For a period of five years, Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon diligently chronicled his own life, videotaping himself with a Hi-8 video camera through every step of his musical journey — starting out in Indiana, through his meteoric rise to alt-rock icon, up to the day of his death in 1995. These captivating moments finally come to life, beautifully edited, in the new documentary “All I Can Say,” which premieres Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The film’s title is taken from the opening lines of Blind Melon’s instantly recognizable 1993 smash, “No Rain.” Culled entirely from Hoon’s archives, the footage is carefully crafted by Grammy-winning director Danny Clinch, along with co-directors Taryn Gould and Colleen Hennessy.
Years after Hoon’s passing, his girlfriend, Lisa Sinha, presented Clinch with a box full of tapes shot with the Hi-8 camera. What started as a different project about Blind Melon’s past and where they were headed in their current incarnation then took on a whole other life when bassist Brad Smith suggested the story just be told from Hoon’s perspective.
“We realized that we basically had all these videos of a guy who was videotaping himself obsessively for five years from before he was famous and up until really the day of the day of his death,” Clinch tells Variety. “It was at the dawn of technology where people started to film each other, and he was way ahead of the curve in a way. It’s like kind of one of the earliest moments of someone who was self-archiving his own life.”
The documentary begins with footage shot before Hoon departed for Los Angeles and met bandmates Rogers Stevens, Brad Smith, Christopher Thorn and Glen Graham to form Blind Melon. It takes viewers inside all of the big, small and intimate intricacies of a life filled with innocent beginnings, triumphant highlights, struggles with addiction, and a glimpse of a future that might have been had Hoon not passed away at the age of 28.
Particularly poignant are snippets of Hoon talking about his excitement as the band is about to depart for a tour with Soundgarden with the late Chris Cornell, and his reaction to the death of Kurt Cobain.
Also caught on tape: Hoon on the phone doing interviews, traveling to New York and offering tourist commentary (his reaction to seeing Donald Trump’s Trump Tower? “Ewwwww”), cameos by Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose, a radio station interview in New Jersey at FM 1063 WHTG, the filming of the “No Rain” video, a “Saturday Night Live” appearance, and his own concert footage of the band’s appearance at Woodstock 1994, where they debuted the song “Soup.”
“He was so obsessive with how he filmed everything, that when he was doing an interview, he would put that little cup thing on the phone and then put his camera up and filmed himself being interviewed,” says Clinch. “He filmed himself being interviewed in person. He would talk to the camera. He would film the daily sheets of their schedule on tour. So it was really easy to sort of document where they were and when, and every time you thought you were going to see somebody else describe what was going on in his life, you realized again that it’s him telling the story the whole time.”
Clinch met and formed an immediate bond with the entire group in 1992 when Blind Melon was traveling with the bands Live and Big Audio Dynamite on the MTV “120 Minutes” tour. He was there for many of the days when Hoon was filming himself, sometimes unaware that the red light was even on.
“We all hit it off and became friends,” Clinch says, “and they were the first ones to bring me on the road on tour, and into the recording studio. I cut my teeth with them. When he passed away, it was just like getting the rug pulled out from under everybody. It was a sad moment, and that’s why, especially at this moment in time, it’s as important as ever to talk about addiction and mental health, and the health care that is available for people.”
Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready comes up for mention in a message left on Hoon’s answering machine, as someone called on his behalf asking if he could discuss the ins and outs of rehab. Did Clinch, who directed Pearl Jam’s documentary “Let’s Play Two,” need to clear that with McCready?
“I reached out to Mike, because I wanted him to be comfortable, [and] he’s gone through addiction,” he says. “This is not a rock ‘n’ roll Blind Melon film. It’s about addiction and mental health. Part of our goal with this film is to raise awareness for people in regard to awareness of mental health and addiction. And with Mike being someone who’s obviously come out of it on the good side, that was important for us to help tell that story. Of course I wanted to have his permission, and he did grant us that.”
When Clinch screened the movie for Sinha and the couple’s daughter, Nico, in Indiana, it was an emotional moment for both. Nico makes an appearance in the film as a baby; Hoon documented the day of her birth and other sweet remembrances of a father clearly in love with his child.
“When it was over, she said to us, ‘I am so grateful for this gift to be able to spend some time with my father,’” Clinch says. “He never heard her speak her first word, but he left her this story. And it was really the best sort of comment we could ever hope for.”
After watching the footage in the editing room, Clinch was amazed at how far Hoon’s skills as a filmmaker improved over those five years, and in one candid moment, the singer expressed a desire to get into film as a future career.
“I immediately just started thinking about Dave Grohl and what he has done as a filmmaker,” he says. “In the beginning, Shannon was a raw cameraman, and it gets better and better as it goes on. He was so creative and such a curious guy. I could only imagine what he could have possibly done.”
“All I Can Say” is set to premiere with a Tribeca Festival screening this Friday (April 26) at 7:30 p.m. at Village East Cinema, with an additional showing at the theater May 5 at 4:30. The doc will also screen at Regal Cinemas in Battery Park April 27-28 and May 2.