In trying to write this “review”, I have to make some immediate disclosures: this will not be easy nor objective. That’s not meant in a negative fashion. You see, I love Van Duren. His music has been a part of my life for many years; I have his entire recorded output (which is plentiful, diverse and wonderful). His music is both an inspiration and a joy to me and it’s never easy to listen without prejudice when you know the material so well. And he’s someone I am very proud to call a dear friend. So I don’t want this to come off as panderingly sweet or worse. So I’ll try to stick to the facts – as I see them – about some of these songs.
You have to understand one very important thing about this – until this compilation was released by the good folks at Omnivore, Mr. Duren’s music has been, by and large, difficult to find, especially the first two albums – the now-legendary Are You Serious? and its follow-up, Idiot Optimism. But now, happily, with this companion to the forthcoming document about Mr. Duren, you’re able to get an aural glimpse of what makes his music so special and moving.
Frankly, one listen to “Chemical Fire” should say it all. As someone very close to me said when she first borrowed Are You Serious? – without any prompting, “why the fuck isn’t “Chemical Fire” played on every goddamned radio station along with The Who or The Band? What the fuck?” All I could do was smile and nod in complete approval – it’s catchy, slyly funky and easily memorable. So, too, is the glorious “Grow Yourself Up”, which I admit, I always said was the masterpiece Todd Rundgren forgot how to execute. Yes, it’s a song of its time, but being a product of that era, it makes me glad to know this track lives forever. Just listen to the energetic burst of vocals and piano without an intro and you will fully comprehend.
From Idiot Optimism, the Chris Bell-penned (yes, THAT Chris Bell) “Make A Scene” gets a balls-out treatment from Mr. Duren; a much more soulful rendition than the late Mr. Bell’s; also from that period (long circulated, but until now, never officially released) is a joint effort between Mr. Duren and Jody Stephens, Big Star drummer/singer, “Andy, Please”, a powerful, emotional piece that should have come out and been all over the airwaves. “Catcher In The Rain” is from Mr. Duren’s ’80’s outfit, Good Question, and is a reminder that the era produced great bands with unforgettable tunes (seek out the Good Question album; it’s worth it).
I think the aforementioned are a very fine starting point; it’s certainly more than ample enough reason to want to check out/buy/enthrall yourself with this compilation/soundtrack. And I’m confidant that once you have, you’ll fall in love with the beauty of Van Duren’s music and work your way through his catalog. As you’ll quickly discover, it’s music that’s everlasting.
Waiting – The Van Duren Story is currently available