4. Counting Crows – August and Everything After
There are some albums that get bonus points for introducing me to bands that I proceed to love. So you get albums like Throwing Copper, Live Through This, Grave Dancer’s Union, Weezer’s Blue Album, and Lost and Gone Forever on my list. This album introduced me to Counting Crows…. and I love Counting Crows. If you do the math, it was fairly inevitable: 1 chronically depressed, girl obsessed lonely high-schooler + 1 music album written by and filled with songs about a chronically depressed, girl obsessed lonely guy = me likey.
At this point in my countdown, I’m starting to get a bit repetitive as far as reasons for liking an album. This one will likely be no different. As I’ve said, the subject matter makes this album, and this band a favorite. But I find the lyrics to be particularly well written. I really like lyrics that take some thought and some time to understand. Counting Crows songs have a tendency to use really interesting metaphors to get across certain ideas or emotions. This album does that particularly well, I think. It’s an issue that comes up with a number of bands: The first or second album released comes across as very genuine, as lonely, angsty singers sing about being alone, and angsty. Then they get popular, rich, and famous…. They might still be angsty, and hell, they might even still be lonely, but it’s a very different kind of lonliness… one that’s a bit harder for listeners to associate with, I think. Me anyway. Adam Duritz is a little different, in that he seems determined to be unhappy, and thus I associate with him even more strongly… but there’s still that noticeably change from album to album… this being the first album, the songs still have that genuine feel to them. From his songs, and his lyrics, and the things he says in interviews, I see Adam as this lonely guy that’s just desperate to be in love, and falls easily, but then heaps so much pressure on himself and everyone for it to be perfect that it all just falls apart… and he spirals into depression. And he manages to take all that, and put it into songs and metaphors, and make it all real.
This album has been out for quite some time. I’ve mentioned songs from it before, and I’ve gone through on my own time and tried to figure out what all is being said before, but never the whole album, so this might be fun, or painful, or dull. Time will tell.
Round Here – I’ve seen the Counting Crows perform um.. 4 or 5 times now. They put on a good show, though some were far better than others. Anyway, the last few concerts I was at, Adam introduced this song by telling the story about how, back in the day before they were famous and rich and everything, A few of them (maybe just Adam and D
Anyway, I was talking about “Round Here”. I’ve pretty much gone ahead and assumed that all of the songs are being told from the point of view of Adam Duritz, but it’s usually a part of Adam’s personality being personified by a fictional person (Like how Stan Lee created superheroes to represent parts of himself. Go watch Mallrats if you’re confused.). Well this is a song where he’s simultaneously talking about his life, and the life of someone else: a girl “Maria”. Maria shows up every once in a while in Crows songs (“There’s a piece of Maria in every song that I sing.” — Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby from This Desert Life). I’ve taken “Maria” to mean the ideal girl. She’s this idea, that might be based on a real person, or maybe a conglomeration of people… and prolly represents different people at times, and no one but an idea other times. Maria is the girl he wants to love. Anyway, this song is talking about her, and how she’s kinda losing it, and is growing more and more disillusioned with life. Meanwhile he’s going through the same thing, and is seeing that all those things he’s been looking forward to and working up to since he was young aren’t really leading to the kind of joy he expected. There’s that idea when you’re young that once you’re older, you’ll be allowed to do those stupid little things that seem like such a big deal when you’re younger, like staying up late, and eating when and what you want, and all that. (Think the pilot episode of Undeclared: “I can like.. stay up til 11… and eat nothing but junkfood, and watch all the TV I want.”) You get older, and you realize that that stuff kinda sucks, and the ability to piss away entire weeks doing nothing but play baseball with your friends, run around outside all day were far better than all this. Anyway, starting with the 2nd verse the verse lyrics talk about the girl, and the choruses talk about the guy. But it’s the first verse that I think ties the story about the 4 streets in with this song. There they are, right near the ocean, and they’re pretty much broke, working shitty jobs so they can be in this band, and their friends are all off getting “real” jobs, and their lives are progressing like “normal”, but they’re taking this big risk in the hopes of “making it” as a band. And that’s gotta be scary. You’re this nervous guy desperate for validation, and you’ve got to have your share of days when you think you’ve majorly screwed up your life, and you walk outside and look out to the ocean, and you think about your life, and what it’s become, or what it’s becoming, and you don’t know if you’ve made the right choices, and you don’t really know what’s going on with anything anymore, you just know that life isn’t panning out the way you thought it would when you were younger. And you’ve found that adhering to all those trite words of wisdom you were given when you were younger isn’t making life better. You’re trying hard to be an adult, but you don’t really know how. You’ve got the line near the end of the song “Round here we’re never sent to bed early, and nobody makes us wait.” There’s that idea that they’re adults now, and they’re off on their own. But it’s followed by “I can’t see nothing round here“. All those things you used to think were so important really don’t matter at all.
I found this snippet of an interview with Adam where he talks about Maria:
“Maria is the only one who’s not completely real. 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.”
There is an amazing… no, that’s not good enough.. AMAZING version of this song on the Storytellers album. It has snippets of Have You Seen Me Lately mixed into it.[They tend to alter the songs, sometimes significantly, when performing them live]. and it kinda slows down, then explodes into such a rocking version of the rest of the song (starting with “There’s a girl in the car in the parking lot…“) There are moments in some songs where everything seems to just come together perfectly, like potential energy had been building up, and it’s suddenly released right at that perfect moment, and it just powers through the rest of the song. I mentioned something about that with Who Cares on III Sides to Every Story, and off the top of my head I know I feel it with Run to the Water off of Live’s The Distance to Here… there are many others. Truly an amazing song.
Omaha – I read this on a blog entry from some guy I don’t know: “Also, if anyone out there has ever wondered about what exactly “Omaha” is about, Adam gave us the secret: it’s about Dan. Just replace every occurrence of the word “Omaha” with “Dan,” and it all makes sense. It really works, I promise.“. I remember that at the first concert I saw them at, they said it also about some prick of a teacher they hated back in the day, or something. I’ll be honest with you, I like the song, but it has no real meaning to me at all… besides the part where whenever anyone says “Omaha” I’ll respond with a line that includes “Somewhere in mid America”.
Mr. Jones – I’ve already mentioned that this song reminds me of working at the greenhouse, just because it got played all the time… so I won’t talk about that. One thing I find funny about this song is how literal it is… it’s like when I read the story behind Long December, which was more or less word for word what Adam was doing at the time (Visiting a friend a the hospital each day, then driving up to a house they called “Hillside Manor” to hang out with people, and talk about life, the year almost past, and hopes for the following year.) Anyway, here’s a clip from an interview about Mr Jones:
It’s really a song about my friend Marty and I. We went out one night to watch his dad play, his dad was a flamenco guitar player who lived in Spain, and he was in San Francisco in the mission playing with his old flamenco troupe. And after the gig we all went to this bar called the New Amsterdam in San Francisco on Columbus and we got completely drunk. And Marty and I sat at the bar staring at these two girls, wishing there was some way we could go talk to them, but we were, we were too shy. And we thought, we kept joking with each other, that if we were big rock stars instead of such loser, low-budget musicians, we’d be able to, this would be easy. And I went home that night and I wrote a song about it.
I’ll admit to being sick of this song back in the day. I’d try to find a clever way to get around the “overplayed” argument, but really that’s what it was. I couldn’t get away from it, cause it was on at work all the time.. and it was a good song, but I really didn’t think it was the best on the album, so the fact that it got played a ton, and songs like Sullivan Street, Anna Begins, and Raining in Baltimore didn’t get played at all upset me. But time passes, and new memories are associated, yada yada yada. Looking and listening to it now, I can’t help but like it. Here’s a song about guys too damn nervous to talk to girls… so convinced that once they’re famous that everything will be better, and everyone will love them, and girls will flock. (okay, realization #1: that last part is true, and for that I hate them. Seriously, some no name dude at a bar doesn’t hook up with Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox) But anyway, looking at the lyrics now, I see a fair amount of myself. Two guys hanging out, looking around, seeing girls, and “telling each other fairy tales” about how “she’s looking at you”, convinced that when everybody loves me I’ll never be lonely… wanting to be a big star, but each person has a different reason. We just want to be important, so people will like us, so we can be happy.. and stop being so lonely.
Perfect Blue Buildings – This is one of a few slow, very sad sounding songs on the album that I very much like. (others include Time and Time Again, Anna Begins, Sullivan Street, Raining in Baltimore, and Ghost Train). This song could easily begin “Woke up today to everything gray“. It’s about how life just becomes mundane, and repetitive, and boring, and you just want it to end. (“..in these lives which are completely meaningless“) The person in the song isn’t suffering anything horrible, really, no catastrophe, just the daily little things that make life dull and lousy: problems in a relationship, (“ain’t this position familiar, darling?“) envy of others, unrequited feelings(“I got an attitude of need“), boredom… Anyway, all of those added up make the idea of just sleeping life away, or sinking into a coma or something really appealing (“Help me stay awake, I’m falling asleep.“)… Dreams where things are better: Colors are crisp and clean, and the dull complications of real life are gone (“Asleep in perfect blue buildings, beside the green apple sea. Gonna get me a little oblivion, baby“). So here is this plea from the guy who doesn’t want to slip into that, but has a hard time wanting to not want to slip into that… So the person inside him is kinda dying, but he’s trying to break free of it all. (“Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hangs on everybody, there’s a dead man trying to get out. Please help me stay awake, I’m falling..“).. he’s just not doing all that well. I can recall on more than one occasion lying on the couch in the dark in my dorm room at Calvin, staring at the ceiling, listening to this album, and this song in particular, and praying that I could just fall asleep and not wake up for a month.
Anna Begins – This might be my favorite song on the album. The story behind it: Adam met this girl, Anna, on vacation, and they hooked up, but it was supposed to be a light casual relationship, but things started to get more personal, and so in an attempt to kinda shield themselves from feeling.. they try to convince themselves, and the other person, that the feelings aren’t real, and they just end up hurting each other.. and in the end, they realize the thing they really couldn’t face wasn’t the feelings, but the realization that they’d never see each other again. I take two things away from this song: 1.) Validation for the belief/realization that it’s impossible to deny feelings that exist, and that you just do more harm than good to yourself and others if you try to pretend they don’t exist, or deny that they exist or whatever.. Even if that means allowing yourself to feel like complete and utter shit because those feelings go unrequited.. 2.) If the feelings exist, you may as well do something about them. Letting chances slip away just leaves you filling with regret and self loathing. Maybe everyone needs an Anna to make you really appreciate the next one… I dunno. This song is just good. Read it:
My friend assures me "it's all or nothing" I am not worried I am not overly concerned My friend implores me for one time only make an exception. I am not not worried wrap her up in a package of lies send her off to a coconut island I am not worried I am not overly concerned With the status of my emotions "Oh, She says, "You're changing." But were always changing It does not bother me to say this isn't love because if you don't want to talk about it then it isn't love and I guess I'm going to have to live with that but, I'm sure there's something in a shade of gray or something in between and i can always change my name if that's what you mean My friend assures me "It's all or nothing`` but I am not worried I am not overly concerned you try to tell your self the things you tell your self to make yourself forget i am not worried "if it's love" she said, "then were gonna have to think about the consequences" She can't stop shaking and I can't stop touching her and..... This time when kindness falls like rain it washes her away and Anna begins to change her mind "these seconds when I'm shaking leave me shuddering for days" she says and I'm not ready for this sort of thing But I'm not gonna break and I'm not going to worry about it anymore I'm not gonna bend. and I'm not gonna break and I'm not gonna worry about it anymore it seems like i should say "as long as this is love..." But it's not all that easy so maybe I should just snap her up in a butter fly net and just pin her down on a photograph album i am not worried I've done this sort of thing before but then i start to think about the consequences because i don't get no sleep in a quiet room and... This time when kindness falls like rain it washes me away and Anna begins change her mind and every time she sneezes I believe it's love and oh lord.... I'm not ready for this sort of thing Her kindness bangs a gong it's moving me along and Anna begins to toss and turn and every word is nonsense but i understand and oh lord... I'm not ready for this sort of thing
Time and Time Again – Another song about loneliness. When you’re so lonely, whether because someone you love has left, or because someone you love never came in the first place.. and you just want to disappear, or fly off someplace else, cause it has to be better than here.. or just throw yourself into the ocean and call it good. This is another song where you have to hear it to really understand it… because it’s not just the words, but the brokenhearted way in which it’s sung. You really can’t hear it without just feeling sad.
I wanted so badly somebody other than me Staring back at me, but you were gone I wanted to see you walking backwards And get the sensation of you coming home I wanted to see you walking away from me Without the sensation of you leaving me alone
Rain King – Apparently the title Rain King came from a book. According to Amazon it’s a “Seriocomic novel by Saul Bellow, published in 1959. The novel examines the midlife crisis of Eugene Henderson, an unhappy millionaire. The story concerns Henderson’s search for meaning. A larger-than-life 55-year-old who has accumulated money, position, and a large family, he nonetheless feels unfulfilled. He makes a spiritual journey to Africa, where he draws emotional sustenance from experiences with African tribes. Deciding that his true destiny is as a healer, Henderson returns home, planning to enter medical school.” Adam described the book like this: “ Just someone who maybe pours out a little too much. Sort of a vision of excess. You know, just someone who does everything just a little bit too excess, like a big open wound of a person. For good and for bad, get yourself all over other people. He’s a figure of excess. He wants more than he has; he thinks he deserves more than he’s got. Joyously and pathetically, he pours all over everyone like a big open wound.“.
There’s a live version of this song, I think it’s on the Live at the 10 Spot album (there’s a double disc Across the Wire that has the Storytellers concert and the Live at the 10 Spot, and it’s simply amazing.) [I just checked, it is on that album] Anyway, it has this snippet in thrown in the middle:
She said. She said "when I think of heaven" She said. She said "I think of you, How come you don't think of me too?" And I said "you know, it's Cause When I think of heaven Deliver me in a black-winged bird I think of dying..."
I like that.. There’s a fairly basic example of the glass being half empty or half full. Some people (I won’t mention any names, but it’s me) seem forever cursed to think of things as negative when there’s any chance of it being negative. Here we have heaven.. perfection, and the end of suffering, pain, everything, and all he can think of is the fact that you have to die.
Sullivan Street – Another amazing slow, sad song. Another song about a specific relationship where you realize at some point the relationship has to end (“Pretty soon now, I won’t come around.“) I hear the song, and I think it’s sung about the point in the relationship where you both know it’s not going to work, but you haven’t broken up.. either because you haven’t come to terms with it, or you’re scared, or you really just don’t want to… you know it won’t last forever, but you can’t imagine not being with them. You get the line “It’s almost everything I need“.. acknowledging that it isn’t, in fact, everything you need, but man.. it’s close. That’s what makes it so hard.
Ghost Train – Here’s one of those “metaphorical songs” I was talking about earlier. Adam has this thing with ghosts.. it seems to refer to a number of things: In a few songs, Ghosts refer to people who are kinda fading.. like their lives have started to fade, and they don’t really know they are, or what they’re doing.. be it because of apathy, loneliness, boredom, fear, or whatever. But most often, ghosts are memories. (“If dreams are like movies then memories are films about ghosts.“) So we have this life that’s like a train ride, and there’s that person that you’d like to get to know, but getting to know them means exposing all those ghosts to the other person. So in this relationship, the whole thing starts up (“How do you do? She says ‘Hey, how do you do?’“) but when this guy starts thinking about all those ghosts he’ll have to share, he can’t do it. I guess he freaks out, or is just too nervous or embarrassed or something, but he can’t do it, and he bails. (“‘Remember everything’ She said ‘When only memory remains’“) So now he’s left with just the memory of the time he almost went for it, but then didn’t.
Raining in Baltimore – Here’s a song about being lonely (go figure, eh?).. Being lonely, and wishing you were with the person you love, but you can’t.. and it’s your own fault that you can’t. (“Where you should be no one’s around.“). There’s that feeling you get.. okay, there’s this feeling I get where I feel completely and utterly alone, and it’s honestly so hard to deal with that I can’t even sleep. I just lie there praying the phone will ring and make me believe that someone else is out there. And when that phone rings, it honestly makes the entire world seem good. Suddenly everything is okay, and life seems wonderful. It’s when it doesn’t ring… I hate it when it doesn’t ring. (“I need a big love. I need a phone call.“). You’ve got this section here that matches up to the previous song:
These train conversations are passing me by And I don't have nothing to say You get what you pay for But I just had no intention of living this way
It makes me think that there was this relationship, and it starts to get serious, and she’s headed off to somewhere else, and wants him to come with, and he gets nervous and bails.. The “train conversation” being that talk about where the relationship is at, and if he’ll go with her or not.. but it passes him by.. he bails.. he has nothing to say. So now he’s got to deal with his decision.. or more likely his lack of a decision. It’s like he’s crippled by fear, and it leaves him stuck where he’s at, and he hates it… This is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. “I miss you. I guess that I should.“
Murder of One – It wasn’t until recently that I understood the title of this song. A group of crows are called a “murder”… like a pack of wolves or a pod of whales. So a murder of one is a group of crows made up of only one… Yeah, another song about loneliness. I love the Counting Crows. It’s a song about a relationship gone bad.. and the girl refuses to leave.. she’s too scared to leave, and it’s safe and comfortable there.. but it’s obviously not good for her. And here’s Adam singing to her, tell her to get out. So we start with this:
Curiosity, Kitten, doesn't have to mean you're on your own Your can look outside your window He doesn't have to know We can talk awhile, baby We can take it nice and slow All your life is such a shame All your love is just a dream
Which makes it sound like he’s trying to steal her away kinda.. but it’s possible he’s just trying to be there for her, to support her and help her out so she won’t go running back to that guy. And it ends with the repeated line “You don’t want to waste your life“, and “Change, Change, Change“. I have a excellent live version of this song where at the end, there’s an added part that’s, I think, supposed to be the girl’s response to the previous verses: “She said ‘How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? How does it feel to be one of the fortunate ones? How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? How does it feel to be all alone under the sun?’” It’s like “okay, you’ve said all of this to me, but look at you… Have you taken your own advice? Here you are, a big famous celebrity, and you’re still miserable and alone.” This is another of my favorites on the album.
So here we are. I like Counting Crows a lot, and this is my favorite album from them. It’s not really a happy album, and there are times when I can’t listen to it cause it’d just depress me to much, but man, this album is just amazing.