Plenty has been written about the tragic death of Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon, who died from a cocaine overdose in October 1995 at the age of 28. But stories have been comparatively few about Hoon the man, not the addict, and the people he left behind.
After a year, the four surviving members of Blind Melon are now speaking about the friend they remember as “a tyrant and an angel” - the erratic, explosive, creative, compassionate, manipulative personality Shannon Hoon was from day to day.
They’ve released “Nico,” a collection of the last remaining musical vestiges of Blind Melon, in Hoon’s memory. It’s named for his infant daughter, Nico Blue.
“Nico” buries the name and the entity Blind Melon along with Hoon; the four remaining members are deciding on a new singer and a new name and have decided not to play Hoon’s songs again.
Hoon died eight weeks after the release of Blind Melon’s second album, “Soup,” when Nico was 13 weeks old. The band was to have played a gig in New Orleans that night. Hoon had been arrested for drunken and disorderly conduct during the recording of the album.
The band’s eponymous debut album went triple platinum and produced the Top 10 hit “No Rain.” They played Woodstock 1994 and were nominated for a Grammy and American Music Award.
In September 1995, Hoon was upbeat and optimistic. He was awe-struck at the birth of his daughter and vowed to be a good father.
“Having a child can make you re-evaluate how you need to be there,” Hoon said then. “I need to start caring about myself if I’m going to be the proper father.
“This is all fun and youth-prolonging,” he said of his career, “but I want to be a father, and it’s hard to be when you’re away.”
Guitarist Rogers Stevens says Hoon’s death was an accident, that he fully expected to wake up as usual the next morning.
“Shannon wasn’t on a binge or anything like that,” Stevens said in a telephone interview from New York. “I had seen him at times throughout our history worse off.
“He had been generally healthy for a long time - he was in rehab that summer and he was staying clean on the road.”
Speculation abounded that Hoon might have been pushed into touring before he was physically and emotionally ready, but Stevens argues that he was more settled and less vulnerable to temptation on the road than he was at home.
“He wanted to go on tour and he felt like he was ready,” Stevens said. “This was not a pressure situation. … I think that Shannon was healthier when he was out playing and singing every night and getting his emotions out on stage.”
And he insists that Hoon “was crazy from the day I met him,” that fame had nothing to do with his downfall. He would veer from pulling practical jokes to displaying what Stevens called “completely irrational behavior.”
“He wasn’t doing it with a safety net and he wasn’t overly cautious,” Stevens said. “He was proceeding with this sort of abandon that you did your best to try to curb.”
Stevens says the band forced Hoon into rehab twice and kept all mind-altering substances out of the band’s circle.
“There (were) so many times I can’t even tell you, that in the middle of the night, I’m grabbing Shannon by the ears and telling him, ‘You’re going to kill yourself and you’re going to ruin everyone’s life around you,”’ Stevens said.
“There’s a lot of people that you would just write off in that situation, but he was so amazing and he made up for it in so many other ways that you wanted to stay with him.”
In a last-ditch effort, the band hired a counselor to keep an eye on Hoon during the “Soup” tour. But the singer hated the scrutiny and the other four found it equally awkward, so the counselor was let go. Hoon died shortly thereafter.
“We really felt that Shannon was doing things to spite this guy, to get to him, to make him try to leave,” Stevens said. “It just seemed like it was counterproductive. I (felt) that Shannon was going to get malicious towards this guy and we didn’t think it was right.”
Hoon’s last lyrics are filled with self-examination and self-criticism. And looking back on them, the irony and foreshadowing is overwhelming. Hoon is basically chronicling and almost anticipating what is about to happen to him. He knows, as he says in “Hell,” that there’s no way his body can keep up with his mind.
He covers “The Pusher,” written by Hoyt Axton and made famous by Steppenwolf, and changes the lyrics so that they criticize pushers of religion rather than pushers of drugs.
In retrospect, the first song the band wrote together, “Soul One,” could have been written for Nico. Hoon sings about finding someone who really means something to him and regrets that “I never got the chance to say good-bye.”
Even though proceeds from “Nico” are going to the Musician’s Assistance Program, which gets free help for musicians having trouble with drugs and alcohol, Stevens says he won’t become an anti-drug crusader.
“I think that our situation is an example, and what happened to Shannon is an example, and someone should be able to look at this and get it,” he said. “I really believe that it’s wrong to try to think for other people, and I think people are best served when they’re just given the information and (can) figure it out for themselves.”
The remaining members of Blind Melon have been busy. But the void in their lives remains immeasurable.
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