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Van Duren film a cautionary tale as much as tribute

The film 'Waiting: The Van Duren Story' is a musical artist's story but also a warning about the threats of the music business

Waiting: The Van Duren Story

MVD Visual (DVD) 

Running Time: 79 minutes

By Eric Harabadian

“A singer-songwriter style that falls halfway between the pop savvy of Paul McCartney and the endearing rock eccentric stance of Todd Rundgren” is how Cashbox magazine described Memphis-born artist Van Duren, upon the release of his solo debut Are You Serious? in 1978.

In 2016 two Australians, band manager Greg Carey and musician Wade Jackson, connected on social media over their love and fascination with Duren’s music. Over several drinks, the two reflected on the artist’s whereabouts and why he was not well known. In their somewhat inebriated state the duo exuberantly decide to make a documentary to seek out the many unknown variables and unanswered questions that lingered about this mysterious Memphis musician. The only catch was that Carey and Jackson were total novices. They had no previous film production experience.

Waiting: The Van Duren Story unfolds like a taut suspense thriller as the first-time filmmakers take you through their process of uncovering clues and investigating leads. Carey and Jackson’s main goal becomes finishing production and, upon discovering Duren lost all control and possession of his master tapes, helping the singer-songwriter regain ownership and rights to his original music. The film is deftly told from the various perspectives of the managers, band mates, producers and family members who were there—most significantly from Duren himself.

Van Duren was at the forefront of the Memphis music scene that came to be known as “power pop.” The gifted singer-songwriter auditioned for legendary hometown heroes Big Star in the early ‘70s, but it was short-lived. In 1975 Duren and Big Star drummer Jody Stephens collaborated on some demos with former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Unfortunately that relationship went south as well. In 1977 Duren recorded his first album Are You Serious? with producer Jon Tiven for his Big Sound label. But due to contractual disagreements and financial troubles a second album, eventually titled Idiot Optimism, never came to be.

This story is a cautionary tale that includes con men, Scientologists, rock stars, unscrupulous advisors and hangers on. But it also tells a brilliant and spiritually redemptive tale about creative passion, perseverance and the unwavering commitment of a true artist.