18. Counting Crows – This Desert Life

cd cover 18. Counting Crows – This Desert Life

The Counting Crows are one of my favorite bands, and have been since their first album came out back in 1993. This Desert Life, their 3rd album, was released in 1999, while I was living at 711 [Ethel,in easttown], my Junior year of college, and I instantly took to many of the songs. One thing I had liked about previous Crows albums was the prevalence of really good quotes from song lyrics that could often times stand alone as fine works of poetry, or clever encapsulations of the whole song’s message. (e.g. “When everybody loves me I will never be lonely“). I’ve also always liked the colorful metaphors and mental images their songs describe and use. Adam Duritz has a tendency to write about the events going on in his own life, but writes it in such a way as to fog the specifics, and make the song seem to apply more generally to all people in that kind of situation (usually, wanting a girl, and for one reason or another, not being able to be with her… you can start to see why this band appeals to me now.. yes?) Anyway, learning about the events of his life that lead to certain songs being written has really helped me understand what the songs were about, in this album especially. I love the way the songs on this album tie themselves together (that’s another thing I really like: When an album is a cohesive unit, rather than simply a collection of songs by the same artist, and nothing more.) Anyway, I know there was a lot I wanted to say about this album, and truth be told it ought to be higher on my list, but I’m having a hard time remembering it all, so I’ll just start talking about some of the songs.

  1. Hangin’ Around – This was their first single from the album, and I recall not really liking it the first few times I heard it… but it grew on me. It’s about a guy who is really just living a party lifestyle, and starts to worry about the future, and isn’t really sure he knows what’s going to happen. Part of him thinks he ought get off his ass and figure out what he’s going to do with his life (or at least make his life more significant than sitting around watching TV all day, and getting blasted at night.) But at the same time, he’s held back.. be it by fear, laziness, or the fact that he’s having such a good time with his present lifestyle.. so things never seem to change. So he thinks he ought to change, but he doesn’t really feel like it.
  2. Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby – This is one of my favorite songs on the album. First of all, it’s just overall a very good sounding, easy to sing along to kinda song. Second, it has a handful of really good quotes in it.: “The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings”,“I can bleed as well as anyone, but I need someone to help me sleep.”, “If you’ve never looked off into the distance then your life is a shame.”). Third, it’s part of [what I think is] a really interesting connection between this song, and 3 others on this album (Colorblind, 4 Days, and Kid Things). The idea is this: Adam went and saw a movie, and became quite infatuated with one of the characters in the movie (rumors say it was Monica Potter, who played the wife of Robin Williams in Patch Adams). So he goes home, and starts to write this song about her.. then starts to realize just how dumb that is, because he doesn’t know her at all.. so he rewrites the song from the perspective of trying to introduce himself to this person he wanted to meet, and wanted to explain everything that’s been going on inside his head. The basic idea being a song about someone trying to introduce himself to a person on the movie screen (another tale of unrequited love). [of course the story continues: Well, because he’s all famous, when he told a friend about the song, that friend new a friend of this girl, and she ended up finding out about it, and wanted to meet him, and so they met, and fell for each other. sigh.. I’ll admit I find it a lot harder to feel bad for the guy when he sings about how lonely he is when I hear these kinds of stories.. .What’s that? You fell for a fictional character, and the real person just magically shows up and falls for you? Yeah, it sucks to be you alright.] Anyway, the song itself is amazing, and quite long. It sounds even better when they play it live.
  3. Amy Hit the Atmosphere – This is my favorite song on the album. It’s so sad and sincere sounding it almost kills you to listen to . The song itself is about a girl named Amy, who was part of this artsy crowd of writers and painters who eventually just all became heroine junkies.(“Things are getting worse but I feel a lot better, and that’s all that really matters to me.” She managed to get herself out of it, and left the whole scene, and went back to college, etc. (“got herself a rocket-ride out of this gutter, and she’s never coming back, I fear.“) This song for me makes me think of the many lulls and depressions I’ve slipped into over the years, and the majority of them were girl related… It’s no secret that the power girls have over my overall mood is frightening at best, and devastating at worst. Anyway, there’s the destructive though that something needs to happen, even if it’s really, really bad, just to shake things up and make life seem real again (“If I could make it rain today, and wash away this sunny day down to the gutter, I would, just to get a change of pace.“) Meanwhile, you’re stuck in that slump, and nothing seems good, or worth doing, or even getting out of bed for, and the realization that you’re wasting your life away makes you miserable, and more sullen, and the cycle spins endlessly. (“Today was just a day fading into another, and that can’t be what a life is for.“). I dunno.. I just really like this song. “And all I really know is I wanna know, And all I really know is I don’t wanna know.
  4. Colorblind – I’m taking things a bit out of order now. Colorblind is said by many to sound like R.E.M., which I’d consider high praise. This song is a love song written after he met “the Potter girl”, about how he wanted to show her all those things he kept hidden inside (let’s just assume that means thoughts and feelings, and not his penis.)
  5. Four Days – So after he met this girl that night, she had to fly hoe to Ohio.. and he didn’t hear from her at all… So on the fourth day, as he’s going completely insane, he wrote this song. Knowing the story, the song suddenly makes a lot more sense:

      All i want is something good  It gets harder every time  She is leaving here tonight  Take a breath  Take your time  Spread your wings and rise    Make a mark upon the wall  Paint your face and pass the time  Close your eyes and she ascends  Hold your breath  Ease your mind  Forty thousand times    Time fade into the night  They descend and then they climb  Feathers falling through the night  Have you seen ohio rise  It has been four days and nights    All i want is something fine  It gets harder every time  She is sleeping far away  Take a breath  Take your time  Spread your wings and rise    Rise through the black ohio sky  They descend and then they climb  Feathers falling through the night  Have you seen ohio rise  It has been four days and nights
  6. Kid Things – This is the hidden track at the end of the album (amid the drug talk and studio zaniness.) It’s all about that feeling you get when you’re talking to a girl on the phone.. when you suddenly feel like you’re 16 years old. This song is just pure fun, and if you don’t like it, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.
  7. I Wish I was a Girl – The basic idea is this: for one reason or another, girls won’t believe what you say, cause you’re a guy, and therefore an evil, cheating liar. So he wishes he was a girl, so when he said something, she’d believe him. It’d just make life a lot easier. So a lot of the song is about these thoughts spinning around in people’s heads, and how they drive them crazy, and keep them up all night ( …I can’t sleep at night…).. Yeah, I can relate.
  8. This album also sports a swell album cover, from Neil Gaiman’s book The Day I Swapped My Dad for 2 Goldfish, which some people seem to like a lot.

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