For music acts lucky enough to find substantial success with their debut album, there quickly arises an asterisk, and it adheres to every achievement, accolade, and royalty dollar earned from such swift and vast successes.
That asterisk is the age-old “sophomoric album test.”
Have they spent all of their artistic integrity and ability, pent up and let loose, or have they left something in the bank from which to draw upon? After all, few record deals are for a singular record, and the sophomoric curse has haunted and hunted for decades.
On the heels of their platinum debut record, followed by tours with Guns n’ Roses, Soundgarden, The Rolling Stones, and Neil Young, Blind Melon (yes, the “No Rain” band) answered the call on the first ring.
Gone are (most of) the hippy accessories and single-note simplicities of their first offering. They are heavier, darker, introspective, and, for lack of a more articulate term, better.
Soup (Capitol Records, 1995) wastes no time dragging the listener into vocalist Shannon Hoon’s world by their toes. After setting the tone with opening track “Galaxie” (whose video features a cameo by none other than Timothy Leary,) followed by the stadium-worthy juggernaut “2×4”, everything halts and takes a sharp left turn. Into grandma’s house.
Squeezed between the aforementioned “2×4” and “Skinned,” (the band’s take on Ed Gein, who’s crimes inspired The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,) lies the warm, pseudo-psychedelic “Vernie”.
At first listen, one could easily mistake “Vernie” for abstract, untethered lyrical poetry. Upon further consideration and hearing (rather than simply listening,) we realize that Hoon has written an honest, heartfelt song about, as he introduces it in concert, “a little old lady from Lafayette, Indiana. My grandma.”
Painted with the vividity of fingering through a childhood photo album, Hoon aptly and humbly toggles between reminiscence of innocent dog days in grandma’s modest, light blue bungalow, juxtaposed with how departed he now is from childhood innocence, as he echoes:
Gotta have your own space to play in
A collection of glass chickens
Oh Vernie, what a garden you have
Sadly, the days of playing in the yard and admiring the figurines at grandma’s seem – to Hoon at least – to be only a memory. No longer attainable. No longer accessible. As is too common among people in the depths of addiction, Hoon, who is now committed in earnest to his drug use, offers an unapologetically self-critical admission, claiming
No I cannot deny the beauty
If I had a heart I would want it to be like Vernie’s
Shannon Hoon, 28 years old, will die 2 months and six days after the release of Soup.
Following a rare poor performance in Houston, he will be found unresponsive on his tour bus in New Orleans the next afternoon, October 21, 1995. In his 4 years as a professional musician, he will provide live and studio vocals on Guns n’ Roses colossal double album Use Your Illusion I and II (thanks to an enduring childhood friendship with Axl Rose,) tour with the aforementioned legends of 20th century folk and rock, and achieve critical and mainstream success that continue to impact musicians, listeners, and people who knew him best.
Vernie Long will attend every annual vigil in honor of her grandson for the next 21 years until her passing in 2016 at the tender age of 98.