Scarred but Smarter
The Drivin N Cryin Story
Drivin N Cryin are an anomaly. They are a distinctly Southern band led by two guys from the Midwest, Minneapolis’ Tim Nielsen and Milwaukee’s Kevn Kinney; they are punk-arena rock-folk-country; they are Southeast regional stars recalled elsewhere for one gold album, Fly Me Courageous (1991)—when not remembered as an MTV hair metal act overshadowed by the grunge eruption.
As shown in Eric von Haessler’s documentary, Scarred but Smarter: Life N Times of Drivin N Cryin, they are also an archetype as a band whose career involved a sequence of poor choices infused with sincerity; a band whose oversized personalities were stuck for too many years in the same van with easy access to drugs and alcohol. And perhaps more importantly, DNC became part of a growing cohort of bands whose names register blank stares in mainstream society but continue to maintain an audience, tour a circuit and make new music.
DNC always had a loyal knot of fans in Milwaukee. Scarred but Smarter touches quickly on Kinney’s origins in the city’s late ‘70s punk scene; in interviews he recalls roadying for The Haskels and Oil Tasters before starting his first group, The Prosecutors. “We were the band all the other bands went to see,” he recalls, adding that few people shared their enthusiasm. Deciding to start a new life, he trekked to Atlanta and was invited onstage during a Die Kreuzen show. DNC began soon afterward, in 1985, grounded in Kinney’s long-term if sometimes troubled partnership with Nielsen. Kinney is described in the film as a sort of dreamy Zen master and Nielsen as the hard-ass who kept things rolling.
After releasing a remarkable first album, Scarred but Smarter, on an Atlanta indie, DNC signed with Island Records. Trouble ensued. For their Island debut, the label teamed the band with respected producer Anton Fier. The resulting Whisper Tames the Lion (1988) didn’t represent the band’s live sound and confused the audience. Mystery Road (1989) was better—capturing the band’s organic combo of country, folk, punk and hard rock—but left Island flummoxed for being too large for their narrow marketing preconceptions. The label apparently bribed Kinney to play it straight next time by allowing him to release an eclectic solo album, MacDougal Blues (1990). He kept his end of the bargain with Fly Me Courageous, whose anthemic hard rock somehow caught the patriotic spirit of the Persian Gulf War. “I don’t know how that happened,” Kinney confesses.
DNC soon reached nadir with the tuneless Smoke (1993) and videos that put them in league with Motley Crue. But they soon thought better of that and returned to their twisted roots, even as Kinney’s solo catalogue bulged with new releases.
Scarred but Smarter is the story of an underappreciated band and Kinney, its talented songwriter, at home with sympathetic ballads and gut-punching rock.
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