From 1990 to 1995, Shannon Hoon, lead singer of California rock band Blind Melon, held his video camera as a constant friend. Unfortunately, in October of 1995 Hoon lost his battle with drug addiction. We are told this at the beginning of All I Can Say, and then we spend the following 100 minutes watching his daily life.
Hoon gives us front row seats to the major events of the 90s. The inauguration of Clinton into the White House, the LA riots, Tonya Harding defying odds and prejudice on ice, Nirvana, Woodstock ’94, and the endemic exploitation of drug addicted rock stars. We see this through Hoon’s eyes, either as he watches them unfold at his own distance, or on his camera.
The footage is presented without comment, though it is clearly curated and arranged to create a particular mood in the viewer. A reciprocating bell curve as Hoon goes from joy to sadness and back to joy again, and his trips between stage, rehab and recovery in the comforts of familiar family life. As the early 90s video footage is hard encoded with the date, we are pulled into a countdown towards what we know will happen at the end. The stakes rise, as those around him try to help, and his partner Lisa has to balance her need to care for him whilst doing what is best for their newborn daughter.
His fluctuating mental health is confided to his camera, we hear his thoughts in minutiae alongside occasional moments of his crumbling connection with reality. The images present a stream of consciousness, where it’s hard to quantify that anything really happens, but you are drawn helplessly into Hoon’s world. As a viewer, you are the unwilling witness to his acts away from everyone else, and you are helpless to intervene. It’s emotionally difficult at times, but provides an interesting contrast to the usual hindsight view of these musicians. They should have known better, they shouldn’t have made the choices they did, but they were given fame, money and influence with very little emotional support. They were all so young.
Anyone who listens to Grunge knows the difficult relationship between the genre and drugs. Endemic to the culture of the 90s, along with excessively thin models. This was the 90s before the blow-up backpacks and butterfly hairclips. It was punctuated by the deaths of musicians, and a rock and roll lifestyle that continued despite mounting pressure from record companies and fans. It didn’t stop with Shannon Hoon of course, even in the last 5 years we’ve lost Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington and Taylor Hawkins. There is a cultural association between Grunge music and early death, as we’re presented with the idea that maybe we can’t make this type of art without pain.
Of course, usually it’s writers that give us a true look at the inside of their minds. With Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ providing an impression of how she saw the world. Usually, we just have the music to fall back on, and the subtext of lyrics, but All I Can Say does something special by giving that view to a musician.
Despite there being humour peppered throughout, the final half hour seems to speed towards the finish. With faster cutting and escalating pressure racing towards the inevitable conclusion. It’s a difficult and tragic ending, and unfortunately, all too familiar.
Bulldog Film Distribution presents All I Can Say in select cinemas and on demand now.