Shannon Hoon and that damn Bee Girl

“Because the Cadillac that’s sittin’ in the back, it isn’t me… I’m more at home in my Galaxie…”

Even the most ardent female snacker with endless ziploc baggies coming out of her clown car purse will have a justification for each- light granola, with healthy fats and necessary carbs. She’s going to spin class later and she doesn’t want to get light headed. Measured servings of guacamole- a hundred calorie pack, she’s sure to point out. A baggie of tortilla chips- hand counted and within her macros. God help you if she wants a glass of wine- she’ll tell you how she was “so good during the week,” and that if she wants a glass of wine at night, she’s having a glass of wine at night; if she wants a cheeseburger, she’s having a cheeseburger. She’ll feel confidence in her words despite the rationalizing- something she’s become so accustomed to that it doesn’t stand out as strange.

We watched Donna open a second package of cheese and crackers- the kind you’d pack in a school lunch for a third grader, with the rectangular plastic spreading device and cheese that’ll expire long after we’re all dead. Diets that involve avoiding certain foods, or denying experience and gratification, don’t work, she explained to us, for reasons that are never made entirely clear. We were alone with her, as Alex’s girlfriend had to “run a few last minute errands,” unnecessary code for picking up marijuana, and we had run out of polite conversation to make. Donna didn’t seem to notice, vacillating between explaining why a second package of cheese and crackers were necessary and the broader strokes of her dietary philosophy, all the while hoping we would call neither into question. We didn’t.

Samantha took longer than expected. A third package entered the scene; likely the consequence of smoking scraped resin- the removal of which is a delicate, surgical balancing act that all stoners are familiar with while half-watching the blackened eye of their cell phone. More chatter about missed lunches and yoga class.

What feels like a thousand lifetimes pass- maybe enough time for the cheese to have expired, and maybe it’s enough to put Donna down, gently, as you would a beloved pet. Anything, please, to stop her from talking about intuitive eating. She tells us that she may need a nap. We encourage this line of thought. Alex offers use of their bed- please, he says, I insist when Samantha finally gets back with additional items: whatever it takes to make crème brule- some kind of heat gun- and one of those party games where people are supposed to get drunk and reveal their innermost secrets through provocative questions on cards drawn at random.

Card pulled: “What’s a personal quality you wish you weren’t lacking?”

***

What I never knew about Shannon Hoon is that he hated the bee girl. Blind Melon will forever be known as a one-hit wonder band, but partially because their one-hit was truly wonderful- “No Rain” is among the greatest songs of the 1990’s. A rare breed of pop-song that carries emotional depth- it sounds happy but is painfully sad; a radio hit that underground, alternative rock aficionados could appreciate; “No Rain” is perfect.

In a perfect world, the music video stands on its own- a separate entity that serves as an extension of the source material. A third party’s interpretation of the original work, like the movie version of a novel; similar but different; not a replacement nor a definitive statement of intent. As MTV became the preferred mode of transference, music was saddled with an inseparable visual presence; you don’t hear “Take on Me” without conjuring images of forbidden rotoscoped love nor “Thriller” without dancing ghouls- nor “No Rain” without the damn bee girl.

In 1993, the dancing bee girl was everywhere. The bee girl was at the year-end Video Music Awards; the bee girl was parodied on Saturday Night Live– everyone knew the bee girl and everyone loved the bee girl. “No Rain” (1993), the music video and not the song, told a simple story: the bee girl wants to dance but no one really likes her dancing; no one gets it; no one understands her. Then she finds a magical field with a bunch of different bee people, and they immediately love her. She’s so happy. The end. Oh, and the band is in it a little bit too.

Heather DeLoach plays the bee girl as well as anyone could play anything in a four minute clip. You walk away feeling happy for the bee girl and good about life- mission accomplished. While “No Rain,” the song and not the video, isn’t a celebration of diversity and acceptance, but rather a meditation on desperation and depression- where the speaker just wants to get through a day without crying- it didn’t really matter. People couldn’t get enough of the song and Blind Melon’s debut album sold three-million copies.

Which was great for Blind Melon, as the album was dying a slow death on the charts after the initial bump it had gotten for Shannon being “the other guy” in the Guns N’ Roses’ video for “Don’t Cry” (1991). The shocking success of “No Rain” pulled off the rare feat of bringing a dead record back to life- and with that, Blind Melon was made. Blind Melon (1992), the album and not the band, was deserving of its late-in-life, rags-to-riches attention- there was nothing else like it, and it’s fucking excellent. Carrying the easy confidence of the unconscious artist- the artist with nothing to lose; complete authenticity, total purity- Blind Melon provides an hour of southern-fried jam band good times met with contemporary alternative rock sensibilities. Something like Soundgarden meets The Black Crows, but not exactly that, because, derivative of nothing, Blind Melon was a work unto its own.

“No Rain,” as wonderful as it was, existed as an outlier to the rest of the material- nothing else carried its effortless pop sheen… which was something only the most ardent Blind Melon fan was aware of, as most people bought Blind Melon for “No Rain” and didn’t give the rest of the wildly different, but equally engaging, material a chance; Blind Melon did not have a second hit single. People just wanted to hear “No Rain,” think about the bee girl, feel good about life, and move on with their day- and if that translates to three million records sold, mission accomplished, right?       

The night of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, Blind Melon appeared on The David Letterman show. Distraught, Shannon drew a question mark on his forehead and refused to play “No Rain”- the band would instead play “Change,” the song that truly made me fall in love with them; a song that made lonesome nights of teenage depression bearable. When life is hard you have to change… There was no better song for April 8th, 1994 at 11pm (eastern standard time) and Shannon’s performance was haunting. This should have become the band’s second breakthrough single- this should have been the song of the moment; an aural representation of what every teenager-to-young adult was feeling, then and there; perfectly balanced catharsis and hope; complete authenticity and total purity. But this performance went unnoticed, because it wasn’t “No Rain.” 

The band played Woodstock ’94 (the good one; not the angry, fire one), and at a festival with Metallica, Nine Inch Nails covered in mud, Aerosmith and Green Day, Blind Melon best captured the spirit of the event: 500,000 people singing along to “No Rain,” because “No Rain” is perfect.

And therein lies the problem- “No Rain,” in all of its pop-rock, radio-friendly glory, was a little too perfect for a band who wanted to be taken seriously. Blind Melon didn’t want to be the dancing bee band.

With their sophomore effort, they changed course- gone was anything approaching radio friendly and unit shifting. The perfunctory lead single from Soup (1995), “Galaxie,” was great- even if the band can nearly be heard choking down their own vomit for stringing together a rockin’ three-chord melody. This was evident in the track being buried under an unskippable, fifty-seconds of horrific off-tune New Orleans’ brass band jamming- punishment for anyone who thought they could buy an album and skip directly to a catchy song they heard on the radio- Blind Melon was going to beat you over the head with their artistic vision.

They were hoping you’d take the hint and enjoy Soup as a unified vision, whole-cloth, even if the advent of the compact disc relieved this as a necessity. “Galaxie” was more than just a lead single, it was a statement of intent: Blind Melon wasn’t looking to impress with conventional flair- this wasn’t to be a Cadallac, but instead an old, clunky Galaxie. Soup was consciously written to be the “anti-No Rain.”

The album is intentionally weird- deliberately weird, and constantly going out of its way to remind you of its deliberate weirdness. Blind Melon’s unique artistry was delivered with a contrived urgency- nothing about Soup is light-hearted or fun; nothing about Soup is particularly enjoyable. Unlike what the band’s alternative rock contemporaries were producing at the time, Soup was not intended as an audience shedding “fuck you” record, but rather its polar opposite- a desperate attempt to gain artistic credibility. Soup has more in common with Music From The Elder (1981) than In Utero (1993); it wanted to be music that you liked for the right reasons– music that you studied, analyzed, charted and graphed, and eventually came to the logical conclusion of artistic validity. With Soup they had achieved the anti-”No Rain.”    

Rolling Stone gave the album a very polite two-stars, calling it incomprehensible and citing that it lacks “a kid in a bee suit.” The album would not spawn a hit single, despite production by Andy Wallace, and “Galaxie” would never find its way into MTV rotation. Two months after its release, both Shannon Hoon and Soup were dead.

***

The idea behind those party games is that you play them while drinking- you end up revealing things about yourself that you normally wouldn’t. You’re half-embarrassed and half-liberated; exhilarated and giggling at your own display of vulnerability. Half-way through our stoner diner order- someone had ordered banana pancakes but we didn’t remember who, and it didn’t seem to matter- we were already enjoying freshly made crème brule- as it turns out, the heat gun was essential. Samantha is a genius.

The average person in their mid-twenties isn’t terribly confident. Living with no meaning or control; you don’t have money and you don’t know if you ever will. The dead end path perpetually one-hundred meters ahead- always in view; remembering how you were sold on the idea of a sexy decade of glamorous adventure by sitcoms and hour-long television dramas: carefree, fun, and don’t forget to travel. A college dormitory existence that can be frozen in time and extended as far as the imagination will go…and in the absence of anything but broken promises, you’ll sit around a scratched-up coffee table, getting high in a hot apartment, above a chinese takeout, with your useless college degree, laughing as you watch your life slide out of view, because there’s nothing else to do.

The conclusion was foregone. The irony about confidence is that you’re actually more confident for admitting that you lack confidence. Comfortable enough to confront the person you really are and having the courage to voice your findings; around that scratched-up coffee table, in that hot apartment, with nothing on the horizon. Comfortable enough to know that you’re building from the ground up; that you have nothing you lose; that you are nothing; the coldness of deep space. Your twenties aren’t about reveling in decadence, but finding yourself and becoming who you really are. True confidence is owning the hell of that pursuit. True confidence is owning the damn bee girl; true confidence is unapologetically having cheese and crackers.

As we flipped our cards, Samantha, Alex and I laughed nervously, each revealing the word confidence scrawled in carbon. We looked to Donna, who had written humility across hers. She wishes she was more humble; she’s too confident, she tells us. And I don’t know what your problem is, she says with a smile, as she spreads cheese across a cracker.

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