he had yet to explore.
The mistakes that I've made, no they don't seem to bother
And I sure as hell don't feel like I've missed any kind of train
If I could only show you how I feel
Then you wouldn't bother me
And maybe then you'd see why we don't mind being blind
-from "Sleepy House"
This biography was compiled and written by Nate Seltenrich.
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