Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Deconstruction of Counting Crows

It may be hard to believe now, but there was a time when it was OK to be a Counting Crows fan.

I know this. I was there. I was one of them. If you were an angst-filled teen in the mid-90s, but not in the Marilyn Manson/Type-O Negative "I want to spill the blood of my parents" sorta way, the Crows were the band for you. Led by the mopey but cool-on-his-own-terms Adam Duritz, the band channeled Van Morrison, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen and The Band and put it in an accessible package that everyone could get into. When the band broke big-time with "Mr. Jones" in 1994 and followed it with a slew of successful singles on their still-excellent debut, August and Everything After, the little band out of San Francisco had hit it big.

And no one benefited more from this sudden windfall than Duritz himself. If "Mr. Jones" was all about busting out of obscurity to become "big stars," then Duritz was suddenly living a life that saw his ultimate dreams realized. And what would you do if you were living in 1994 and you were the lead singer of the hottest new music act in the country? Time's up. You'd have sex with the half the cast of "Friends," that's what you'd do. And that's what Duritz did. God bless him.
As someone who fascinated about Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox's breasts regularly throughout the first Clinton administration, I can attest that this double-score earned Duritz respect all across party lines. You didn't have to be a Counting Crows fan to be an Adam Duritz fan anymore -- he had now become the national symbol of the average-looking Joe who could pull any tail he wanted if he just played his cards right.

The Crows' music, meanwhile, immediately began to evolve in the face of fame -- for better or worse. Recovering the Satellites, released in 1996, eschewed much of the rootsy charm that made A&EA so likeable, instead featuring a more electric-guitar-oriented sound. Spurned by a press that besieged his personal life and critics that ripped him as a false imitation of his idols, Duritz stopped playing "Mr. Jones" live, saying he could no longer relate to the song. A huge no-no in my book. (PLAY THE SONGS THAT MADE YOU FAMOUS, YOU UNGRATEFUL DICKS.) The band would later reverse field in this practice.

RTS may have been a bit forced and a tad overlong in retrospect, but it was by no means a bad album. I quite liked it, actually. And on the strength of the hit single "A Long December," the band was as commercially-viable as ever.

The Crows took a three-year hiatus before returning in 1999 with This Desert Life, another strong album that seemed to be a more focused and logical companion to their sparkling debut. The album spawned another marginal hit in the catchy "Hanginaround" -- later immortalized as the theme song of "Four Kings," a failed Seth Green sitcom on NBC (is it even necessary to put "failed" in front of "Seth Green sitcom?" As a writer, should I insult my readers with such obviousness?)

I saw the band live several times during this period, enjoying their shows each time. Duritz was getting ... um, puffier ... as the years progressed, and the space between his eyebrows and the beginning of his signature-dreadlocks was growing, but hey, being a Duritz fan was always about knowing he wasn't a male model. I was perfectly content with him getting as fat and bald as he so pleased so long as he play "Anna Begins" on his piano and score with any woman he desired. I wanted him to become my personal Jerry Garcia -- the unsightly, but ultimately endearing lead singer who would tour happily until he dropped dead.

As the new millennium dawned, things began to turn, however. Following another three-year hiatus, the band return with Hard Candy in 2002, an overtly-polished and uneven record that didn't have any of the personality that made the first three albums so enjoyable. The band, meanwhile, began to show the first signs of a more "corporate" philosophy, shooting a ridiculous Coca-Cola ad to pimp their album which was impossible to defend. Trust me, I tried. Suddenly, being a CC fan wasn't so cool. A bit ashamed, I bumped my CC catalog to the second row of my CD collection -- a real slap in the face to arguably the first band that I was ever truly crazy about.

Things continued to get worse from there. Duritz had never hid his fascination with Hollywood -- and its women, in particular -- but now the cracks were showing. When word started to spread that Duritz was collaborating with teen pop act Mandy Moore, the sirens went off. He continued to be spotted with name actresses, but he wasn't pulling the A-listers anymore. The band's 2004 contribution to the Shrek 2 soundtrack, "Accidentally In Love," became a minor hit but lacked any of the teeth of the band's earlier work. Duritz's looks also were targeted, which internet bloggers and other snarky media-types unfairly had a ball with, tearing the now 40-something Duritz to shreds.
The band, meanwhile, had become stagnant. Having released just one studio album since 1999, Crows fans flocked to message boards on the band's official website to air their frustrations. The band seemed to have lost its direction, and fans wanted answers. Duritz chose to answer these criticisms in a strange way, leaving rambling, odd and often nasty salvos that were posted on the band's main page in blog form. Some posts were just plain weird, such was the case with a 11/22/05 entry:

"Look, I want to explain this to all of you. Right now I'm just trying to live my life. I just wanna try and put it back together. The last few years I've been personally just slipping further and further downhill. It got to a point where I felt things were becoming unsafe for me. I've never been the most stable person but i was seriously losing touch with my surroundings and not thinking very clearly. It happens. For some of us, this sort of thing is just a fact of life. You have to try and learn to live with the way your head works or find the drugs that make it work better or whatever. Either way, that's all I'm trying to do. And i know I can't do it on a tourbus. I lost my way out there in the first place."

Ummmm...yeah. You couldn't help but worry for the guy.

The latest news remains bad. The band recently announced a summer tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, excuse me, the FUCKING Goo Goo Dolls, which they aren't even headlining. Though Duritz recently posted that a new album is in the works, it seems to be a largely solo effort that has no real timetable. Chinese Democracy might hit the shelves first.

And worst of all, and perhaps most symbolically, Duritz has hit rock-bottom in his Hollywood conquests. The singer, who has been linked to Aniston, Cox, Monica Potter, Mary-Louise Parker and a host of other smoking A-listers, has recently been spotted with former-reality star and proven alcoholic-ass-clown Trischelle Cantella. Good God, man.

In my heart of hearts, I will always be a Counting Crows fan. It's something that can't be taken away by shitty career choices, bad hair, or C-list girlfriends. They were a part of my adolescence ... what can I do? Whenever their next album comes out, I will buy it, partly out of loyalty, part out of curiosity, but mostly out of faith. I want these guys to get back to what they were. I guess part of me will always think that ... maybe this year will be better than the last.

A wise dude with dreadlocks taught me that once. I'm just hoping he can teach me something again.


Blogger Rachelandthecity said...


6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anna said...

I still consider myself a CC fan, and really believe that they will get it together again. They have to - they have too much talent to just waste it!

Keep the faith, Dan!

6:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gotta tell you, you hit the nail on the head. I was one of the biggest fans ever, and to see Adam slide on down the line, continually whining about fame... ungrateful.



4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel your pain, However, I just went to the COunting Crows / Goo Goo Dolls concert (which the Counting Crows was the Headlining final act for... I enjoyed it. Adam is quite large and in charge as you mentioned...but pulled out a great concert. I enjoyed them better years ago with Live but would see them again...I look forward to the next album and hope it is similar to the August...feel!

12:21 PM  
Blogger mike said...

gotta keep a lil more faith. the crows have been the headliners the entire tour which is impressive if you think about it. the goo goo dolls released a new album right before the tour began, and the counting crows have nothing new since hard candy. so even though the crows are without any new material and havent had a major tour since 2003, they still headline over the goo goo dolls. the new album has been half recorded already and is definately more than a solo attempt from adam. as soon as the tour wraps up here in dallas (i get to see the last stop of the tour woot) theyll record the second half of the album to be released next year. oh... and recovering the satellites is their best album. listen to "i'm not sleeping" again.

11:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saw them in Dallas in September, and I gotta tell you, I wasn't disappointed in the least. It seemed to me the "downhill slide" is back on the upswing. Adam looked well, acted sober, sounded fantastic.

Maybe some people need to stop worrying so much about "being cool" and who the man is sleeping with and instead just appreciate the music.

3:36 PM  
Anonymous Gina said...

I'm a little bit younger, having grown up in the mid to late 90's, and Counting Crows were always a band that I knew the name of but couldn't sing anything other than Mr Jones. However about 2 years ago I finally acquired all of their music and was hooked. Maybe is why I can't relate to what you're saying, but the only thing I've noticed about being a Counting Crows fan is that I, at 21, am amongst one of the youngest in the crowd. I don't feel late or out of the loop. Their concert this summer with the Goo Goo Dolls was incredible (at the PNC Bank Arts Center by the way :)) though I did feel a little out of place in the crowd, I've never felt the need to be a closet fan, but after this blog I might feel the need to :)

2:01 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

I've been a Crows fan for years now (only 22 years old) but caught on when i was about 12. The lyrics throughout any Crows song screams personality, and even if the new stuff turned a little poppier of an edge the sound is still a personal CC sound with similar messages. I really could care less how much weight Adam gains or how bad the balding gets. He's older now, it's supposed to happen. He brings the same energy on stage now as he did in the mid 90's and I think that's what makes the CC so great. They're an aging band with a revolutionary sound as well as message. And I must say that I disagree with you're "play what everyone knows" when it comes to the drop of Mr. Jones. Dave stopped playing crash for that reason and another obvious reason. Hundreds of people came to his shows with only that song in memory. True Dave fans were excited about any song he played especially from the little known recently album or lesser known songs like "granny". Just as "anna begins" or "sullivan street" would send any true crows fan full tilt.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Theresa said...

I have been a fan for 15 years now! I have been a strong fan from the beginning! I love all of their music and never thought they had bad time. Adam's lyrics are the best I have ever heard and have so much meaning. The music is awesome! I have had many favorite bands, but ever since I discovered
Counting Crows there has never been another favorite for me. Your taste my change of the years about music, but CC has never changed for me. I have never known a band to do the things they do for their fans. I guess I am one of true fans. Think what you want, but after so many years they are still here and going strong!! That's all thanks to true fans like me! Keep up the wonderful work, Counting Crows. And for all of you have supported them all the way I have to say Keep On showing them the love!~

8:47 PM  
Blogger Howie G said...

But didn't you like the cover they did of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi. I made a spoof of it, making fun of greenies, at http://www.realcrash.com/joni-mitchell-and-a-yellow-taxi/

5:12 AM  
Anonymous Jordan said...

I had to stop reading because by the second paragraph I realized you know nothing about the band.

The life in "Mr. Jones" was not Duritz's ideal life, and he did not achieve the life of his dreams after August and Everything After.

And Recovering The Satellites forced? How did you come to this conclusion?

12:03 PM  

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