Counting Blessings

Adam Duritz isn't the tormented soul he appears to be. Just don't ask him about Jennifer Aniston.

Counting Crows with the Gigolo Aunts and Joe 90. Cleveland Music Hall, 500 Lakeside Avenue. 7 p.m., Sunday, November 21, $27.50, Ticketmaster 216-241-5555/330-945-9400.
Counting Crows: Adam Duritz feels like himself with dreads.
Counting Crows: Adam Duritz feels like himself with dreads.
Misery loves company, and for the past five years, fans of the Counting Crows, specifically lead singer Adam Duritz, have had plenty with which to commiserate. Duritz continually writes about lost relationships, identity crises, and an uncertain future -- just the kinds of things that sell records.

In addition, Duritz possesses the appeal of an average Joe. One might expect him to be an emotionally fragile, reticent man who's constantly looking over his shoulder to avoid the next pitfall. But that's not Duritz at all. Instead, he's a well-grounded, likable guy whose enthusiasm in talking about music is every bit as intense as it is reassuring. In discussing his songs, lyrics, or any of his favorite bands (Nirvana, the Beatles, Remy Zero), he talks almost as if he could still be in his college dorm, blowing off Poli Sci on a Wednesday afternoon to jam to his favorite tunes. And his surprising confidence could be taken as cockiness if he wasn't so damn sincere.

"They're just honest," says Duritz about his lyrics and vocals, which some say come across as, well, whiny. "I'm not here to write about anything but myself, so I'm going to write about how I feel. Either you're interested in hearing it or you're not. And if you're not, fuck you. Get lost. There is this whole thing today with this love affair with meaninglessness. Look, irony is cute, but how many ironic songs do you want? Say something that means something. As far as it being whining, I'm just talking about how I feel. So if you don't like it, you're an idiot, is what I figure. What do you need out of life, really? You need your own self-respect. [And] I've got that."

Despite the musical growth apparent on the band's latest release, This Desert Life, the one common denominator prevalent throughout the band's career has been Duritz's dysfunctional life. Time and again, the tortured, dreadlocked singer has complained publicly about the pitfalls associated with celebrity, his depression-induced insomnia, and his dating woes -- so much, in fact, it's now become part of his persona. Duritz is to the inferiority complex what Marilyn Manson is to controversy.

While he won't say it's a positive album, Duritz does admit he intended the new disc to be less dismal and more optimistic. "To me, the first album [1993's August and Everything After] is very much about yearning and a dissatisfaction about where you are. It's about a real sadness over wanting something better," he explains. "And the second album [1996's Recovering the Satellites] is reeling from getting everything you want -- having been shot up in the sky and come crashing down, and trying to figure out how to recover from that. This album is really about looking around at your life and saying, "Okay, where is it? Is this where I plan to be? Well, maybe not, but this is where I am.' This album is much less despairing than the other two albums. This one is more about little moments and details."

It's those same "moments and details" that make Duritz's stage presence so alluring. He's not a puppet who calculates moods and panders to the Prozac Nation. He's all about exploring the moment -- onstage and off. Like Springsteen and Dylan, the Crows' live shows are unique and ever-evolving celebrations and explorations. Duritz often even appears uncomfortable in the spotlight, mentally fumbling around for the right words to capture the audience's attention -- improvisation plays a large role in the band's style and delivery. Duritz says that the apparent awkwardness of his live show is more a reflection of just being caught up in the thrill of performing live. When onstage, Duritz finds the comfort he lacks from every other aspect of his life.

"I seem to shine there more than I do in the rest of my life," offers Duritz. "[Being onstage] was the best place I ever was. I've never been that great anywhere else. Well, what you do on stage is turn yourself inside out, and you're looking for things and searching for things to express. So, it's not plotted out and planned out. I think its clumsiness is the real true part of it. It's all really happening right then."

Duritz equates improvisation with effort -- he's not just giving concertgoers a canned show. Such staunch integrity has its downside, though. Once August and Everything After, which yielded the hit singles "Mr. Jones" and "Round Here," thrust Duritz's face into the spotlight, the San Francisco native was labeled a sellout and a fake in his hometown. Perplexed and distressed, he moved down the coast and found salvation in Southern California. It's not anonymity, but close to it.

"I found a place where I can be a normal guy," says Duritz. "As ridiculous as that sounds, it's really hard for me to live a normal life other places. And in L.A., I'm just a normal guy. I can go to the grocery store. You need normalcy in your life. Otherwise, you get too isolated from the world. You don't want to start living in a compound somewhere."

Being isolated from the world should be the least of Duritz's worries. His Hollywood Hills home has become a kind of boarding house, with close to 10 friends, aspiring artists of all sorts, staying with him pretty much rent-free.

"I have people living there now, and I'm not even there," says Duritz. "I encourage friends who want to be artists to come out to L.A. and stay with me while they're making it. Bands come through town. When we're not on the road, I live there, my tour manager lives there, and one of our guitar players lives there."

The 35-year-old singer maintains he's now having the time of his life. He's so content with his musical career and living situation that he's not even overly concerned about relationships. He says he's not currently dating anyone, but he is still paying for a brief association with Friends actress Jennifer Aniston, whom some believe was the impetus behind the melancholy Recovering the Satellites.

"It's such a media thing," he says. "I dated Jennifer for like a week and a half. We were two people who were introduced by friends, who lied to each of us about how the other was dying to meet each other. And you know what? She's a very nice girl. We had nothing in common, really. I didn't know who she was, because prime time is something that escapes you when you're on tour. We went out for like a week and a half, and that was it. And I've been paying for it. There's nothing about her on that album [Recovering the Satellites], nothing at all."

Once catapulted into the public eye, people's lives are often scrutinized more than their music. For Duritz, his supposed torrid love affair with Aniston and his dreadlocks seem to get all of the attention. Maybe this would change if he cut those popular locks.

"I don't know. I don't really think about it. This is the first time I ever really felt comfortable looking at myself, so I feel really attached to them," says Duritz when asked about his 'do. "You know, you grow up and look at yourself in the mirror and go, like, "Oh, I wish that wasn't me.' Then one day I did the dreadlocks, and I thought, "Wow, I feel like me. That's great.'"

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