I can remember when the name of Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ was all the buzz in the early ’90’s; it was just as I began my career with record labels and like so many of their time, they were amongst several being touted as the dreaded “next big thing”. The difference with this band and the rest was that I actually paid attention to them – especially (and confessedly) because they were a) from Atlanta and b) somehow, they had some kind of alignment with Peter Buck and I was still a die-hard R.E.M. fan at the time. Nevertheless, the albums the band released on Island were heavy-duty, solid and balls-out, which I dug (and still do). A few years ago, around the time I started writing again, lo and behold – new releases from DNC were amongst the first things I received and reviewed.
In 2013, a documentary by Eric Von Haessler was released, Scarred But Smarter: Life ‘N Times Of Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’, which told the band’s tale. Having been in limited release, I didn’t see it then, but fortunately, thanks to the good folks at MVD Visual, it’s now available on DVD with some nice extras. And I have to say, I enjoyed this documentary completely. The first thought that comes to mind is the absolute unpretentiousness of it, which to me is always vitally important and I appreciated the no-bullshit, no-frills way the story is told – direct and in a linear manner. Simply put, it chronicles the group’s highs and lows through its rocky (now) 31 year history.
The story includes firsthand accounts from fans and friends, such as Peter Buck, Ed Roland and Darius Rucker; it has the prerequisite tales of record company aggravations and chemical abuses. Of course, with the band’s own story of their inter-personal relationships, it’s done refreshingly straight and unapologetically. The story is complete – from the time frontman Kevn Kinney left Milwaukee and moved to Atlanta with his girlfriend, sleeping in their car for several weeks to them needing to replace their problematic drummer with a teenager from another (local) Atlanta band called Mr. Crow’s Garden, who weren’t going anywhere (!), it’s a good series of stories.
What gives is that something special (if you will) is Kevn Kinney’s self-deprecating sense of humor mixed with his father’s work ethic (“I have to keep the brand going”). Drivin’ ‘N Cryin’ are survivors. And this documentary epitomizes their sheer will perfectly. The one very sad note, however, is the passing of their dynamic lead guitarist (from their “success” period), Van Buren Fowler, who died in 2014. There is a poignantly sweet video tribute to him amongst the extras included.
So if you like this band – if you still have a flavor for straight-ahead American rock in large, loud blasts with no apologies, check out this documentary and pick up the DNC catalog. It’ll wake you back up.