Back for Seconds
Monday, March 3, 2008
The idea seemed so crazy and potentially embarrassing that initially nobody would say it out loud. Guitarist Christopher Thorn thought of it first but kept it to himself for weeks, tossing it around in his head. Revive the band ? It seemed insane and at the same time, kind of thrilling. But insane. But kind of thrilling.
It had been 12 years since the remaining four members of Blind Melon had played Blind Melon songs, 12 years since the band's lead singer -- the charismatic, hard-partying and doomed Shannon Hoon -- overdosed on Oct. 21, 1995. The group was supposed to perform in New Orleans that night, but moments after Hoon's body was discovered on the tour bus, it was over. Everything but the royalty checks just disappeared.
Picture it: One day, you're big enough to move nearly 4 million units of a self-titled debut album, big enough to open for the Rolling Stones, big enough to merit the ultimate compliment that rock has to offer, a cover story in Rolling Stone magazine. (The photographer persuades you to pose in the buff, which you're still pretty peeved about. Still. The cover.) Your band's twangy, forlorn, hippie-rock single, "No Rain," is so huge that it splinters alternative radio listeners into two camps: those who love "No Rain" and those who want to murder the DJs who keep playing "No Rain." Even the pudgy little girl who appears in the video, dressed in this too-cute bee costume, becomes famous.
That's life before the morning of Oct. 21, 1995. By that afternoon, done.
"I moved to New York City like five days after Shannon's funeral," says the group's other guitarist, Rogers Stevens. "It was psychologically damaging. I didn't have the skills to know what to do with myself after something like that. I had put all my chips on the table and lost them all. I felt lost for years."
There was some talk about forming a new band, with a new lead singer, and starting from scratch, with new songs, but within a few months that kind of fizzled. Thorn set up a recording studio in Los Angeles with the bass player, Brad Smith, and became a workaholic. ("I went into survival mode," Thorn says, "and just worked nonstop.") Drummer Glen Graham moved to North Carolina and into seclusion with his wife. Stevens tried his hand at painting and started a few bands, which didn't go anywhere.
That might have been the last anyone heard from Blind Melon, except that a guy at Atlantic Records sent a scruffy and promising young singer and songwriter to the studio that Thorn and Smith own. Originally, the goal was to record the kid and get him signed. But there was something about Travis Warren, something very Hoonlike in both his voice and manner. And he turned out to be a compulsively dedicated Blind Melon fan. He hadn't just memorized all of the band's albums. He had dozens of bootlegs.
And he didn't just admire Shannon Hoon. To Thorn and Smith's astonishment, he had a 10-inch portrait of the guy tattooed on his back. He showed it off during a smoke break on the patio soon after he first walked into the studio, a six-pack and a bag of weed in hand.
"Check this out," he said, pulling up his T-shirt.
It's the last Sunday in February and the second incarnation of Blind Melon is sitting on the floor in a room surrounded by carpet samples in York, Pa. Thorn grew up here and his sister owns this place, part of a ServiceMaster franchise.
The band will spend five days here fine-tuning for a six-month tour, which arrives at the 9:30 club tonight. The original members of the group plus Warren are just back from dinner at a nearby Irish pub. Now they're in a little circle, taking turns explaining how Blind Melon redux is blowing their minds.