by Jen Selk
I first heard Counting Crows on the radio in the spring of 1994. I was wearing one of my Dad's oversized burgundy dress shirts, black jeans, and knock-off Doc Martens, and I had a math test I was supposed to be studying for. Only instead of studying I was listening to the radio and lying on my bed, doodling bees in the white spaces on the cover of one of those mottled, black-and-white notebooks.
Kurt Cobain had just died. Whiny, grungy, alt-rock was the thing. I wasn't sure I understood why, exactly. I secretly thought Weird Al's parody song "Smells Like Nirvana" was better than "Smells Like Teen Spirit," but no one had to know that. I wanted nothing more than to be cool, so I was determined to consume pop culture like a voracious little ferret until I managed to figure it out. "Mr. Jones" showed up in the Top 40, I caught the beat — easier than anything truly grunge — and immediately rolled out to buy the tape of the band's debut album, August and Everything After (1993). And then I listened to that tape. A lot.
Adam Duritz, I decided, was deep as fuck.
But is he still? Would Duritz's poeticism hold up to adult scrutiny? I had to relisten to find out.
Ah, "Round Here," the album's second single. Step out the front door like a ghost into the fog, where no one notices the contrast of white on white, Duritz w̶h̶i̶n̶e̶s̶ sings. This is grammatically problematic, but I get it. Poor guy feels invisible. He has a sad. Gotta admit, this doesn't really bode well for the album as a whole. "Round Here" also marks the first major appearance of the suicidal "Maria." She's mentioned a lot in the Counting Crows' catalogue and is supposedly fictional. I hope so, because if she isn't, Duritz has probably been stalking her for more than two decades.
"Omaha" is easy listening, surprisingly melodic, though the lyrics (like most Counting Crows lyrics) are a little hard to follow. Start tearing the old man down, run past the heather and down to the old road. Start turning the grain into the ground. Roll a new leaf over. I mean, it's about farming, maybe?
"Mr. Jones" remains catchy, but a lot of it seems to be about objectifying women and wanting to be Bob Dylan. I am interested in neither of those things.
I think "Perfect Blue Buildings" is about being high. But it's so slow, so long. These are five minutes I'm never getting back. Maybe it would be better if I actually were high? I wish I was high right now. I'd fall asleep if the sound of Duritz's voice wasn't so gratingly nasal.
I never realized Counting Crows was so gaslighty. "Anna Begins" is the perfect example of this. What is up with Duritz always implying that his girlfriends are damaged and/or mentally ill? Every word that Anna says isn’t nonsense, Adam. Fuck you. (Sidebar: I feel like Anna and Maria should form some kind of We Survived Adam Duritz support group.)
Oh god. "Time and Time Again." This is the worst song I've ever heard in my life and it's even longer than "Perfect Blue Buildings," only with fewer lyrics. My ears are bleeding.
OK, this is a little better. "Rain King" was inspired, reportedly, by Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, and I guess Duritz really wants us to know that he went to Berkley and read books? (He's not just some coffeehouse mook!) But "Rain King" isn't bad, so I can forgive this bit of self-conscious posturing.
Shit, we're off the rails again. "Ghost Train" is awful. Even as a teenager, I used to fast forward through it. At least it's more than a minute shorter than "Time and Time Again."
"Raining in Baltimore" is about Adam Duritz being very, very sad. He needs a phone call. He needs a raincoat. He needs a Latin lady to tenderly dry his tears. Considering how awful this song is, it's surprisingly listenable. But I kinda wish Duritz would stop mentioning trains. And the circus. And how lonely he is.
Well, at least we're not going out with a whimper. "A Murder of One" gets a few things right. Duritz seems to know what a murder of crows means, for one thing. (He went to Berkley, you guys.) But as seems to be the case with so much of this album, "A Murder of One" is mansplainy and vaguely misogynstic. Are you happy when you're sleeping? Does he keep you safe and warm? Eesh. It's all I can do not to imagine Maria/Anna responding, "Yeah, dude. He does. OK? He does. We're happy together. Please stop calling me." Actually, maybe that's exactly what happened and this whole album is basically a response to feeling friend-zoned. I wouldn't be surprised.
Relistening to August and Everything After wasn't so bad, really, but it wasn't good either. Deep? Maybe... as a pool filled with bullshit.
Jen Selk is a former journalist, occasional editor, and current hag. You can find her on Twitter at @jenselk.