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Monday, March 18, 2013

Drivin' n' Cryin' documentary makes hometown premiere

Nobody said it would be fair
They warned me before I went out there

There's always a chance to get restarted
To a new world, new life
Scarred but smarter

It's likely that Atlanta's Drivin' n' Cryin' never imagined the opening track and title to their 1986 debut would perfectly encapsulate the band's scrappy career nearly three decades later. Still, it comes as little surprise that when director/Regular Guys radio show host Eric Von Haessler was ready to name his documentary, Scarred but Smarter: (life n times of drivin n cryin) wasn't an obvious choice. Three years in the making, and with the act experiencing a bit of a revival due to three well-received EPs released over the past 12 months (a fourth is coming soon), the film is complete and ready for its local premiere.

On the surface, it ostensibly follows the archetypal VH1-style rock-doc format, chronicling a group's highs and lows through its bumpy 28 year lifespan. That includes the usual assortment of rare clips, firsthand rock star stories (Peter Buck is featured prominently), and tales of record company and chemical abuses. Add dysfunctional inter-group relationships, frequent breakups, side projects, and nervous breakdowns that have buried so many others since even before the Beatles for a complete profile of a bunch of gifted outsiders whose current rejuvenation comes as a surprise to many.

But with frontman/founder Kevn Kinney's self-deprecating humor and tough journeyman's attitude, it's a tale of survival in an industry that has traditionally eaten up and spit out artists as talented and deserving as Drivin' n' Cryin' for lunch. Despite such clichéd rock-doc images as split-screen performances and grainy old recordings, this is obviously a labor of love. Its warts-and-all depiction of D n C through its ups and more frequent downs adds gravitas and a compelling thread to a group that, despite succumbing to nearly every misfortune that life throws its way - not the least of which is commercial apathy - continues to soldier on, arguably stronger than ever. Galvanizing live footage displays the power of their rugged, red-clay Americana rock when it gels with an appreciative audience.

"Drivin' n' Cryin' got exactly what they had coming to them; fame and no fame, fortune and no fortune," admits Kinney in the flick's trailer. Other black-and-white talking-head interviews bring the outfit's colorful if somewhat depressing history to life with concise, articulate, and often humorous reminiscences from fans and associates who witnessed it going down.

Even casual rock fans boisterously sing along when "Straight to Hell" makes an appearance on whatever classic rock radio stations are left, and if they leave no other legacy than that, Kinney and Drivin' n' Cryin' will be acknowledged as one of the more influential Southern-bred collectives. Personalities as diverse as Cracker's David Lowery, Darius Rucker, and Collective Soul's Ed Roland attest to D n C's staying power, primarily due to consistently sweat-soaked live shows keeping them relevant for generations too young to have been around for the majority of its tenure. Additionally, songs like "Scarred but Smarter" become more appropriate to the band and its cult fans as both age. It's increasingly clear that this story may well need a follow-up, since it's long from over.

Scarred but Smarter (life n times of drivn n cryin) premieres at the Plaza Theatre on Friday March 22 during this year's Atlanta Film Festival.

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