THEY SEE EVERYTHING YOU DO: Shannon Hoon, Blind Melon, & The ‘All I Can Say’ Documentary [B.Getz on L4LM]

Photo: Danny Clinch, from Blind Melon's 'Nico'

originally published on Live For Live Music

From 1990–1995, singer Shannon Hoon diligently chronicled his own life with a Hi-8 video camera, depicting nearly every step of his journey from humble, aw-shucks beginnings in Lafayette, Indiana through Blind Melon’s meteoric rise to rock stardom and his struggles within. The footage runs through the day of his death in October 1995, when he was found unresponsive on a tour bus near Tipitina’s, the legendary nightclub in uptown New Orleans. These personal moments, large and small, joyful, sad, and innocuous alike, finally come back to life in the new documentary, All I Can Say, a project nearly a dozen years in the making, released to virtual theaters on Friday, June 26th, via Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Mined entirely from Hoon’s voluminous videotape archives, the film was carefully curated by Grammy-nominated director Danny Clinch, who’s worked extensively with everybody from Phish to Bruce Springsteen, and co-directed by Taryn Gould and Colleen Hennessy, otherwise known as the Ladies & Gentleman Collective. Expertly edited by Gould and with Hoon handiwork at the helm, the movie meanders inside the myriad intricacies of a confounding, tortured, and tragically short life, filtering the innocence, triumph, addiction, mental illness, and artistic brilliance through the ever-looming lens of what might have been.

All I Can Say – Official Trailer

After many years of Kickstarter campaigns, fund-raiser events, and a tireless, global Melonhead effort—both financial and energetic—to see this long-awaited film to fruition, All I Can Say premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, was awarded “Best Feature Documentary” at New Hampshire Film Festival 2019, and won the “Grand Jury Prize” at Sound Unseen Festival. The international premiere followed on November 22nd at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. Eric Eisner (Long Strange Trip) of Double E Pictures and Live Nation Productions later signed on as executive producers.

Over a decade after Hoon’s death at the age of 28, his then-girlfriend Lisa Sinha (Crouse), the mother of his daughter, Nico Blue, delivered to Clinch a box filled with the late singer-songwriter’s treasured videotape collection. However, the final product that is All I Can Say wasn’t always the plan. Initially conceived as a film that sought to reflect on Blind Melon’s collective journey as a band, right up into their (ill-fated) rebirth in 2008, All I Can Say took on an alternate trajectory when bassist Brad Smith suggested the narrative be told solely from the late singer’s perspective by way of his visual vault. As such, this film is at once an elegy, an obituary, and a Shannon Hoon suicide note.

“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, with regard to awareness of mental health and addiction.” –Danny Clinch, co-director of All I Can Say

“Anybody who sees this, they will know him… in a certain way. Cause it’s accurate, cause it’s him. He made it.” –Rogers Stevens, Blind Melon guitarist

The story of Blind Melon and Shannon Hoon has been told a number of times in a variety of media, most notably in the excellent 2001 documentary, Letters From A Porcupine, and Greg Prato’s thorough 2009 oral history, A Devil On One Shoulder, & Angel On The Other. There’s also the popular, factually-dubious, and sensationalized-for-television Behind the Music; Blind Melon’s episode first aired on VH1 in 2001. The Details magazine feature penned by Chris Heath, included as part of the CD-ROM for Nico—the phenomenal 1997 posthumous album—is an honest, harrowing accounting of the good, bad, and brutal. Along with Blair Jackson’s Garcia: An American Life, Heath’s doggedly-reported magazine piece was the embryonic inspiration and motivation for my writing about music, altogether.

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

In lieu of a standard movie review for this unicorn rockumentary, or yet another straight-ahead retelling of the Blind Melon/Shannon Hoon story, I thought I’d offer a more personalized reflection, marinating on just why this man, his band, their music, and looming legacy resonate so profoundly with so many, twenty-five long years after Shannon Hoon abruptly left his earthly body.

I’ve adored Blind Melon and its late lead singer for more than half of my life. These quirky dudes made sweet music forever embedded in my DNA. Blind Melon’s lean, mean, Herculean songbook is heavy-on-the-feels, deeply emotional, beautifully human art. The only time I’ve ever written about the band was for my high school newspaper back in New Jersey: an obituary for Shannon Hoon in the fall of 1995. With the release of this long-awaited documentary, I thought it the perfect time to revisit these tones of home in tribute to this dearly departed dad, a force of nature who waved goodbye and flew home far too soon.

“I only wanted to be 16… & free.” –Blind Melon, “I Wonder”

It was the spring of 1993 when I was introduced to the music of Blind Melon. A teenage fan of heavy metal and the Grateful Dead, I caught the video for “Dear Ol’ Dad” staying up late on a Saturday for MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball. Quickly realizing this was the backup singer from Guns n’ Roses omnipresent “Don’t Cry” video, his onscreen cool was so palpable, everybody wanted to know more about this cat. A few weeks later, band members joined host Rikki Rachtman for an interview, and my adolescent curiosity was piqued. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the “No Rain” explosion happened. With it came the inescapable Bee Girl video directed by Sam Bayer, who also made Nirvana an overnight sensation with his “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video treatment.

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

In an instant, the band was blowing up on the national scale and reaching us kids too young for the bars and clubs. By the time the Melon rolled into Philadelphia, supporting Lenny Kravitz on the Are You Gonna Go My Way tour, I was as stoked to soak the sin as I was to ride a freedom train. Shannon and the boys did not disappoint the throngs at the Tower Theater for that brief, fiery opening set, and a lifelong Blind Melon fanatic was born.

“I always wanted to love where I came from, even though there’s a lot of bad elements. I always felt it was right to love where you’re from. If you step away from it, and consciously see what’s wrong with it, it becomes easier to go back and love what there is to love about it.” –Shannon Hoon to Robert Hunter, in 1993

All I Can Say takes us all the way back to the beginnings of the Hoon story, with some footage from Shannon’s Lafayette roots, where we meet his mother and father, his longtime partner Lisa. It is during these brief yet revealing callbacks to the Indiana days when we are able to quickly discern a great deal about his upbringing, zest for life, and naivete, as well as his genetics of addiction, by way of his family and rural earliest environs.

Shannon Hoon packed a gregarious personality ever since he was a boy; he channeled that hyperactivity and unchecked youthful energy into sports, karate, and track and field. Later, Lafayette’s limited nightlife saw Hoon regularly engage in the time-honored tradition of throwing hands at the local watering holes, an activity which seemed to dog him throughout his brief adulthood and land him in the county lockup more often than anybody can remember. Shannon referred to artists like Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Jim Croce, Syd Barrett, and Bob Dylan as his musical influences, but he was the lead singer of Dayton, Indiana glam cover band Styff Kytten in his earliest onstage endeavors.

After high school, Hoon found more trouble than success. Booze and drugs clouded his judgement, and a short-fuse temper flared through his frustrations. In the film, we see him examining his broken hand, somewhat of a recurring injury due to the singer’s propensity for punching things (and people). Shannon’s mom, Nel Hoon, is depicted as the loving, doting parent, always beaming when her son turns the video camera in her direction. In 1993, Nel told Rolling Stone that she was worried her son would not live to see 26 years old; at one point when he still stayed with her in Indiana, she carried four bail bonds for him in her wallet. Through the years, we’ve come to know Nel as a fierce protector of her son’s legacy, and the filmmakers allow us to see her glowing with unbridled love and pride – as well as her penchant for worry, – on display throughout various scenes.

Shannon’s father, Dick Hoon, is less prominent in the film than his ex-wife but still an integral, revealing component to the narrative. A blue-collar midwestern father, he’s heard on the phone with Shannon discussing an upcoming jail stint and decade-long driver’s license suspension due to repeated DUI convictions, the first of several peeks into how substance abuse was embedded in Shannon’s genes, environment, and earliest role model. Father and son share that quintessential workingman’s banter in a humorous scene inside Shannon’s car. The quick glimpses into Shannon’s relationship with his divorced parents and their stilted family dynamics are crucial to the audience’s understanding how a young Hoon was brought up, before Blind Melon came to life and then swiftly found rock n’ roll stardom.

The same can be said of his relationship with Lisa Crouse, who was Shannon’s partner for a decade and gave birth to their daughter, Nico Blue, just a few short months before Hoon died. The phone call when he finds out Lisa was pregnant, the ultrasound, the childbirth itself—each event is incorporated into the chronology of the documentary, and along the way, we are privileged to see the ebb and flow of their partnership. Their adorable chemistry and beautiful connection are revealed throughout a smattering of brief, excruciating, treasured slices of their life.

[Image: Shannon Hoon via All I Can Say – Shannon and Nico]

The film opens and closes with a telephone conversation between Shannon and Lisa filmed in a New Orleans hotel room, talking about Nico Blue’s imminent first word, shot just a few hours before he passed away. It’s a sobering reminder of just how sudden his death was and how precious life really is. Twenty-five years old and a vibrant young woman, Nico Blue Hoon has grown up her entire life without her father.

“He never heard her speak her first word, but he left her this story.” –Danny Clinch

Following in the footsteps of Lafayette’s original prodigal son, W. Axl Rose, Hoon boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Hollywood, leaving a trail of fire and carnage behind him in a storyline straight out of the “Welcome to the Jungle” video. Upon arriving in L.A, Axl introduced Shannon to a major mover and shaker in MTV’s Rikki Rachtman, and later asked him to sing backup with Guns n’ Roses, then one of the biggest bands in the world. Through Shannon’s camera, All I Can Say takes us into the studio with Guns and asks Axl to wish Nel a Merry Christmas. (Hoon appears on three songs from the Use Your Illusion albums and is seen rooftop in the “Don’t Cry” video).

The exuberant frontman, however, was nothing like his older sister Anna’s friend Axl, and he didn’t write music like GnR. Hoon had more ethereal, psychedelic, and ultimately sinister musical urges to unveil, and he sought some suitable collaborators in his exciting newfound environs.

Almost immediately after touching down in the City of Angels, Shannon began jamming in a dingy garage with a pair of Mississippi transplants he met at a party. He played future bandmates Rogers Stevens (guitar) and Brad Smith (bass) a nascent version of his inspirational anthem, “Change”, a song he’d written back in Indiana just a few short weeks earlier, on the tail end of a three-day cocaine binge. The song professes a young man’s yearning to be better, live righteously, and make the requisite changes in his life to get there; three decades on down the road, “Change” remains the band’s most enduring and iconic tune.

Soon after, the trio hooked up with Pennsylvania’s Christopher Thorn, a guitarist and reformed metalhead fresh on the SoCal scene. The boys bonded over their shared hatred of hair-bands and settled into a groove-based sound that recalled classic 70’s jam rock; Stevens and Smith reached back to Mississippi for the lyrical, funky drummer stylings of Glen Graham. Also back in the dirty south, Smith’s father coined the band’a moniker, a nod to the classic Cheech and Chong character “Blind Melon Chitlin”. The elder Smith used the term “blind melons” to describe his son’s jobless, hippie pals in Wes Point, Miss. After a magical March, 1990 demo recording session dubbed “The Goodfoot Workshop” and a $500,000 contract from Capitol Records, a band named Blind Melon was born.

Akin to Letters From A Porcupine, its engrossing predecessor, All I Can Say diligently navigates Blind Melon’s ascent from obscure warm-up sets on MTV’s 120 Minutes tour, when nobody knew who the hell they were, onward to opening act for a diverse assortment of headlining artists like Soundgarden, Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz, Ozzy Osbourne, Guns n’ Roses, and, eventually, The Rolling Stones. Viewers roll with the punches, up through when “No Rain” took flight, the rock music machine kicked into overdrive, and things were never the same for these unassuming good ol’ boys from the yellow house.

The band initially fled the aqua-net excess of late-stage glam-rock L.A. and decamped to Durham, N.C. They took up in the “Sleepyhouse”—Blind Melon’s version of The Band’s famed “Big Pink”—to write, jam, smoke copious ganja, drop acid, and get to know one another through their instruments and close-quartered energies. The band relocated once again, this time to Seattle and London Bridge Studio, to lay down tracks for their multi-platinum self-titled debut with producer Rick Parashar (Pearl Jam).

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

The album was a slow-burner until the big single, but nearly thirty years on down the golden road, the songs stand the test of time. Funky Smith basslines and Graham’s lyrical drumming lay down a dynamic undercurrent for the dual-axemanship and second-nature chemistry between Thorn and Stevens. All of it served as a sturdy and spirited foundation for Hoon’s riotous ruminations on the complexities of his young, confounding life, his eye and mind delivered in trademark searing screams that sounded like a cross between Janis Joplin and Rod Stewart, a midwest country bluesman with a pure, spine-tingling tone. “Time” was a teenager coming of age and a deep meditation on one’s perception of self. “Deserted” and “I Wonder” have aged into anthemic snapshots in the scrapbook of my youth. The earthly “Drive” calls back to a simpler time when Shannon was lamenting about a friend’s penchant for needing a ride to the land of nod, a chilling precursor of darkness and depravity ahead.

“He shot everything: going to the toilet, cutting his own hair, band rehearsals, recording, writing. He used the video to rough out some demos in hotel rooms. And he was very methodical. That footage is so personal… He filmed so much that either you hated it and he drove you crazy, or you forgot that he was filming and you just didn’t care anymore. He had a way of breaking everybody down.” –Danny Clinch

From that point onward, the Blind Melon ride is a wild one, albeit brief, complete with a career’s worth of twists, turns, drama, victories, failures, childbirth, and tragedy, all unspooling within a whirlwind half-decade, and succinctly communicated in this cut-and-paste collection of Hoon’s video diaries. Just about everybody that appears in the footage went through various phases of annoyance, perturbed at the consistent presence of Shannon’s Hi-8 camera; he also kept his stash in the camera bag, so neither was ever very far from reach. His bandmates and girlfriend seem to have been filmed most often, and over time, the cagey lensman learned to obscure the red light which would notify his subjects that they were on camera. After a while, it seems everybody just got used to it, and much like reality television would do in just a few years, the presence of the camera became normalized and the people in Shannon’s life grew accustomed to being recorded all the time.

It’s Hoon’s unwavering dedication to his camera—relentlessly charging batteries, saving tapes and always rolling (remember, this is years before point-and-shoot cameras and over a decade before smartphones, Twitter, and Periscope)—which delivers us this long-awaited documentary film by which to remember him.

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

This comprehensive chronicling makes for pretty authentic reality TV, and in some ways paints Shannon as a visionary of sorts for documenting the banalities of life on a daily basis for both posterity and undetermined future film projects. Never was this more evident than in mid-1993, when Hoon surreptitiously recorded his bandmates discussing the proposed Rolling Stone cover shoot which would depict Shannon solo instead along with the rest of the guys. As we eavesdrop on the powwow in All I Can Say, the band is hurt by this magazine preferring just the lead singer, and urges Hoon to take a stand to include the whole group in the Mark Seliger photo. The singer acquiesces to an all-for-one ultimatum, and the whole band, clearly baked out of their gourds, individually reminds him that he capitulates, apparently on the receiving end of Smith’s bass head. To smooth out the tension, we are treated to a Hoon family folk singalong, a rousing rendition of the obligatory “Cover of Rolling Stone”, in celebration of their golden boy’s momentous accomplishment.

In the fall of 1993, they were invited to Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter’s home in England for a lengthy interview for Creem Magazine, and they left with one of Hunter’s prized mandolins as a gift. A friendship between Robert, his wife Maureen (who was the photographer that day) and the Blind Melon boys was born of that experience and continued until Hunter’s 2019 death.

“No one is gonna know what I’m about from one video, and a bee girl, and a cute little story.” –Shannon Hoon

When “No Rain” became such a massive hit, the realities for Blind Melon changed as quickly as did their popularity. The pressure was on, and nobody felt it more than Hoon, whose distorted behaviors swiftly became the stuff of legend and ridicule. It should be noted that by the time “No Rain” smashed the charts, the band had been a hard-touring ensemble for the better part of two years, and they were exhausted. Blind Melon was ready for even just a short break and separation before regrouping to write their sophomore album.

Instead, the overnight success of “No Rain” and a classic appearance on Saturday Night Live propelled them back out on the road for another year-and-a-half. The wrecking ball that is the music industry can and will crush the weak, naive, and uninitiated. It was during this time that Hoon, white-knuckling his way through abstaining from alcohol for almost a year, fell off the wagon. Rapidly famous and unhinged, he started to see his way into different bags of bad fun, finding even more of the trouble he couldn’t avoid back in Indiana.

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

Those close to Hoon have widely speculated that the singer was suffering from undiagnosed mental illness, specifically manic depression; the rock n’ roll lifestyle and all its requisite unchecked substance abuse and enabling only enhanced and exacerbated these problems. These issues repeatedly reared their heads when Shannon was arrested for a number of incidents dumb and dumber, almost always stemming from extreme inebriation compounded by rage, aggression, and a predisposition for getting physical first and talking it through later. Sober, he was kind, grounded, and almost introverted. On weed and psychedelics, he was an enigmatic, quirky, wide-eyed, barefooted child outside dancing on your lawn, but with booze and blow, just about any perceived slight was a reason to go. Friends and bandmates described Hoon as hyper-sensitive, often offended by things written and said about him. Quick-tempered, prone to intense mood swings; rock stardom did not suit Hoon nor his deeply rooted demons.

“The guy was definitely excessive. He was excessive in his love for people. He was excessive in his violent tendencies, excessive in the good things that he did, excessive in all areas of his life. In the five years we were best friends, there was never a day that he didn’t do something that I thought was completely extraordinary.” –Rogers Stevens

Shannon Hoon was most famously arrested on Halloween in 1993 in Vancouver, B.C. after disrobing onstage and urinating on the audience during a show. It was an act which he never really lived down and about which he would be asked by journalists and fans for the rest of his days. Hoon was also taken into custody at the 1994 American Music Awards after getting physical with security. This behavior is briefly captured a few times in the documentary as Shannon is seen baiting and taunting security, apparently looking for a fight, and later messing with a police officer in a hotel hallway—an incident which appears to end with Shannon in a Los Angeles jail.

In New Orleans during the recording of their sophomore album, Soup, there was an incident at Le Bon Temps Rouler, where Hoon was “exercised by the size of his tab” and reportedly got physical with a bartender. An off-duty policeman got involved, and Shannon got the bracelets and bars (Stevens has repeatedly said through the years that Shannon enjoyed punching cops). All I Can Say includes a brief clip from this final scrape with the law; Hoon, short hair bleached platinum blonde, is seen returning from the Jefferson Parish lockup after another night in the slammer, clearly ashamed by once again drinking his way into jail and additional notoriety.

“These cats down here in New Orleans, boy… they’d whip a cat’s ass from Indiana like THAT! [snaps fingers].” –Shannon Hoon

Various psychedelic exploits are tacitly acknowledged throughout the documentary including, but not limited to Hoon dosed on the set of the “No Rain” video and the band’s iconic performance at Woodstock 1994, which is almost universally accepted as the finest of their career. The other band members were clearly no angels on the road nor in French Quarter watering holes, but they also weren’t the ones repeatedly embarrassing themselves and ending up behind bars. It’s apparent that alcoholism was at the core of Hoon’s demons and violent outbursts, and once hard drugs re-entered the picture, it was only a matter of time before the bright light that drew so many of us to him began to steadily dim.

In All I Can Say, during an otherwise nominal aside between Hoon and another band member, the singer shares that he’s gonna hang back because he “scored some smack”; no two ways about it, that little moment is quite literally the beginning of the end for our working-class hero.

In April 1994, Kurt Cobain’s suicide rocked Shannon to the core, and some say that was the true beginning of his deathly downard spiral despite the fact he’d already begun to engage in self-destructive behaviors. The documentary shows Shannon taking in various TV news reports on Cobain’s suicide, and we see Hoon’s numb, perplexed reaction: the singer drawing a question mark on his forehead with a sharpie as he prepares to perform “Change” on The Late Show with David Letterman on the very day Nirvana’s frontman shot himself. The rendition is emotional, raw, unabashedly human. There’s a fear in the singer’s eyes and a tinge to his vocal which betrays his inner turmoil for a television audience, and now, eternity.

Later, we find an animated Hoon in a makeshift recording session in Mammoth Lakes, California. There, he’s working out the basics for what would become the chilling, hauntingly beautiful “Soup” (which was strangely left off their sophomore album by the same name), and includes the cryptic, Cobain-inspired lyric, “pull the trigger and I’ll make it all go away, I’ll make you all go away.”

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

Things went downhill for Hoon pretty fast from there, and by May 1994 he was admitted into an inpatient treatment facility for his drug and alcohol abuse, but the band was slated to play in Amsterdam shortly after they “turned him loose.” Shannon’s discomfort with this predicament is apparent as he gets a series of “let’s party” messages on his answering machine, while his partner’s dread is written all over her face. We hear a shaken Mike McCready of Pearl Jam call from rehab asking for Hoon’s advice on reacclimating to the rock scene after treatment. An underwhelming performance at UK’s Glastonbury Festival prompts Melon to cancel a summer European jaunt after just a few shows so that Hoon can regroup and reset post-rehabilitation.

“I was really young back then and I didn’t know how to handle it and I don’t think anybody in the band knew how. We didn’t have the knowledge or the education or even the experience with dealing with someone who was truly addictive and being destructive.” –Brad Smith

Shortly thereafter, Blind Melon descended on Saugerties, NY and the enormous Woodstock ‘94 festival, taking the stage between Joe Cocker and Cypress Hill on a midday afternoon. The band delivered a performance for the ages, a tour de force through their short, potent songbook. Danny Clinch, then a photographer who’d made his “Danny bones” touring and chronicling their embryonic era and by this point almost a sixth member of the band, joined them on blues harp during “Change”, much to the delight of Hoon and company. Blind Melon’s midday musical journey was an instant classic and remains the stuff of legend; a powder keg exploding in the upstate New York sun, and a tidal wave of fierce jamming, frenetic energy, a soaring Shannon, and lots of pretty, pretty, pretty colors.

After a short period of relative sobriety post-Europe cancellation, Shannon celebrated this momentous event by dropping acid, while other members called their Woodstock afternoon adventure a “beer fest.” Regardless, arriving by chopper, an imbibed and vibrant Hoon and Melon were locked and loaded; they stormed the gigantic stage and tore it down with a reckless abandon. Shannon donned his partner’s white dress and panties and had his makeshift dreadlocks suspended in her barrettes. He took full advantage of the massive stage set and oceanic audience, sang his swollen heart a mile high. During an exhilarating rendition of “Time” that spanned over ten minutes, Hoon chucked several conga drums into the crowd in a fit of liberation and tripped balls with nary a f–k given. A whirling dervish of folksy innocence and psychedelic divinity, Hoon was at once startling and astonishing, and Blind Melon uncorked what’s considered to be the finest onstage hour in their all-too-brief career.

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

In late 1994, after a run opening for the legendary Rolling Stones, the boys set out to record their second album, Soup, with renowned producer Andy Wallace on the boards. Blind Melon descended on the Crescent City and Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studios, for what amounted to a veritable hurricane season of sorts. By all accounts, Shannon Hoon’s inner rager was awakened upon arrival, and he thoroughly and enthusiastically got into the abyss of what New Orleans—a town which does not rest—has to offer those who cede the high ground to temptation.

Hoon’s precipitous personal dilapidation in New Orleans is depicted gently yet deliberately as All I Can Say rounds third, and we turn homeward bound in a Galaxie handbasket. In the film, Hoon shaves his bleached, shorn tresses to his scalp, and with that defiant act, we’re left to wonder just exactly where his head was at. Shannon becomes undone, and then unhinged, during his time living and recording at Kingsway, sliced and scarred up from bar fights and broken wine bottles. When asked about the experience making the record, he was quoted as having little to no recollection of the sessions. Bassist Brad Smith said Kingsway nights almost always saw the dawn, and he was frustrated by the rampant use of cocaine, heroin, and other substances, as well as the parasitic, vampire hangers-on with less-than-wholesome intentions.

“It’s a city where one’s willpower is tested, daily.” –Shannon Hoon to the NOLA Times-Picayune, Sept. 1995

The music, by all means, did not suffer from the Bayou mayhem. Conversely, Blind Melon’s sophomore slab was enhanced, embellished, and emboldened by its inherent bacchanalia. Soup is among the finest albums of its era, from any rock genre. The moody, voodoo spirits invite us into a glittered room, and keep a harrowing sonic crypt for Blind Melon to inhabit and makeover in their own weathered, shadowy reflection. Hoon’s lyrics remain poetic, but evolved into much more vivid examinations of his own psyche, surroundings, fears, and premonitions. He touches on abstract topics, century-old poems and Psalms, current events, and his descent into the despair of depression and addiction. The record opens with a Second Line dirge from locals Little Rascals Brass Band before the band leaps into the frenetic, punked-up “Galaxie”.

The rest of Soup is a rollercoaster ride of energy, emotion, chunky bottom end, and brilliant dueling guitars in stereo. Hoon veers from junkiedom (“2 X 4”) to a young woman’s suicide (“St. Andrews Fall”) to satirizing serial killer Ed Gein (“Skinned”); the enigmatic, tortured singer-songwriter left nary a stone unturned. No longer asleep in his bed unstoned, Hoon’s performance is vampiric and phantasmagorical on the leering, anxious “Wilt”, stirring and sentimental on “Vernie”, and nothing short of stunning on the majestic, gripping “Mouthful of Cavities”. The latter, a vocal duet with an unknown folk singer Jena Kraus, is rich in bulbous pianos and guttural guitars; this near-perfect number still brings the waterworks, a quarter-century after they laid it down on Esplanade Avenue.

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

Soup features flutes, brass, cellos, banjos, mandolins, and kazoo, along with the usual instrumentation; Hoon’s frayed ends of sanity surf atop a heavier, meatier, and more textured sound from Blind Melon. Monster guitar tones from Stevens and Thorn rule the day, and the rhythm section of Smith and Graham never sounded more sturdy nor more muscle tough than by way of producer Wallace’s subtle handiwork. With the benefit of the rearview mirror, everybody likes to say they’ve been on Soup from jumpstreet, but those of us old enough to remember this band and their tragic demise recall that loving this record was not a popular opinion to share in late-summer 1995.

Towards the end of recording in NOLA, Hoon gets word from Lisa that he’s to be a father in the summer, and the stirring, foreboding, “New Life” is born, an inspirational paean to creation, manifested from this wonderful news. It’s the idea that Shannon will now be responsible for a life beyond his own which thrusts him into a second rehab stint, early in the summer of 1995. As Nico Blue’s birth was filmed, we are brought into the delivery room in All I Can Say, Lisa howling in labor as an elated Shannon coaches her while beaming with pride. Viewers are treated to a few priceless peeks into the early weeks of his young daughter’s life. One heart-warming scene takes place on August 9, 1995, as Hoon rocks his infant baby he tells her about the death of Jerry Garcia, saddened that he will not be able to take her to any Grateful Dead shows in the future.

Upon release, Soup bricked right out of the gates, barely charting and then falling off the Billboard 200 with a thud and a quickness. There was no sequel to “No Rain” found on the new album; conversely, the record was brimming with a ghostly, spectral darkness that didn’t immediately jive with the bell-bottomed blues and hippie-fried grooves on Blind Melon’s self-titled debut. Worse, a fledgling critic at Rolling Stone absolutely panned Soup, giving it one-and-a-half stars out of five, with a dismissive review drenched in the writer’s own high-school biases. The album was a slow burn and not exactly easily accessible, but did not deserve such derision from critics, who seemed to harp on Hoon’s personal struggles and attach his mistakes and poor judgment to the misunderstood art.

Shannon, of course, internalized much of this media blowback and was disillusioned by the disinterest in Soup, compounding his struggle to toe the straight and narrow as he returned to Lafayette with Lisa to play house with baby Nico Blue. The band felt similarly about the album’s tepid reception on delivery, but they were collectively convinced that the record would pop in the cultural zeitgeist, once they toured it hard enough and in the right places, just like the first go-around. So, with Lisa and Nico in tow on the tour bus, Blind Melon hit the road to sell their latest album in nightclubs across America.

Shannon’s newfound sobriety was not exactly strong at this juncture, he was not working any kind of real program; professionals advised the band to postpone the tour so their singer could continue to get right at home with his family. But old haunts and familiar demons lurked in Lafayette as well, and the band was itching to take the new set to the stage, to sell some tickets, and hopefully some copies of Soup. A compromise was reached with the treatment specialists, and a sober counselor went on tour with Blind Melon, tasked with minding Shannon’s more sinister urges. The plan backfired mightily, and within days, the singer was using drugs on the road, in full view of the treatment coach.

As soon as Shannon Hoon turned 28 on tour at the end of September with a fantastic concert at the Metro in Chicago (later released as a DVD), a phenomenal MuchMusic Canadian TV special (where a small framed photo of Jerry Garcia was strategically placed onstage). Blind Melon returned to Los Angeles for a concert forever immortalized on the LP, Live at the Palace.

On his final tour, Hoon was still barefoot, but had taken to wearing ’70s butterfly collars, painting on ghoulish eye-makeup, and he prowling the stage with stilted movements, demonic gesturing, and peculiar, distant facial expressions. Some kind of switch had gone off in that strange head of his; the mercurial, thrill-seeking singer of yesteryear—the Shannon Hoon who crowd-surfed, moshed, writhed on the floor, and climbed the speaker stacks—had been replaced with a brooding, somewhat listless frontman. The trademark vitality was increasingly absent, and he seemed pretty lost both onstage and off.

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

Hoon seemed to be battling the Universe, himself, and even his bandmates, now that the music-industry machine had presumed them dead in the water with nothing more to offer and promptly spit them out onto the street just as swiftly as they’d knighted them two years earlier. His feet were dirty, his face was long; Hoon’s final lap would be defined by runny eyeshadow, magic marker skeletons on his arms and hands, and a halfway-hoarse wail shrouded in his struggle, depravity, and despair. The band played on, and often very well, but this was a depressing and demoralizing situation to anybody paying attention.

After the trifecta of solid Soup shows in September, things took a dramatic turn for the worse after Lisa and Nico Blue went back to Indiana and Blind Melon revisited their adopted hometown. The crew got loose at the Sunset Marquis til sunrise, customary for the rock scene of that time. Unfortunately, L.A. had seen cocaine re-enter the picture in a major way, and the last three weeks of the band’s existence were awash in it, until it stole Shannon Hoon from the world once and for all.

“I’ll disintegrate over time, if I expect my body to try to keep up with my mind. Today, everything is mine” –Blind Melon, “Hell”

The band’s final comedown sounds fairly hellish. Their tour manager was ripped off at the hotel in Boulder, Colorado. After a show in Dallas, they all “went off the rails” a bit before an admittedly terrible gig at Numbers in Houston. After that, the band boarded an overnight bus bound for New Orleans. During the ride, Shannon tore through another bag of blow with a few of the others before it was just him, ranting and railing away until they arrived in the Crescent City in the morning. Blind Melon was in New Orleans to play at the famed Tipitina’s music club.

Band and crew checked into the hotel, Shannon rode the elevator up with Rogers Stevens, and they parted company one final time. He then called Lisa from his hotel room; the first scene of the film is revisited at the very end, full circle. It’s considerably more chilling having just lived the last five years of his life with him, through his own eyes, over the past ninety minutes. Chatting with his baby momma, drinking water, sounding tired, but not exactly wired or strung out, his passing comes as an abrupt surprise and total gut punch, even though we know it’s coming.

A couple of hours later, Shannon Hoon was found by a crew member lying in Christopher Thorn’s tour bus bunk, unresponsive. Paramedics arrived and were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead of a cocaine overdose on October 21st, 1995, in New Orleans. He died just a few short blocks from Kingsway Studios, where Blind Melon had made Soup, the phenomenal, misunderstood album they were touring so hard to sell to America when their lead singer’s heart gave out from the effort.

All I Can Say

[Photo: Danny Clinch via All I Can Say Kickstarter]

Just ten days later, on Halloween night 1995, Blind Melon was scheduled to return to Philadelphia, where I hoped a fake ID would gain me entry to their show at the Trocadero. Alas, t’was not to be, and I would not again experience this robust, leviathan band and its idiosyncratic frontman in all their club tour glory on the too-brief Soup jaunt. Instead, Shannon Hoon was buried at Dayton Cemetery in Dayton, Indiana a few days later. His grave is inscribed with a line from Blind Melon’s song “Change”, the first song he wrote: “I know we can’t all stay here forever / So I want to write my words on the face of today / And they’ll paint it.”

“At the point when he died, it was a real surprise. I mean, there were other times that I thought he was a lot worse off. It sometimes got to the point where I was expecting that call. But when he died, he was fresh out of rehab, and was really healthy.” –Rogers Stevens

Saddled between the high-profile deaths of generational icons like Cobain, Garcia and, a few months later, Bradley Nowell of Sublime, Shannon’s passing was a relative footnote on the rock n’ roll radar. It was pretty sad to see him become the butt-end of jokes on late-night talk TV, and magazine writers repeatedly noted his various arrests and incidents through the years, casting him as a typical casualty of excess. But for thousands of Melonheads, around the world and across generations, he remains a hero, an icon, and a musical martyr in many ways. For twenty-five years, we’ve continued watching everything he did, and watching everything he said. For some of us, Shannon’s was the voice of our youth, and his poems in song are eternal. In death, he remains 28 years old forever, the same vicarious, vibrant soul that we knew him as in this life.

In the aftermath of his tragic passing, Hoon’s remaining vocal tracks were paired together with unfinished music, outtakes, and b-sides for the posthumous Blind Melon album, Nico, released in 1997. All proceeds went to a trust for its namesake, the late singer’s daughter, Nico Blue Hoon. This collection stands on its own twos as a legitimate record, even though it’s a grab bag of scraps from different eras. Nico kicks off with a folky update of Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher”, includes the criminally-underrated Cobain homage, “Soup”, a super-funky take on John Lennon’s “John Sinclair”, the green, soaring power balladry of Smith’s “Soul One”, a droning rework of “No Rain”, the porch-punk of “Hell”. Maybe strongest is the back end of the record, getting the Led out with a dose of self-sabotage on “Swallowed” followed by the moody, opiate warmth and pleading Parisian warning of “Pull”. A number of acoustic demos round things out on the Shannon Hoon swan song.

A spirited take on the timeless “3 is a Magic Number”, something they often worked into their own jams, would later be included on a Schoolhouse Rocks compilation; the band delivered a mediocre cover of Zeppelin’s “Out on the Tiles” to a tribute offering. That would be the last of material featuring the original lineup of Blind Melon. The band regrouped years later with a new singer and, eventually, a different bassist. They dropped an album of new material in 2008 entitled For My Friends, and just this month continue to release new music. Blind Melon still plays live shows sporadically around the U.S., mostly on the festival and fair circuits.

To the majority of casual music listeners, Blind Melon will forever be “No Rain”, the Bee Girl, a ’90s one-hit wonder. But to throngs of Melon fans the world over, they are an unorthodox, idiosyncratic band that does not merely stand the test of time, but defies it. Blind Melon only released three albums and toured for less than five years, yet their fanbase has supported two documentaries, an in-depth book, many podcasts, articles, and more media. A simple Google search will turn up countless blog posts and message board testimonials to the band’s tremendous art, global influence, and anomalous sound, as well as the much-ballyhooed legacy of the late, great philosopher-king, Shannon Hoon. In the physical, he’s long gone from this town called Earth, but the memory of his magic remains embedded in the hearts and minds of his forever congregation.

All I Can Say

[Image via All I Can Say]

Thanks to Danny Clinch and his tremendous team, plus the dearly-departed’s dedication to his Hi-8 video camera, All I Can Say, decades in the making, means we get to hang out with Hoon for just a little bit longer than we’d thought. Still, he leaves us wondering…

“I write a letter to a friend of mine,
I tell him how much I used to love to watch him smile…
See I haven’t seen him smile in a little while”

–Blind Melon, “Mouthful of Cavities”

Order the new Shannon Hoon/Blind Melon documentary, All I Can Say, here.

words: B.Getz

originally published on Live for Live Music