We’ve escaped Halloween without getting our apples poisoned or razorbladed. No hockey masked killers have hacked us to bits. An alien rabbit hasn’t let our girlfriend get run over. We didn’t get a rock. Things could have been worse for us. Before we let the month slip away, though, I’d like to talk a little further about horror.
There are a few basic directions a horror fan can travel. Some people love the classic Universal Monsters above all else. Others crave the B-movies, and still others love the mindless slashers. These days, the big draw is the psychological thriller. Perhaps we’re at a point in our collective consciousness where monsters and ghosts aren’t as scary as real people, real problems, and real fear. Even films like Paranormal Activity rely on the “realism” of the scenario. These are allegedly real people with a real haunting. Although we’re less superstitious than ever, the idea of these hauntings taking place, and the “realist” style of the film, instills the same fears that a robber in the house would. It’s something beyond our control, and something that is decidedly malevolent.
Even the cheapest horror, however, can freak us out with flashing images, unsettling images, clearly drawn tensions and foreshadowing… it may be hard to truly shock or scare us, but just as even Daniel Tosh can scrounge up a tepid laugh or two now and then, we’ll jump or cringe at some point in most horror films. In music, however, it’s more difficult. This is why it is with no snark or irony that I would present a Blind Melon song as among the top five creepiest I’ve heard.
The thing about Shannon Hoon’s voice is, it was always improbable: a laid-back hippie vibe sent through a kazoo, if I may coin an image. This is what made “No Rain” a verifiable hit: competent musicianship, an upbeat sound despite its more despondent lyrics, and that unique voice. Put any number of similar bands behind the track, and it would have been forgettable… it was all about the tone, from those first slides on the guitar to the last gasps of Hoon’s voice petering out like a natural wah pedal. It’s also a package which feels unavoidably sunny. Listen to “No Rain,” and tell me what the key phrase is. You picked “I’ll have it made,” didn’t you? Really listen to the lyrics, though… he doesn’t have it made, and he is in no position to have it made, and this person is not particularly promising to do the one thing that would allow him to have it made (namely, stay with him). He or she dislikes his point of view and thinks that he’s insane. Blind Melon, even in writing one of the undeniably best summer songs, did so out of a very dark place, where the only optimism is desperate optimism. Just imagine, then, what the band could do when they went sonically dark as well.
“Car Seat” makes my point for me. The scale they choose to mine for the main riffs is already full of tension and eeriness. If one reads the lyrics alone (and don’t do it, it’s better if you’re surprised), the subject matter already is a bit terrifying and upsetting. Much as with “No Rain,” however, it is the delivery that hammers home the statement. The nonchalant delivery of the final line of “Car Seat,” the twist ending, is what makes it so shocking. Hoon dispassionately makes a statement that, even in the hypothetical, cannot fail to elicit a reaction. As that quick, matter-of-fact statement resonates, the music starts to unravel into chaos; instead of the story ending, the sonic landscape starts dropping out on us, unsettling us further. In this state we might not even realize that Hoon has returned to the mix, to recite the “God’s Presents” part of the composition. It’s a poem, read and recorded on what seems to be an answering machine, putting it at a distance, as if broadcasting from another world. As the recitation continues, the delivery becomes more shaky and uncertain. The poem sounds more like a frantic final note to the world than a planned part of the song. Noting that this album was released mere weeks before Shannon Hoon’s death by overdose, this quavering delivery feels even more like a dying plea. Our most realistic, most primal fears are realized here: death, the unknown, our own bodily failings, not to mention the cold calculation of others referenced in the main “text”… it’s a 90 minute thriller in less than 3 minutes of your time.
Songs, when they are at their best, are unforgettable and make you feel something. That said, I am thankful that this is not a track I identify with personally. What it is, however, is still, to this day, one of the most viscerally eerie songs I’ve ever heard. To the point where it effects me. To the point where that chill makes its way up through me every time. You can take every horror score, every crypt metal or goth shock artist you’ve ever heard… the winding melody, the frantic recitation at the end, the total creep out lyrics, to me it all taps into a primal fear just as real and valid as any positive connection a song can make one feel. It sort of makes the old Halloween standards look like weak costuming by comparison.
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