And oh as I fade away,
they’ll all look at me and say,
Hey look at him, and where he is these days…
When life is hard, you have to change.
Like most people, my first introduction to Blind Melon came from a girl in a bee costume on MTV’s Alternative Nation. And really, looking back on it, the song has all the trappings of a one-hit wonder, doesn’t it? Catchy video? Check. Cutesy melody? Check. Able to simultaneously blend in on college radio and at your nephew’s seventh birthday party? Check. In fact, for most people, this is where Blind Melon remains – a one-hit wonder band from the early nineties. Which is a shame, really, as I think Shannon Hoon was one of the more interesting musicians to come out of the post-grunge explosion of quirky bands. (Far better than those Spin Doctor fellas, at any rate!) Still, this album is one of the fine examples of that bizarre phenomenon of discovering things in your own backyard (so to speak). I received the disc by accident from one of those “cds through the mail” things that were fashionable in the late-eighties/early-nineties, and it remained on my shelf for quite some time. (Beck’s first album did this, as well. Stupidly, I gave that one away without opening it.) It wasn’t until I went away to camp in 1993 that I really got to know and love this disc. And it wasn’t until then that “Change” set up camp in my heart. (1)
It’s a Spring/Fall song, to be sure. I usually come back to “Change” at moments of uncertainty and doubt, and these seem all the more potent in the transitional seasons. (Strange, then, that these are also my favorite seasons.) It’s not the most profound song I’ve ever heard, but it’s hard to deny the perfect logic of “when life is hard, you have to change.” (2) And it is really rather lovely, which I suppose is all the more impressive given that it was the first song that Shannon Hoon ever wrote. I guess there’s an energy to songs written during teenage years that is just hard to recapture later on. (3) And it’s equally amazing just how much these things can stay with you. For Hoon, the lyric “I know we can’t all stay here forever / So I want to write my words on the face of today / And they’ll paint it” is written on his tombstone. For me, this lyric is part of a set of songs that always helps to motivate me. It would seem that just as there is a unique energy involved in creation at an early age, there is an equally curious energy involved in the hearing of music at that age.
Of course, we’ve been down this road before.
During the summer of 1993, I was on staff at Wah-Tut-Ca Scout Reservation. I worked as part of the kitchen staff (steward), and lived in a small, dingy cabin with five other boys. At least two of these actively despised me at any given time – which is a little unfair, as I’m sure I despised three of them. Ah well. In any case, the work was some of the least fun/glamorous at camp, and I longed to get away to Discovery or Handicrafts. Unfortunately, this wasn’t often possible until the evenings, and kitchen staff needed to be up early, so… I spent a lot of time waiting for “Staff Night Out,” which was Wednesday. On these rare outings, I’d get to eat in restaurants (among other things, like trees, Northwood, NH sports the best chicken fingers in the world), buy CDs (my first copy of “Never Mind the Bollocks” came from one of these trips), and escape the confines of camp for a while. Which is not to say that I disliked camp – quite the contrary. It’s just that awkward, sensitive boys really can run into trouble playing with Boy Scouts all summer long. If it weren’t for friends like Mike and Toby, I’m pretty sure I’d have had a much worse time of things.
Anyway, on one of these staff trips, I brought my discman, and finally introduced myself to Blind Melon. I had been thinking for some time about the state of things, and as to how I might make myself happy. This is long before I adopted the practical attitude of the existentialists (4), and I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I read a lot. I walked around when I could, and I tried to avoid the people I didn’t get along with. And watching the moon pass by on this Wednesday night, and wondering just what I was doing there, all of a sudden there’s “Change,” and it says: “when life is hard, you have to change.” Watching the trees go past, I thought: “Is it ‘you‘ have to change, or is it “you have to change _____?”” I decided that it could be either, but, in this case, it had to be the latter. It was the first time in my life I realized that so much of what keeps you down is able to do so only because you refuse to give it the brush-off for good. While hard to always act upon, this belief makes life a lot easier to navigate.
But let’s not overlook the sugar on this “pill,” eh? One of the things that I really love about this track is its ability to be both gentle and frantic at the same time. (Perhaps a fitting pair of adjectives for Shannon Hoon?) Watching the video, I’m struck by the dated aesthetic of the band (and by the fact that Hoon looks like a male version of Janis Joplin), as juxtaposed against the timelessness of the song itself. Much like the stories I’ve told already, I find that this is the real core paradigm of this site – moments in time that live on through their ability to affect change. The song is just such a glorious combination of elements – the folksy instrumentation, Hoon’s creaky, antique voice, and an insistent sense of identity. It’s really no wonder that this song has become anthemic to me, as it is everything I love in acoustic rock. (5)
Even more than that, though, I love that this song actually makes me believe that it really is just a matter of deciding to change. The courage to do this is a separate matter, but the belief in the possibility is something special. Whenever I hear this song, I am re-convinced that this belief is worth keeping. I know that this stance can confound the people I know, but I genuinely feel that most things can be overcome through will. Whether this makes me Don Quixote or a dreamer, or not, I know I’m not the only one.
And when life is hard, I’ll change.
Here are two versions of the song. The first is the video (6), which actually features an alternate version of the vocal (Hoon liked recording live, I guess), and the second is a beautiful live version from April 8th, 1994. Wait until the very end – strange.
- In light of the rest of the entry, I realize that this has become an awful pun. I’m going to leave it, though. For those of you who aren’t “irony challenged,” I apologize. [Back]
- Well, ok, apparently the “evolve or die” thing doesn’t go down so well in Kentucky. [Back]
- Consider Jimmy Page’s “Going to California,” written when he was just 17, against anything he’s written in the last decade. [Back]
- A whole other story for sleepless nights, I’m sure. [Back]
- Which makes this all the more improbable, no? I know they were friends…but, man, it’s Bizarro World. [Back]
- Just go ahead and tell me it wasn’t made by the same guy who directed Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” – so nineties! [Back]