Favoring Respect, Intimacy Over Popularity
ADAM DURITZ Lead Singer, Counting Crows
"I'm not too far removed from this," says Adam Duritz, referring to the college scene that he and the rest of Counting Crows are playing for much of the final leg of their U. S. tour. He is making reference to the time he spent as a student at both University of California at Davis and U. C. Berkeley a decade ago before Counting Crows even existed. The band is wrapping up a highly successful tour that has spanned a year-and-a-half and has brought it to the Boston area three times, including last week's performances at Brandeis University and UMass Amherst.
Duritz prefers the college scene to other venues. "Places like Great Woods [the large summer venue in Mansfield, Massachusetts] are so far out there that there's really no place to hang around afterwards and meet people," he says. "And that's what it's all about." Playing smaller venues that are more city-oriented offers him the opportunity to hang out after the show at local bars and clubs, sign some autographs and most importantly, talk to fans.
Duritz describes his visit to Yale University last year as one of the best experiences he has ever had because it offered him a unique opportunity to talk intimately with fans. He was invited to a Master's Tea last November at Yale's Silliman College, the night before Counting Crows performed in New Haven. "It's the only place that's ever asked me to do something like this," he says, indicating that he would love to do it again if offered the opportunity.
The intimate setting and small discussion offered him a chance to interact with people who were really interested in him and what he had to say. He describes it as a welcome change from the mob scenes that he usually encounters at large concerts. Duritz says he often likes to enter the audience to watch his opening acts perform, but finds doing so extremely difficult. "People often just want to get something from you," he says. A typical situation: a fan approaches him for an autograph while he is watching the opening act; Duritz explains that he will sign autographs later and that he would like to sit back and watch the band play before hundreds of other autograph seekers become aware of his presence. The persistent fan continues until he attracts the mob that Duritz was trying to avoid.
In his songs and performances, though, Duritz opens his life up to the public. His Iyrics are known for their personal reflections on his own life and his concert performances drip with real emotion. He does not just perform--he's living on stage. Yet he says, "That's kind of the point of it to me. Nothing that has to do with the music ever gets to be really too much for me." For him, only the press and the people sometimes become too burdensome.
Duritz, however, says that neither he nor the band is affected by the lopsided attention and publicity he receives as the band's lead singer. While a lot of listeners might be hard pressed to name the band's other five members, Duritz says he realizes that he has found something very rare in Counting Crows. "I don't want to be a solo-artist," he says. "We know that we're a band." Duritz says that he could write the most incredible lyrics and music, but without musicians who understand what he has written and who are able to follow his onstage changes and idiosyncrasies, the songs are worthless. "Look at Leonard Cohen," says Duritz. "He's an incredible song writer, but there is no musician talented enough to do justice to what he has written." Some of the music for Counting Crows' songs--such as "Goodnight Elizabeth"--is as simple as four chords, yet he says that what the band can do with that music is what makes the song so good.
Still, Duritz's heart-wrenching lyrics are undeniably an integral part of Counting Crows' success. "I wanted to be a writer, and I am one," he affirms. He began writing his freshman year in college, but says he remains undaunted by the fact that he never received his English degree from Berkeley. He completed everything except his thesis. "It was the last thing," he explains, "and I just didn't turn it in. I was doing other things the whole time anyway. I planned to get back and turn it in. I got an extension on it, an incomplete. I just never did it." He later adds, "You don't go to college to get a degree. You go to college to learn something. So I learned it. I don't regret college at all. I learned a lot. And I am a writer."
While Duritz resists the temptation to call his song lyrics poetry, saying that they are definitely a separate thing, he admits that the only writer who has ever influenced his writing was poet Carolyn Forche. "She's really a brilliant poet," he says. He first learned of Forche when he read her book A Country Between Us during his one year at Davis. "It has really had a big effect on me," he adds.
But for Duritz, the events of his life clearly influence and affect his music most. "I just write about what happened yesterday," he says. "Your life today is the result of what happened yesterday, and tomorrow is the result of today." This philosophy shines through in Counting Crows' latest album Recovering the Satellites. "[The album] is indicative of what that year was like," comments Duritz as he describes the time during which the album was written. "The whole album," he continues, "is about sort of coming to grips with things that happened to you--that changed you in your life. In my case, the band. It could be anything to anybody. The first half is more about reeling from things and dealing with them in sort of a frustrated and bitter fashion. The second half is a little bit more about coming to grips with it."
That is what the last year-and-a-half have been about for Counting Crows, but it certainly has not been easy. For starters, Duritz was plagued again with vocal problems. Nodes on his vocal chords caused last year's show in New Haven to end early, and then resulted in the cancellation of four concerts with the Wallflowers this summer--including two nights at Great Woods. The length of the tour has also been difficult. "A year and a half is a lot of your life," says Duritz, who indicates that the band's next tour might have to be shorter. Two band members are now married and keyboardist Charlie Gillingham is soon to be the first father in the band. On this tour, the band began playing in small venues, moved on to bigger amphitheater shows like the canceled concerts at Great Woods, and then returned to areas again to play mid-size shows at places including Brandeis. Duritz thinks that the band might have to stick with the larger venues next time around.
So what's next for Counting Crows after the band finishes up next month with a set of shows in Europe? "I'm going to the movies," says Duritz with a laugh. "I want to catch a matinee." Then after hanging out with some friends back home and working on a failed relationship, Duritz says that he will eventually sit down and write some more music. Undoubtedly, he will have plenty to write about.