Why am I even here? I wonder.
Because see, I just put it onto my Ipod after years and years of not owning it and not hearing it at all, and it's led me to rediscover just how great the rest of the album really is. When I listen to it, I'm careful to skip "No Rain", even though I didn't mind that song so much when I first heard it. It was the fourth single from the LP, or at least the fourth video they'd released to MTV, and I'll bet they had no more expectations for it to be a breakout hit than I did. I thought it was the weakest track I'd heard from the album thus far, but I didn't really mind it that much before the overplaying blitz hit. I will even admit to having loved the video--the storyline, about a little girl who just wanted to dance in a bee costume and how she couldn't find anyone who understood her, until one day she came upon a whole field of people dancing in bee costumes--really touched a nerve for me. I don't specifically remember it now but I'm sure I cried the first time I saw that video. I was 16 years old, a senior in a rural high school where I had, no lie, 2 friends, and even those friends weren't into the same stuff I was. I saw that video and thought, "That's me. I am that bee girl." I've actually used that metaphor a whole bunch of times in the years since then to explain my own feelings of alienation to other people--because everyone's seen that video, and everyone gets the reference. For an annoying song, it has a really awesome video.
But anyway, let's stop talking about "No Rain" like I said I was gonna after the first paragraph. I was hanging out with a couple of friends earlier today and mentioned that I was gonna go home afterwards and write a blog entry about the first Blind Melon album. One of them, who is a good bit younger than me, told me that the album had always made him feel a bit weird, because it sounded so happy and yet the singer on it was dead. I told him that I'd gotten into it when Shannon Hoon was very much alive, so my experience of the music was different. He said, "It's just weird. I heard that album, and someone told me the singer was dead, and that didn't seem right, because the music was so happy. Then I started listening to the lyrics, and it made more sense." At that point, I could see exactly what he meant.
"Change" was a followup single to "No Rain", and though it didn't do quite as well, it hit with the same demographic that liked "No Rain" due to its upbeat acoustic sound. Apparently Shannon Hoon had this song before Blind Melon even got together. It's an acoustic song that only has limited backing instrumentation, and it appears right before "No Rain" on the album. They're the last two songs on side one. It has in common with "No Rain" the fact that, as cheery as it sounds, the lyrics are rather depressing. "I don't think the sun's coming out today," Shannon sings to begin the song. "As I sit here in this misery, I don't think I'll ever see the sun from here." Later on, though, he attempts to bring in a more positive, motivational message: "When you feel your life aint worth living, you've got to stand up, take a look around you, then look way up to the sky. And when your deepest thoughts are broken, keep on dreaming boy, because when you stop dreaming, it's time to die." This, the second verse, is the only section of the song in which the whole band plays, backing up Shannon's acoustic strumming with a swinging, shuffling backbeat incorporating mandolins and more acoustic guitars. At the end of that verse, Shannon sings, "I know we can't all stay here forever, so I wanna write my words on the face of today... and then they'll paint it." This last, wry aside, thrown in as a self-deprecating afterthought, adds a hint of levity to lyrics that might otherwise seem a bit downbeat. Of course, as my friend pointed out, they're belied by the upbeat, spirited backing music.
Most of the record, though, isn't really acoustic at all. Blind Melon's normal sound, so different from that of the few songs that were hits for them, is what I really like about them. The songs rock, and have a psychedelic edge to them that was actually rather uncommon for the grunge-infested early 90s. If anything, their music reminds me of Jane's Addiction's more electrified material, but with the prominent Led Zeppelin influence in Jane's Addiction's sound replaced by a big, fat dollop of Grateful Dead. Again, don't worry--I hate the Grateful Dead, too, just like I hate "No Rain". But there are times when I hear a band with a Grateful Dead influence who mix that influence with their others to create something really great. It's why I'm a big fan of Ryan Adams's more recent work with backing band The Cardinals, and it's why I like Blind Melon even though most of the modern "jam band" scene makes me want to barf.
"I Wonder" was the third video Blind Melon released to MTV, and it probably got the least amount of airplay out of all of them, which is a shame, as I like both the song and the video the most out of all of their singles. It starts with an acoustic intro that really isn't part of the proper song, and actually ends after a minute or so, with the real song coming in after that and sounding, if you weren't looking at the track display on your CD player, like a completely different song. The arpeggiated electric guitar riff that the main sections of the song are based around is somewhat mournful, or at least contemplative, which fits well with Shannon Hoon's lyrics, in which he complains, "They're watching everything I say. Why won't they leave me be?" Not long before this point in the song, he says, "I'd like to daze away to a place no one has known, in a state of mind that I could call mine that only I could own." It's a pretty essential statement of Shannon Hoon's existential problems, the ones that basically ended his life. He wasn't a guy who ever felt comfortable in his own skin, and he did even worse with that whole thing once he became famous, instead replacing his searching tendencies with drugs to numb the pain, until they finally killed him. "I Wonder" isn't a particularly heavy or intense song, but the riffing is catchy and the song has a constant forward motion, even to some extent on the quieter verses. On the solo, the rhythm section plays double-time and the lead guitarist plays a catchy melody line that could almost come from an Allman Brothers song. This part of the song is upbeat, but it quickly changes once the solo ends, with the band dropping back to the original, slower tempo and Shannon crying, "Won't you stop watching me? I said they're watching me, watching me, watching me." As the song comes to its end, he sings, "I only wanted to be 16 and free," and around him the music slowly drifts apart, bubbling noises replacing the drums as he sings, "Oh, I wonder." This is the Blind Melon that I love--the Blind Melon that incorporates psychedelic and hippie influences into the early 90s alternative rock sound, and puts lyrics over it that I can understand, that mean something to me.
"Paper Scratcher", which follows "I Wonder" on the album, is catchier and more upbeat, at least musically speaking. The hippie-jam influence is more pronounced on this song, though they still manage to rock at points on it. The part that I most love, though, is the chorus, on which Shannon Hoon shows off his high falsetto voice, singing, "My mind is a mind I've come to know" over delicate guitar arpeggios playing a gorgeous countermelody that intertwines with the melody of the vocal to create a beautiful multilayered pattern. Shannon's depressing contemplations are still present to some extent on this song, most noticeable when he leads into the song's solo by declaring, "When I die, thank god, my soul will be released." The surprisingly distorted guitar solo that follows seems more appropriate in light of the vehemence with which he sings this line, even as the rest of the song is delivered in a much mellower and higher-pitched tone.
I'd never really paid too much attention to "Sleepyhouse" before--it's on Side Two of the album, and with Side One featuring the 5-song sequence of "Tones Of Home", "I Wonder", "Paper Scratcher", "Dear Ol' Dad", and "Change", I'm generally so overwhelmed by it that I don't really even notice the quieter, more contemplative Side Two. However, my friend that I was talking to earlier about Blind Melon mentioned that it's his favorite song on the album, so I paid a little closer attention to it when listening to the record this afternoon, and I can now see exactly why someone would pick it as their favorite. It's definitely a quiet, contemplative song, fitting with my memory of Side Two as the mellower of the two sides, but the things it has to offer are just as awesome in their own way.
The song is driven by an echoing electric guitar, floating around and laying down a single-note melody line in a way that sounds like no notes are ever picked, as if they're just generating themselves. It's some sort of effect, I'm sure, but it sounds pretty neat either way. In the other speaker, the other guitarist strums along on an undistorted electric guitar, laying down the chords of the song, as the rhythm section keeps the beat and a constant undertone of sitars buzz and hum beneath it all. The lyrics of the song are obviously from the point of view of a stoner, but in a lot of ways I can relate to them even though I don't do any drugs. "No time frame for what I need to do today," Shannon begins. "Here at the yellow house, I think I'm gonna play." I know how that is. My favorite days are indeed the ones where I don't have to do anything at any particular time. There's still a bit of melancholy underneath the ostensibly carefree lyrics, though. On the chorus, he asks, "Aren't you feeling fine as I was as a little child?" He responds to this question for himself by saying, "I'm feeling better when I'm high." The words to the chorus belie its musical tone, too. The words seem like they should be happy, but the music has a sadder feel, perhaps created by the use of minor chords (though really, I can't tell). When Shannon sings, "I'm feeling better when I'm high," he doesn't sound like he's feeling better at all. He sounds like he's longing for something to cheer him up. In a later verse comes something that just might be an explanation: "If I could only show you how I feel, then you wouldn't bother me. And then maybe you'd see why we dont mind being blind."
I get a vibe from this song, and really, from this entire album, that I find hard to explain. It reminds me of times when I've felt all alone in a crowd of people, or maybe when I've been in places that were beautiful and really moved me, but been there alone. Like, when I'm the only one walking down a street while everyone around me is walking in the other direction, or when I'm sitting on a beach at night, alone. Those are moments that seem prime for soundtracks, because no matter how many people are around you, none of them see you at all, so you might as well be alone. And when you really are alone, again, they seem like the perfect time to retreat into the music in your head.
I guess what I'm really talking about is the way I feel lonely a lot of times for reasons that have nothing to do with where I am or who is around me. I feel lonely on a deeper level. It's been a long time since I was in a romantic relationship, and even though I have quite a few friends, some of whom really mean a lot to me, I don't spend nearly as much time with them as I sometimes feel like most people spend with their friends. The older I get, the harder it feels to try and make someone understand what it's like to be me, and what life feels like to experience it from my point of view. I end up just not even trying, going through life with a soundtrack rather than companionship. That's what this Blind Melon record reminds me of. It evokes emotions in me that I don't know how to explain to other people, and I get the feeling that Shannon Hoon knew where I was coming from. Which, sadly, is not all that reassuring, because he's been dead for a long time.
So there you go, another blog entry. Another outpouring of words in which I try to explain why a record is good as a cover for really trying to explain how it feels to be me, and why I connect with certain records that sound a certain way. I like to write, and I like putting what I write out there for other people to see, so it's not something that I consider futile, and I'm sure I'll keep doing it. But in another way, I know I'm never gonna say what I'm really trying to say in words that anyone else will understand. I'll write my words on the face of today, and even if no one paints over it, no one's really gonna get it. But that's OK, I guess. I guess.
Blind Melon - I Wonder
Blind Melon - Paper Scratcher
Blind Melon - Sleepyhouse