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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Adam Duritz Acknowledges the Limitations of Songwriting

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Adam Duritz knows Aaron Rodgers. 

Sure, the Counting Crows frontman wrote the alternative soundtrack to your mid-’90s break-ups. Sure, his Sideshow Bob hairstyle made for some of the strangest tabloid fodder during a long string of celebrity lady friends—including two thirds of the principal female cast of “Friends.” And sure, when he went public with his battle with dissociative identity disorder in 2008 it was one of the first real de-stigmatizing moments for a disease that, once known as multiple personality disorder, had previously only been seen as a plot device in courtroom dramas.

But some things transcend music, emotion or the Sisyphean struggle with an illness whose improper medication left Duritz functionally comatose for a big chunk of the last decade. Around here, that’s knowing a perianal MVP candidate in green and gold. Aaron Rodgers is a really good quarterback. And Adam Duritz knows him. 

“I know him from being around Berkeley,” Duritz says. The city of both Rodgers’ alma mater and the Counting Crows origin. Duritz is an infamous Golden Bear groupie. And now, a Packer fan.

“I tend to be a fan of where the guys from Cal that I know go,” he says. “Marshawn [Lynch] plays for the Seahawks, and I root for the Seahawks too, but I knew Aaron Rodgers more. When he was at Cal, I was there all the time.”

It’s a good time to be Adam Duritz, and not just because the Seahawks and Packers both won their divisions last year. The band recently announced its return to a major label (Capitol) for Somewhere Under Wonderland, their first proper album since 2008. And, like any new Counting Crows album, that means it’s a good time for fans long awaiting their fix of lovelorn, confessional pop. Just don’t assume that it’s a good time for some musical catharsis.

If music really exorcised demons, Duritz would be out of them.

Counting Crows have been releasing wistful, bordering-on-brooding music for more than two decades, ever since their prodigious debut August & Everything After. It’s a role Duritz’s voice is uniquely qualified for. Duritz sings as though he can cast emotions out through raw, hard wails.

But he’s quick to tell you that music doesn’t work that way. All he casts out is, occasionally, his speaking voice.

“I don’t think it’s cathartic,” says Duritz. “I think that it’s a very popular way of psych-101-ing the idea that everything builds up to a release and then it’s all better. I don’t think music is that kind of simple and satisfying a process. I don’t think it cures everything. It’s not like food where you eat the food, digest the food and shit the food out.”

Saying that music is not a tool of catharsis has gotten him into trouble before, as that was the only meaning a musician could ascribe to a song. Duritz seems to see it more as commiserative. Writing a song can’t pull you out of the muck, but it can keep you company while you’re down there.

“I find it very satisfying. I find it very difficult. I find it frustrating. I find it absolutely worth spending a life doing. I just don’t think its cathartic,” says Duritz. “I can start off the day with a pretty severe mental illness, write a song about it and go to sleep quite satisfied that I did something meaningful that day. But I did not cure that illness.”

If you want your fandom to bear witness to the process of performers getting better, you, like Duritz, should try football. When the Pack draft a safety to shore up a secondary, they acknowledge and solve a problem. That’s catharsis. Not songwriting.

Counting Crows play the Riverside Theater on Wednesday, July 23, with openers Toad the Wet Sprocket and Daniel and The Lion. Doors open at 6 p.m.