The Deconstruction of Counting Crows
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.