As rockumentaries go, self-filmed footage from the very last day before a rock star slipped into the pages of history, then dialling right back to the pre-fame pregame is a bit of a coup. 30 years later, Blind Melon are remembered as the No Rain band, a second-wave post-grunge Slacker act that rode the crest of the MTV2 wave into the top 40 alongside Gin Blossoms (also not grunge), Lemonheads and (err…) The Connells?
To fans though (of which I definitely count myself), Blind Melon’s two studio albums were rich alternative/Americana cannon entries with a modern (for the 90’s) fuzzy edge. Tracks like Soak the Sin, Tones of Home, Holyman, Soup and Mouthful of Cavities remain nuggets of a different era, still available to be panhandled from the streams as they trickle fickle by in the 2020s.
All I Can Say, the name of this documentary, can do three things for the viewer depending on what they bring to the table. It can teach the curious the story of Shannon Hoon, a gentle young soul who went to Hollywood to form a band. He found fame, friendship and self-expression before going full on MTV sensation. Both with Blind Melon and as part of the Guns N’ Roses expanded universe – He became ‘That guy from the Guns n’ Roses video’ around the release of the duolithic (It’s a word!*) Use Your Illusion albums, which he was all over) – right up to his infamous demise.
It can also treat existing fans to fly on the wall style insight to some legendary moments. The ‘in the booth’ footage of Shannon’s most famous vocal take is as spine chilling as the moments he turns his camcorder on the then live TV footage of the LA riots, the death of Kurt Cobain or the GN’R recordings are really Déjà vu inducing. This documentary is a fully functioning time machine.
Thirdly, it holds a unique position as a film shot by someone with a real story to tell (I mean, it’s Into the Great Wide Open in real life) filmed in the final days of “The Before Time”. Before everyone did this sort of self-documentation constantly, before mobile phone cameras and social media’s constant commentary. I’m not saying Hoon invented Instagram (You are) but I am saying there are scant few as heavily detailed, sympathetically overseen and joyously beautiful films about the rock and roll train as this that didn’t need a whole film crew to be there, decades in the vault and the guy who made The Lord of the Rings to make it shine.
This film is a Get Back for the 90s. The ‘Get Clapton to play it’ moment is instigated by Rolling Stone magazine wanting a solo cover shoot without the rest of the band. The interviews come captured on the phone (possibly unaware they’re being recorded themselves) asking rock journalist type questions while Shannon feels his life is falling apart. The easy-going charm is the most monumental part of it all.
Warmth, opportunity and joy radiates from the progress the film makes, even though the viewer knows the ending from the beginning. For the first hour, I’m in love with everyone in this film, because they’re in a better place than we are today. I don’t mean they’re all dead, I mean they’re living a real life Almost Famous with smiles on their faces. Around the point Shannon films his frantic mother leaving a millionth unanswered voicemail (they weren’t voicemails then, were they? They were messages on your machine) the shadows creep in. Shannon’s camera spends more time looking at minutia and less time on himself and his friends. Post rehab and introspective, I couldn’t help but root for him even though I knew the inevitable. The heart-breaking and tender footage in the final act can wreck you if you go in unprepared.
This band were part of a bigger thing, in a different time. This is the best 90’s documentary I’ve seen in a long time because every frame of it is genuine.
All I Can Say is we couldn’t go back if we tried. It’s been lovely to visit though.