Extraordinary Documentary, All I Can Say, Offers a Unique Personal Perspective
4.5 Out of 5 Stars
They’re often put on a pedestal, but like most people, rock stars tend to be flawed individuals. Naturally, that’s often easy to overlook, given the massive adulation they reap in their wake. We, their fans, generally tend to see past their imperfections, chalking them up to ego or eccentricity, the qualities that we expect to find in any creative soul.
Shannon Hoon, the late lead singer of the southern psych populist outfit Blind Melon, was no different. A victim of his own fame and freewheeling lifestyle, he’s mostly remembered as a tragic figure who failed to reach his fuller potential. Now, some 23 years after his untimely death at the age of 28, a new documentary, All I Can Say, takes the form of an extraordinary home movie, one that follows Hoon’s life and career from the band’s first successes to the final hours of his life. It’s an intimate and insightful look at a man on the precipice of massive success, only to have his efforts undermined by the combined effects of fame and his own failures.
Directed by Danny Clinch, Taryn Gould, and Colleen Hennessy, produced by Lindha Narvaez, Sam Gursky, and Taryn Gould, and overseen by executive producers Eric Eisner, Michael Rapino, Ryan Kroft, Danny Clinch, and John Beug, All I Can Say was culled from hundreds of hours of videos Hoon filmed himself while documenting Blind Melon’s upward climb, the birth of his daughter and his final fatal decline. Interspersed with on-camera commentary from Noon himself, his girlfriend and mother of his child Shannon Hoon, and Blind Melon band members Christopher Thorn, Brad Smith, Rogers Stevens, and Glen Graham, it’s revealing and revelatory all at the same time. Having premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, it’s now being released in both virtual streaming and film formats for the very first time.
Notably, the documentary ought to appeal to both fans of the band and those who are less unfamiliar with them as well. For the former, it gives good insight into the group’s upward trajectory. For those in the latter category, it shares the complex questions that arise when someone of a relatively youthful age is forced to confront both success and his own demons simultaneously.
Given that Hoon likely never intended that this footage would be made public, he’s completely candid thoughout his own commentary. Several segments are particularly telling, particularly those where Hoon talks directly to the camera, and, in those moments, confesses his uncertainties and insecurities without hesitation.
We spoke with the three directors in order to get their insights and opinions about the film and its continuing relevance it has for viewers even today
American Songwriter: First off, what inspired this project, especially since it’s been so long after Shannon’s passing?
Colleen Hennessy: The band got back together in 2007 with new singer, Travis Warren. I was working for Danny Clinch at the time, and we were both excited about the reunion. He had had a relationship with the band in the 90s, so he sent me out there to document the recording process. While I was there, old stories of Shannon would come up about how he was always filming everything back in the day. We started to wonder whatever happened to that footage. It turned out his long-time girlfriend Lisa Crouse had it, and she gave it to us to take a look at.
Danny Clinch: We actually started the project about 15 years ago as a documentary on Blind Melon. At a certain point we decided that we would make the film about Shannon instead once we received all his personal video tapes.
Taryn Gould: Danny was given Shannon’s sprawling tape archive by Lisa Sinha, Shannon’s long term partner and the mother of his daughter, Nico. For a while, the project was an attempt to combine the footage of the band reforming and Shannon’s archive, but the project was stalled in that form and the pieces weren’t feeling right. I got involved in 2014; Danny and I had been collaborators and friends for several years at that point. I had done a bunch of editing with and for him, and he asked me to take a look at the project. After some discussion with the band and the filmmaking team, it was decided to try to make the film entirely using Shannon’s footage. We didn’t know if we could pull it off, but it felt worthwhile to try. It was speaking to something much larger if constructed in that way, something much larger than the story of the band, or affirming their place in the musical cannon. it was this strange, sprawling, and yet careful document of a person and a time. The archive contained the early days of the video age, of self-archiving and constant documentation that currently dominates our daily experience. The seeds of the present moment are always embedded in the past, and I think the film asks interesting questions about our evolving relationship to our cameras and our desire to archive our lives.
As for the timing, documentary films can take a long time to finish. This one ended up taking enough time that the release has timed out to be 25 years after his passing. That wasn’t the intention, it was just how long it took. I feel really grateful for that span of time, even though it felt frustrating, or even depressing, at certain points as the years wore on. The time allowed us to really sink into this archive, to marinate in it. It allowed our own story telling abilities to grow and evolve as we tackled other projects and then returned with those skills in hand. The film took as long as it needed to be executed with the amount of thought, skill and understanding it deserved. We also needed the support to put it out and we have that now.
AS: What, if any, was your relationship to him and to the band?
Hennessy: I didn’t ever meet him while he was alive, or see the band play with him as the lead singer, but Danny had a deep friendship with Shannon, and has continued a friendship with the band
ever since. I only met them in 2007 after they had reformed with Travis Warren. I spent a few months filming them in Los Angeles, and then toured with them for a while after the record came out.
Clinch: I had become friends with Shannon and the band, and started doing their photographs for publicity, and then their album covers. I was on tour, in the recording studio, and even playing harmonica with them pretty often, including at Woodstock 1994.
Gould: I met the band, Lisa and Nico during the process of making the film which was unbelievably fulfilling. It is quite surreal to get to know individuals in this very intimate, though one-sided way. For years, I hung out with the 23-year-old versions of Lisa, Christopher, Rogers, Brad and Glen. I have memories of their evenings or shows from 30 years ago that they don’t have, like some sort of external memory hard drive. Then all of a sudden, these individuals pop out of the computer screen, 25 years have gone by, and they are saying hello, asking me questions and expecting a response. It was a very strange experience. Also, my vicarious hanging out made it so I had a built-in short hand with individuals I technically had just met. It created a sense of knowing and shared history and facilitated quick and deep friendships.
AS: Did his family and former bandmates participate in this project?
Hennessy: Yes, the band was a huge support to us. Lisa [Crouse] was gracious and trusting with footage, and was also available to answer questions and tell us stories. She had shot some of the footage of their live performances. Christopher Thorn, the guitar player, gave us some beautiful super 8mm footage that he had shot of Shannon while on tour during a snowstorm on the beach, and he recorded a lot of the subtle soundtrack that you hear in the film.
Clinch: They trusted us and stayed out of the process until we showed them the final edit. After an emotional screening with his daughter, Nico, at the family home in Indiana, she thanked us for this gift and the chance to spend time with her father.
Gould: They participated with generosity and support. Lisa, Shannon’s partner, was a constant presence— telling us stories or trying to unearth more tapes which she did numerous times. Christopher, one of the guitarists in the band, provided a beautiful additional score. The most profound participation came when we screened an advanced cut for the family in Indiana. We watched in Shannon’s sister’s, Anna’s, living room with Lisa Sinha, his long-time partner, and Nico, Lisa and Shannon’s daughter who was only 3-months-old when he died. Shannon never heard Nico’s first word and she couldn’t possibly remember her father yet there he was, reaching out across time so she could know him.
We were extremely nervous and it was a very emotional experience for Nico, the family and the film team. To Nico, this film was a gift from her father. Anna, after having watched the film, said she finally forgave her brother because she could see his pain. Their approval and assurance gave us the confidence that we were on the right track and the encouragement we needed to finally bring the film home after all these years.
AS: Were you originally aware that this film even existed?
Hennessy: Yes, Danny and the band were aware of the footage from seeing Shannon with a video camera all the time. Lisa revealed at some point that Shannon had said, “If anything ever happens to me, give Danny the tapes,” and so it was.
Clinch: I knew he had the footage because I always saw him with the camera. We were grateful that it was pretty much all in one place.
Gould: Lisa Sinha gifted the archive to Danny.
AS: Why did you choose to tell his story in this manner?
Hennessy: It was certainly a bold decision. We had to really experiment with ways to move the narrative forward without supplementing it with talking heads or cue cards. I remember at least a few people telling us it couldn’t be done. In the end, Shannon gave us enough with his own narration and interviews with journalists. He deserved to carry the film himself, because he really did do a tremendously thorough job of documenting his life.
Clinch: We wanted to show the world through Shannon’s point of view; no talking heads, just his story.
Gould: The comprehensiveness of the archive offered a rare opportunity to try and tell Shannon’s story in this present tense immersive way, from his perspective. That isn’t all that common with documentaries, which many times, out of necessity, are told in past tense. It was an opportunity we weren’t going to waste, though we were far from certain we could pull it off. The second important narrative choice had to do with the dramatic ending of Shannon’s archive. It ends a few hours before his life does. It was decided early on that the date of his death would be disclosed in the opening sequence. This transforms the film into a present tense countdown of the days remaining in Shannon’s life. The timestamp on the video footage becomes sand in an hourglass, charging the film with a taut, accelerating rhythm. In the world of the film, you know how much time Shannon has left and that shapes your appreciation of his passing days, and gives shape to the film. Also, one always looks for the most universal thread to build a story on. There is nothing more universal or shared than the knowledge that we will all die one day. This structure put existential frame around the film that was important to us; a frame beyond music or even the details of Shannon’s life.
AS: What do you think Shannon accomplished during his lifetime and what was it that the band achieved?
Hennessy: I think his major contribution, that has continued beyond his lifespan, was his ability to connect so deeply with people through his music and to make them feel really seen. There are so many stories of people who have travelled to his grave in Indiana to give their sobriety chips to his mother. People who have climbed out of addiction and mental health issues because of Blind Melon’s music. Shannon’s raw honesty in his lyrics and his life was able to reach people and let them know they weren’t alone.
Clinch: His storytelling and his voice were very unique, and I feel that their music was overshadowed by (their biggest song) “No Rain.” My hope is that people discover the music and realize that we need to look after our friends, especially the creative friends, more carefully; mental health and addiction are not to be glossed over, and there is help.
Gould: Shannon and the band accomplished a lot in their short time together, going platinum, being nominated for a Grammy, and they still have a very active fan base. But I don’t feel qualified really to place them in musical history. What I can say is that Shannon, like many artists, was a raw nerve in the world. He was sensitive and loving, as well as chaotic and destructive. His lyrics were at times a diary, his attempt to make sense of events or feelings, but they were always a bid for connection and understanding. People related to his effort to understand, to his pain, to his bad decisions, or at times, his joy. They related to his struggle with addiction, and the music is an entry point to that. The archive though, is an even broader entry point beyond one’s affinity for his music or Blind Melon’s music. At its core, the film is a careful and comprehensive document of a person and a time, filmed diligently and in extreme detail by its subject. It is its own contribution, and we feel good about helping him complete this strange, final work.
AS: How do you think he’ll be remembered?
Colleen Hennessy: I think he’ll be remembered as a bright star that was spinning a bit too fast here on Earth, but now has plenty of room to roam up in the sky. Someone who struggled intensely internally, and wasn’t afraid to share it. Someone with a really special voice, in every way.
Clinch: We hoped to help steer the way he is remembered — a creative force that didn’t follow any rules and made beautiful, moving music.
Gould: As a flawed human who was trying to connect, who loved and was loved by many. His bid for connection took many forms, one of which was writing songs, one of which was filming his life with raw and open honesty, with a sincerity that is rare. He left behind songs, and this archive, and a daughter who got to know him more thoroughly through this film. Hopefully the film will allow people to feel his loss.
AS: What would you say to anyone who was unaware of his work?
Hennessy: Explore the entire catalogue, give it time to sink in. “No Rain” is the tip of an iceberg of different genres, moods and influences. He was also just starting to really explore filmmaking — some of his cinematography of people and places is really beautiful.
Danny Clinch: Dig beyond “No Rain.” Put on headphones and listen to Blind Melon’s Soup.
This is not grunge; this is timeless rock and roll music without category.
AS: Where will this film be distributed and shown?
Hennessy: The film will be released June 26th through Virtual Cinemas, which allows viewers to stream online. There are also currently a limited number of theaters that are able to screen the film in their physical locations. You can find information at https://allicansay.oscilloscope.net
Gould: We will be doing virtual cinemas and are thrilled to have such a great distributor in Oscilloscope and great partners like Eric Eisner (Double E Productions) and Live Nation. Everyone is newly navigating this post-Corona virus world, so we are happy to have creative partners working to help us get the film out into the word.
AS: Anything you’d like to add?
Hennessy: We have partnered with a non-profit called “MusiCares”, an organization that assists touring musicians that are struggling with mental health issues. It is really important for us to get this message out, that if you are struggling, you are not alone. That if you know someone who is struggling, you are also not alone. Reach out for help, check in on your loved ones… we are all in this thing together.
Clinch: We hope and believe this film is viewed beyond the bands’ converted fans, and is embraced by film lovers who recognize its unique film making and editing. This isn’t a Blind Melon documentary, it’s a somewhat experimental film about music, addiction, and how short life can be.