In January, my boyfriend and I took a road trip. We played podcasts, Phil Spector recordings, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., and on one particularly long day, August and Everything After. The whole fucking thing.
Counting Crows. Lame, right?
Or not. I loved that album. You might have, too. I was 10 when it came out. I bought it on CD. It remained in pretty constant rotation throughout my early teenage years. I would hole up in my small attic bedroom and emote along with "Raining in Baltimore" and "Omaha."
Winding through scenic hills on narrow roads, we sang along and talked about our favorite tracks. I laughed at being able to recall every single one of frontman Adam Duritz's tortured turns of phrase. I rolled my eyes at the emotional crescendos and made jokes about dreadlocks. It was fun, but also not. I felt almost embarrassed.
It had nothing to do with my companion or what he thought of me. This was about what I thought of me. This was a piece of art that I had loved deeply, and now I couldn't even get close to it. What I had thought would be an exercise in pure nostalgia had triggered one of those moments when you realize that life is linear. We move from one portion to another. There is no going backwards.
My moment of existential angst definitely had something to do with Duritz. I had forgotten just how exposed he is on August. He uncoils his inner hopes, insecurities and delusions through loaded imagery (the "old man threading his toes through a bucket of rain," that "gray guitar") and pure, unadulterated outpourings of emotion. It's a different creature than the jaded, damaged persona of the band's bleaker and perhaps more interesting follow-up, Recovering the Satellites. The pre-fame Duritz had a naïveté and nakedness that is almost adolescent. In a recent interview with A.V. Club, Duritz talked openly about his struggles with mental illness and anxiety. I think there's a way in which all teenagers are sort of mentally ill. No wonder I loved this album so much.
The paragon of squirm-inducing sincerity is undoubtably "Anna Begins." For the first time in years hearing Duritz coo, "Every time she sneezes I believe it's love," I physically recoiled. I still listen to plenty of emotional, mopey music, but something about Duritz's specific brand of literal poetry instantly recalled a time when that sort of heartsick confessional really meant something to me. I remember hours spent weeping over my middle school crush, grimacing and howling as Duritz asserted, "This isn't love / Because if you don't want to talk about it then / It isn't love." Even now, writing that admission, my stomach tightens.
So, it's no surprise I grew out of this band. Music is evocative, and that's a time I prefer not to access without a healthy dose of ironic distance and quips about French-cuffed jeans. This is no nostalgia trip, conjuring sleepovers and awkward dances. This was the soundtrack to an occasionally torturous inner life that I took very seriously. By disowning Counting Crows, I can disown that girl. My musical tastes have shifted to wordplay, dissonance and subtle melancholy — and away from the goofy guy with the dreadlocks who was foolish enough to put all those sad, unadorned feelings on tape for eternity. I can destroy my cringe-worthy journals, but 7 million people bought August and Everything After. Adam Duritz can never leave that guy behind. Instead, he moved on to recording covers and songs for the Shrek soundtrack. It sounds a whole lot easier.
While writing this story, I listened to a bunch of Counting Crows. It's been an odd sort of journey, and I wonder what my neighbors think of me. The other night I was walking through the city, headphones on, and something happened during the strange, beautiful "Round Here." Duritz sang, "Round here we're carving out our names," and it somehow spoke to me in my new moment. I felt moved by the confluence of something I used to love, the city I love now, and a life that is infinitely more joyful and satisfying than the one I had 15 years ago. We cannot move backwards, but we can certainly look that direction — if only for the course of an album.
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