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For the last five years of his short life, Blind Melon lead singer Shannon Hoon documented almost every second of his existence. He talks to the camera like it's a friend. He fills the camera in on what happened while it was off. Because this was the early '90s, Hoon wasn't posting this stuff anywhere. None of it was "going live." There wasn't the dopamine-instant-gratification thing we have now of uploading a video of yourself to Instagram, and reveling in the "likes" and comments. "The Real World" aired on MTV in 1993, pointing the way to the obsessively-self-documented social media reality we live in today, and Hoon's behavior was very much a part of that era. Technology finally caught up with humanity's self-absorption. Hoon piled up an archive of video diaries, not shared until now, in "All I Can Say," the documentary made up entirely of his footage taken between the years 1990 and 1995.
Hoon is credited as one of the directors, along with Danny Clinch, Taryn Gould and Colleen Hennessey, who had an enormous job sifting through much of this often banal footage. On October 21, 1995, Hoon films himself in a New Orleans hotel, talking on the phone and trying to arrange a flight home. Later that day, he died of an apparent overdose on the tour bus. He was 28 years old.
"All I Can Say" is clearly made for fans of Blind Melon, the band who hit paydirt with their 1992 song "No Rain" (although it was really the music video that pushed the song over the edge: more on that in a second). The instantly recognizable "No Rain" still gets radio play today, with Hoon's high-pitched raspy voice singing:
All I can say is that my life is pretty plain
I like watchin' the puddles gather rain
For a brief shining season, Blind Melon was huge. A reporter is seen intoning: "Blind Melon is destined to be one of the new Nirvanas": this sounds like praise, especially in 1992, but once you take it apart, all kinds of cracks open up. Just one of the "new Nirvanas"? Time has shown there can't be a "new Nirvana" because Nirvana was singular, unique, as was Kurt Cobain. Blind Melon didn't have that driving force or singular purpose, and Hoon didn't have the power of personality Cobain did, but "No Rain" was such a monster hit that Blind Melon played stadiums, they played 1994 Woodstock, they went on tour with Neil Young, appeared on bills alongside Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the giants of the era. But "All I Can Say" shows the shaky foundation on which all this success was built. They were given a record deal based on just five songs. Their catalog was super thin. What exactly did they have to say? And who were they, what was their identity as a band? These are crucial questions. By the time it came to their second album, these questions were even more urgent, but nobody seemed to have a good answer.
Now about that video for "No Rain." Directed by Samuel Bayer, it was a high-concept video, starting with a little girl in a bee costume (Heather DeLoach) tap dancing for a crowd. The crowd laughs at her. She runs through the city streets, trying to impress random people with her tap dancing skills. Nobody's into it. Then she looks through the slats of a gate and sees—wonder of wonders—a group of adults, also in bee costumes, dancing around in a field. She's found her people! She's found her tribe. She joins the dance.
It was the video, more than the song itself, that pushed "No Rain" to the top of the charts. People flipped out over it. It was so heart-warming with such an empowering message! A more incongruous pairing than Blind Melon and the little bee girl could not be imagined. The video had nothing to do with the image they were trying to create. Shown in the film, the band members are interviewed about the video, and they all look visibly uncomfortable. The reporter refers to the video as one of the best "self-esteem" messages she'd ever seen. Hoon replies, "It's cute. I don't like cute." Now that's honest. Compare the video of "No Rain" to Nirvana's video for "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The Nirvana video shows the band playing a concert in a dark high school gym, with the crowd in a writhing slam-dance mosh pit, like figures in a Hieronymus Bosch painting. The video, with its grim sexy cheerleaders and dancing janitor, is also high-concept, but it captures the band's essence, its spirit, its over-riding purpose, and its connection with its audience. It says: "This is who we are." Adorable/dejected bee girl had nothing to do with who Blind Melon was, or at least who they wanted to be, and the image they wanted to project. Something wasn't being articulated. Maybe they didn't know what it was themselves, and judging from Hoon's footage, that was probably the case.
"All I Can Say" feels much longer than it actually is. Hoon struggled with addiction. He was arrested many times. It's a cautionary tale but one we've heard so many times before. Fans of Hoon will thrill to all of this footage. For others, it'll be a pretty tough haul.