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Non-Prog DVD/Video Reviews

Van Duren

Waiting: The Van Duren Story DVD

Review by Gary Hill

I came into this documentary not really knowing what to expect. I'd never heard of Van Duren before. That's not surprising, though. The man has been largely unknown for decades, and that's a real shame. Of course, part of that comes from something that anyone who really understands anything about the music business knows. Being talented doesn't mean you are going to be a success. Many things have to line up to create success and often it's the people with less talent who succeed while the real masters of their craft remain unknown. That's one point that is shown in this documentary, but there is so much more here. This is an incredibly interesting story from so many angles.

Even the whole story of this documentary getting made is interesting, and it becomes part of the film itself. The gentlemen who created it, Greg Carey and Wade Jackson discovered the music of Van Duren and were hooked. Perhaps part of what drew them in was the fact that the music was largely lost and Duren's name hardly heard. Whatever it was, they got together, and over a few bottle of wine decided to do a documentary about Van Duren. The fact that neither of them had ever made a documentary didn't deter them, and we can all be glad it didn't. Also, I would suggest that maybe that by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is a big part of why this works as well as it does. They learn about the topic and the very art of making the film as they go along. That adds another level to the journey, and that level brings its own interest.

So, who is Van Duren? Well, there is a lot more to the story, and you'll need to watch the video to experience it for yourself, but here's a little synopsis. Duren recorded and released one album Are You Serious in 1978. The album was an indie release and didn't really rise to smash hit status. He recorded another album, which for a number of reasons, wound up shelved. He went on to do more music, but never got the big shot at stardom that those recordings seemed to promise. His music was so strong and saleable. At times it makes me think of Todd Rundgren. At other points I'm reminded of the Beatles or Cheap Trick.

In the process of doing this documentary the film-makers run into a lot of the bad side of the music business, and even some tendrils leading Scientology. They find that the licensing and music is all tied up and they can't even get the rights to use it in their film. That leads them on a trip to attempt to figure out how to get licensing.

Ultimately they wind up not only meeting Duren and getting the licensing rights to the music, they even get ownership of the music and even the tapes back to him. I kept thinking how if these guys hadn't gotten a crazy idea to make a documentary, Duren might never have gotten the rights to his own music. And, it was his music that made the want to do the documentary. There is something fitting about that. It comes full circle.

I am sure that this was an amazing journey for these two guys. As it turns out, it's a pretty cool journey for the viewer, too. For me, I also got introduced to some great music that I would have otherwise heard. I call that a win all the way around.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2022  Volume 5. More information and purchase links can be found at:

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