Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Mr. Jones" by Counting Crows (1994)

1994. My last year of high school and first year of university. "Alternative" music is as popular as it has ever been and ever will be. Kurt Cobain has just killed himself but Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and God knows who else from Seattle are still there to keep up the overly serious moping.

I had spent my whole life listening to 'alternative' radio stations and watching 'alternative' video shows (yes, there was a time when non-music TV channels had 'video shows', just like they'd have a 'news broadcast'). This was a time for redemption! A time when my musical tastes were vindicated!

I was bored out of my mind.

Stuck in my university dorm with whiny white males shrieking at me on all sides, I became about as contrary as I could be. I responded by blasting out Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash - before they became cool, mind you, before Rick Rubin had 'rehabilitated' both of them in the minds of 'cool kids'.

I get no credit for my progressive music tastes...

Anyway, I was still very much into new music. There was a lot of new stuff I was digging and exploring at the time - both inside and outside the mainstream. Well, in any case, the 'mainstream/alternative' spectrum had been altered, and first-year university students are obsessed with being as 'alternative' as they can be (not just musically, of course), yet within that range I found myself with pretty catholic musical tastes.

Adam Duritz has found plenty of ways in the years since to annoy the bollocks off of me (dating Jennifer Aniston, for example). Yet this initial volley still inspires me. It's almost Dave Matthews Band or even Spin Doctors, and sooner or later it's bound to soundtrack a beer commercial, yet there is something real and genuine here. Wikipedia claims that Duritz suffers from dissociative disorder. I would have no idea about that, but if it's true, it would make a more than a little sense - or rather, this song might make a little more sense. I've never seen Counting Crows live, and if I've seen a video for this song it doesn't stick in my mind, but I imagine Duritz singing it in a kind of spaced-out reverie. He seems to be well in his own world here, emoting to and about his Dylan-rip-off acquaintance (note: if you're stealing your signature song's archetype from a Bob Dylan song, you might not want to actually say "I want to be Bob Dylan" in your lyrics). He doesn't quite take flight, but you sense that he performs this song without really any awareness of the people around him.

If it's so, that might be creepy, but it taps into something transportative about the best music that I constantly find myself looking for. Music should send the listener somewhere. It needn't send the performer somewhere, but if it does, it can create a bond between listener and performer - a bond, of course, later undone if the performer happens to be kind of a wanker. Adam Duritz is, clearly, speaking a load of rubbish here about whatever comes into his head ("Grey is my favourite colour; I felt so symbolic yesterday. If I knew Picasso, I would find myself a grey guitar and play") and I imagine listening to a dozen songs just like "Mr. Jones" would be a fresh hell. Yet as a one-off, as a novelty, "Mr. Jones" still works.

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