They knew her back when she was just a regular bee.
They were in Columbus, Miss., at the time, having just finished a pleasant dinner at drummer Glen Graham’s family home. As images go, it seemed harmless enough — just an old snapshot of Graham’s sister Georgia taken before some long-ago school play.
“We were all sitting around in the living room,” recalls Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon’s vocalist, “and that picture just jumped out at us. Someone jokingly said, ‘That would make a great album cover.’ “
It seemed like a good idea at the time. She was cute and and perky — charming even. She knew her place. Didn’t try to hog the spotlight. Didn’t go around flipping her tutu at every Tom, Dick and Harry. For a while, she served Blind Melon well.
But that was before the band brought her to life in the video for its second single, “No Rain.” In mid-June, when MTV put the sunny, happy-go-lucky clip directed by Sam Bayer (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) into Buzz Bin rotation, the Bee Girl became a star. She also became a colossal pain in the ass.
Thanks in no small part to Heather DeLoach, the 10-year-old actress who portrayed her in the video and has since parlayed the role into an extended world tour, the Bee Girl has developed an alarming cult following. She’s also been packing a serious ‘tude — flitting around with an entourage, signing autographs and hobnobbing with the heavy hitters. (“I heard she was hanging out with Madonna at the MTV Awards,” reports Hoon.) Of course, Blind Melon haven’t made out too shabbily in all of this. Their debut album, Blind Melon, had been in stores for nine months when MTV began airing the “No Rain” video; after its release in September 1992, the album had hovered for a time on Billboard‘s Heatseekers chart but failed to gather further steam. When “No Rain” began getting MTV play, however, Blind Melon exploded, re-entering the charts at No. 156 and pole-vaulting to No. 3 in only seven weeks. At the time of this writing, the album is selling 109,000 copies weekly. Numbers like that would take the sting out of most any unpleasant issue, and so, despite the pleasure the band takes in ragging on the Bee Girl, most of its barbs are good-natured.
Blind Melon are gratified by their llth-hour breakthrough — “It feels valid to us, like we’ve worked for it,” says guitarist Rogers Stevens — but they also seem a little disillusioned to have learned how much power MTV had over their careers.
“It’s really weird how the momentum picked up because of one video,” says bassist Brad Smith. “The music hasn’t changed — it’s been on the CD forever. What we do has not changed. The video and the politics behind everything are what’s changed. Success has a lot less to do with music than I thought it did.”
There’s been another slight damper on all the celebration. Success in the music industry isn’t just about making a good video — it’s also about milking a winning streak for all it’s worth. Which means that the members of Blind Melon, who were eager to get off the road and start writing their second album, will now have to postpone that until Capitol is satisfied that they’ve wrung every penny possible from their debut.
“This record’s been out a year,” says Hoon, “and people are coming up and going, ‘Oh, the new album’s great.’ And we’re like, ‘If you only knew.’ You have to go back to the starting point with a lot of people. But I guess it just keeps your feet on the ground.”
“What’s happening to us is great,” says Smith. “But right now, we’re in our early, mid-20s. You want to be able to produce as much music as you can at this age, you know? And I’m out of practice. I haven’t done it in a year.”
“I believe in the record that we made, and I wouldn’t want to just walk away from it,” says guitarist Christopher Thorn. “But I didn’t realize how much shit goes along with just being a musician. You don’t think about that stuff when you’re 16. You think about what you see in a magazine, these glamorous pictures of these guys hanging out with babes and stuff. It’s not like that at all — not even close. I just wanted to play my guitar and get paid for it, you know?”
By the time they reached adolescence, Brad Smith and Rogers Stevens, friends since their days in the Cub Scouts, had begun to suspect that there was more to life than what West Point, Miss. — population 8,000 — had to offer.
Stevens, a comic-book freak who’d spent his childhood plotting a career as a superhero, transferred his fixation to music at the age of 13, after his first Van Halen concert. “I saw David Lee Roth up there jumping around, and Eddie playing the guitar, and all the women screaming,” he says, “and I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m not ever gonna get any superpowers or anything — maybe this is a more realistic thing to be.’ “
By the time he was 14, he had discovered hooliganism as an antidote to boredom; he and his friends passed the time orchestrating shoplifting junkets at the local Wal-Mart, terrorizing the neighbors with M-80s, playing mailbox baseball and other small-town favorites.
Enter Smith, a self-described gearhead who’d grown up on Top 40 radio and recently begun trying his own hand at songwriting. While Stevens and his friends were perfecting their images as the town hell raisers, Smith had been immersing himself in all things musical. He’d played baritone sax in junior high and then worked his way into snare-drumming, entering a series of school-sponsored competitions and at one point coming out third in the state. With the help of the Roy Clark Big Note Songbook, he’d taught himself guitar by the time he was 13 and promptly decided that “playing other people’s songs was kind of annoying — it was easier if you made up your own.”