The Counting Crows

Do you have a song or album that makes you feel contemplative and brooding when you're happy but comforts and seems to understand you when you're feeling down? 
Do your emotions ever oppose the mood of the music you listen to? 

Well if there is such a band that covers the entire spectrum, for me it is definitely the Counting Crows. Composed of seven members led by frontman Adam Duritz on lead vocals and piano, the group formed in 1991 and soon became extremely popular. But besides just being the catchy & calming band of my childhood (my Dad introduced me to them when I was a young kid), something that always intrigued me about the songs were the tortured, beautiful lyrics written by Adam Duritz. A genius songwriter, Duritz channels much of the complicated workings of his mind into lyrical poems that are at once complicated and clear. But until I listened to several of his interviews recently, I had no idea that Duritz suffers from mental illness. Luckily he has been able to so beautifully channel his anguish into music.

Here are a few snippets from interviews of Adam Duritz's thoughts on his songwriting, mental illness, and lifestyle:


"For most of my life, there wasn’t anything as important as writing a song. There wasn’t anything as important as playing it or recording it, and it certainly took precedence over being happy. I thought that being happy, people made much too much of it. It just wasn’t possible to always be happy, and not everything you do in life should be geared around that.
I really wish I worked a little harder on being sane when I was younger, instead of letting this mental illness get more and more entrenched, because that has fucked up my life.
There’s a way in which I resent the songs, or how, for all those years, it didn’t matter what happened in my life because I wrote songs. That isn’t a good replacement for life. That’s just a way of describing life. So, I guess a part of me now resents my own habit of substituting songs for people, songs for relationships, songs for whatever. You can’t wait too much longer to get your shit together, because you only have so many years to live. I’ve definitely made it more of a priority to get healthier. It’s much more important for me to try and get sane than it is to go on tour.
It’s a very raw world right now, because I’ve been coated in gauze and amber for the last decade or so and I am running around naked right now. It’s like the difference between being deaf and everyone in the world talking to you at once. You can’t understand what the fuck anyone is saying either way, but it’s probably better to be here than not be here. But it’s very loud right now. It’s like an assault in a lot of ways.
It’s not that I’m afraid of people, I just don’t know who to call.
We have to do everything possible to make sure we don’t miss gigs, because that’s a commitment you make to people to play, and when you fuck up, it’s a big fuck-up and people never forget it. So I mostly just play the gig, go to my hotel room, get up in the morning, go to the bus, go to the backstage room, go onstage, back to the backstage room, and back to the hotel or the bus. It’s a lot of isolation, without whatever you depend on at home."
 (excerpts are from avclub.com)

While I could never pick a favorite Crows song (in fact, I probably couldn't even make a list of my top ten), my most frequently played tracks recently come from Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, a double album inspired by the "painful emotional journey" Duritz experiences. 
Duritz told People Magazine the following:
"The album is about a downward spiral, losing my mind and about trying to get it back. Not about getting it back but trying to get it back. The Saturday Nights record is about madness and spiraling out of control and disillusionment. The Sunday Mornings record is mostly about failing at the things you're trying to do when you are getting better. It's not redemption, necessarily. It's more like the hangover." 

My two favorites from the album: 

1. On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago
2. On Almost Any Sunday Morning 







Perhaps the most unique thing about this band, however, is a certain degree of specificity in their lyrics that I have yet to find in another group despite my decade of subconscious searching. Of the nearly one hundred songs produced by the Crows, not one lacks a person, theme, or motif also present in another song. 


Some of the most frequent and the songs in which they appear: 


1. MariaMaria has appeared in the lyrics of four Counting Crows songs and in two other songs written by Duritz, and has fueled speculation and debate among fans. According to a report by a Counting Crows employee, Duritz contends that [Maria] is fictional, along with humans in general. "She's just an idea of someone I came up with when I was writing 'Round Here.' I mean, she's me. It's through the eyes of a girl, but it's someone very much like me struggling at the edge, not sure if she's going to fall off on one side or the other. It's a theme that's stuck through songs. So she keeps popping up."


Which Songs?

Mrs. Potter's Lullaby: "there's a piece of Maria in every song that I sing"
Mr. Jones: "Cut up, Maria!"
Round Here: "Maria says she's dying/ through the door I hear her crying"




2. Carnivals, Circuses, and Parades- as transitory and fantastical affairs, they seem to call upon the fleeting nature of the most splendid things in life. Duritz sings a lot about walking across a wire which probably denotes taking risks and accepting vulnerability. 

Which Songs? 

On a Tuesday In Amsterdam Long Ago: 
"She's a carnival diver
 hung in the sky"
"I try to remember
 a girl on a wire
tumbling and diving"
St.Robinson in His Cadillac Dream:
"I have dreamed of a black car that shimmers and drives
Down the length of the evening to the carnival side
In a house where regret is a carousel ride
We are spinning and spinning and spinning"
Raining in Baltimore: 
"This circus is falling
down on its knees
The big top is crumbling down"
Round Here: 
"She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land
Just like she's walking on a wire in the circus"
Goodnight Elizabeth: 
"We couldn't all be cowboys
So some of us are clowns
And some of us are dancers on the midway
We roam from town to town."
"Me, I say my prayers,
Then I just light myself on fire
And I walk out on the wire once again"
Mrs. Potter's Lullaby: 
"Well I am an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame
  I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame"
"the last one out of the circus has to lock up everything
 Or the elephants will get out and forget to remember what you said
 Oh and the ghosts of the tilt-o-whirl will linger inside of your head
 Oh and the Ferris wheel junkies will spin there forever instead"
 You Can't Count on Me: 
"I watch all of the same parades
As they pass on the days that you wish you'd stayed"

3. Birds- of course when the name of the band involves birds, they're bound to turn up pretty frequently.

Which Songs?

Rain King: 
"When I think of heaven 
Deliver me in a black-winged bird 
I think of flying down into a sea of pens and feathers 
And all other instruments of faith and sex 
and God in the belly of a black-winged bird. "
A Murder of One: 
"There's a bird that nests inside you 
Sleeping underneath your skin 
When you open up your wings to speak 
I wish you'd let me in "
Goodnight LA: 
"I could break like a bird
 or I could swallow the sea"
Angels of the Silences: 
"Well I guess you left me with some feathers in my hand.
  Did it make it any easier to leave me where I stand?"
Washington Square: 
 "I wander the highways from Dublin to Berkeley
And I heard the songbirds of Ballyporeen
Good Time: 
"I gotta brand new set of wings"
Four Days:
"Take a breath 
take your time
spread your wings and rise." 
"They descend and then they climb
Feathers falling through the night."


4. Trains- signaling the coming and going of people and events in our lives, trains, like circuses, remind us that nothing is permanent. 

Which songs?

Ghost Train: 
"I can always hear a freight train if I listen real hard"
Goodnight Elizabeth: 
"I was wasted in the afternoon waiting on a train"
High Life: 
"It's just like answers that come in small packages that go in the mail
  Waiting for the trains that just never come"



And there are countless other repeated words, images, and themes: angels, rain, Elizabeth, lions, gray, monkeys, fading, and comets to name a few.



Although they've been touring for over twenty years, somehow this group just maintains its relevance. Back on the road again this summer, I can only hope I'll get the chance to see them when they stop in Milwaukee in July. 

But for now, buy every Counting Crows song, make a playlist of them all, and let them play softly as you fall asleep. I bet you'll have beautifully tortured dreams.  





Don't Ask Me How I Know It, 
Klara



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