2013 flashback: Eric Von Haessler's Drivin' N' Cryin' documentary is released


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

This was posted on March 20, 2013 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In 2009, Atlanta rock band Drivin' N Cryin'' visited Rock 100.5's The Regular Guys to promote their first album in 12 years, long past their peak popularity in the late 1980s when they had regional hits "Honeysuckle Blue" and "Straight to Hell," followed by 1991's "Fly Me Courageous." (I heard those songs regularly on 96rock and 99X throughout the 1990s into the 2000s.)

Eric Von Haessler brought the new CD "The Gerat American Bubble Factory" home and listened. "I was absolutely floored how unbelievably great it was," he said. "I started to get angry. Why isn't this getting reviewed? They should be at least as big as Wilco."

And thus began a three-year journey of his own to film a comprehensive documentary about a band that continues to tour regularly and make a good living but never became a household name outside of the Southeast.

The result: the film "Scarred But Smarter," which Von Haessler funded out of his own pocket for between $80,000 to $100,000. He travelled with the band and shot hundreds of hours of footage, pared down to two hours and 12 minutes. He interviewed Darius Rucker, Ed Roland of Collective Soul, Peter Buck of R.E.M., Edwin McCain and Ty Pennington (yes, he was a musician in Athens before he became the dude with the megaphone on "Extreme Makeover"). He scrounged around for old footage, including VHS tapes from the 1980s.

The film will be screened Friday and Sunday at the Plaza Theatre for the Atlanta Film Festival. The Friday screening will include Q&A with the band and Von Haessler.

Here's the teaser to the film:

Von Haessler discovered that lead singer Kevn Kinney is, well, a bit eccentric. "He won't do something because you and me and the record company or anyone told him to do it. He's not interested in success we believe you can give him. He likes things small."

This doesn't mean Kinney won't play the hits at his concerts. But the band has no set  set list. He will pick from more than 100 songs on a whim.

Kinney splits time between Atlanta and Brooklyn. "He's not a millionaire," Von Haessler said. "But he pays his bills. He could make more money but he doesn't want to. He doesn't long for a bigger lifestyle."

Von Haessler noted in the film that when Drivin' N Cryin' was at its heights of fame, "they were the most miserable." Kinney, he noted, was on cocaine "and out of his mind." He said they continued in the hard rock mold in the mid-1990s when others had gone grunge.

But rather than become Kurt Cobain, "he just unplugged it. He threw it away."

Drivin' n' Cryin' continued to tour in the late 1990s into the 2000s but stepped away from recording new music, outside of Kinney's solo work.

Von Haessler has now seen them live 40 times. "I'd see them 10 more times next week if I could," he said. He even flew out to South by Southwest to watch them last week and was heartened to see how positive a reaction they received from fans and non-fans alike. "People were taking down the posters afterwards as souvenirs," he said. "I ran into a big-time rock and roll agent who saw them 25 years ago. He said they're better now."

The long-time radio host said he always wanted to make a film. "I wanted to make something cinematic in my basement," he said. He said he obsessed over the film for years. It became a running joke on the Regular Guys show.

Though he and his long-time co-host Larry Wachs have never been best buddies, Von Haessler was happy when Wachs sent him a text complimenting him on the film. And "Southside" Steve Rickman, another long-time host with Von Haessler, said he's seen about 30 minutes of it and thought it was "incredible. The footage was excellent. It's a band that never borke like it should have.'

Von Haessler said he spent the summer of 2011 trying to drum up financing and realized this was not the type of project that would generate investors like, say, a documtenary on the Eagles (recently shown on Showtime.).

Ultimately, he only used a few people to shoot and edit the film.  "I had a hard time filling the end credits," he said. "It was me, me and there was me."

When he shot concert footage, he wanted to be close - so close that he was literally in their face for a few concerts. "I ruined three of their shows," he mused. "I would be on stage the whole time between me and the audience. I didn't care. I got good pictures." (He said bassist Tim Nielsen wanted to "punch him" a couple of times but Kinney was utterly patient.)

Film preview

"Scarred But Smarter"

8 p.m. Friday, Plaza Theatre (main screen) and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, same location