So, here’s the essence of the Counting Crows – which only matters because the Counting Crows exemplified the essence of an historical moment.
More, even, than an historical moment, the essence of the Counting Crows exists as a sort of standing wave. It is a hypostasis of the human psyche. 🙂
By that, I just mean to say that you can access the essence of the Counting Crows at any time. It’s not restricted to 1993, but is perennially timely, as a meditation upon the psychic reality of the mass mediated human being.
That’ll make perfect sense when I tell you what the essence of the Counting Crows (EOTCC) is. To put it one way, it’s this: humans secretly share a sad and narcotic dream of being validated by everyone else. And not just validated in the eyes of everyone else; but by means of the validating eyes of everyone else, being made to feel – at least and finally – valid in ourselves.
As evidence for this – and no additional evidence will likely ever be offered – I present lyrics from their song MR JONES:
I was down at the New Amsterdam
Starin’ at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
With a black-haired flamenco dancer
You know, she dances while his father plays guitar
She’s suddenly beautiful, we all want something beautiful
Man, I wish I was beautiful
Cut up, Maria
Show me some of them Spanish dances
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
‘Cause I, I wanna be someone who believes
Mr. Jones and me tell each other fairy tales
And we stare at the beautiful women
She’s looking at you
Ah, no, no, she is looking at me
Smilin’ in the bright lights
Comin’ through in stereo
When everybody loves you
You can never be lonely
Well I’m a paint my picture
Paint myself in blue, red, black and gray
All of the beautiful colors are very, very meaningful
Yeah, well you know, gray is my favorite color
I felt so symbolic yesterday
If I knew Picasso
I would buy myself a gray guitar and play
Mr. Jones and me look into the future
Yeah, we stare at the beautiful women
She’s looking at you I don’t think so, she’s looking at me
Standin’ in the spotlight
I bought myself a gray guitar
When everybody loves me
I will never be lonely
I will never be lonely
There’s a lot of words there, but I know you can see it – right there – the whole dream that we could make ourselves beautiful and symbolic, and by being beautiful and symbolic come to be loved by everyone, and in being loved by everyone, finally not feel alone and inadequate ever again.
The Essence of the Counting Crows is the tension of self-awareness created by this dream breaking into a swirling dynamic of intellectual cynicism and pathetic need. Into, in short, song. The song is the bridge between that Dream Fulfillment and the Actual World. (Ragnarok is when the bridge breaks.)
This was before the Internet. Before everyone was digitally empowered to fictionalize themselves in desperate and addictive bids for self-love through mass approval. Back in the early 90’s the music industry still offered a sort of unique path… a yellow brick road open to the relative few. Everyone could walk on it, and most everyone did. Only a few ever even tried to make it to OZ; and those who did make were much fewer still.
I think we have to hand it to Adam Durst for understanding the game he was playing, and articulating its essential truth with such apparent sincerity, as an act within it. If drama is a mirror, then there will be a mirror within the mirror. I say Durst pulled it off.
It Doesn’t End Well
That said, it’s a short line from the self-conscious, quasi-cynical, sincerity of Durst to the self-loathing of Cobain. In this leap, from sad quasi-cynicism to self-loathing, we might recognize a critique of the whole project of validation through fame. What’s more, as ours is a culture ruled by fame, cynicism as regards the project of seeking fame amounts to cynicism as regards the culture as a whole.
The individual is thus left in the wreckage of this dream, a narcissistic addict who has an unlimited supply of the fame drug, but yet has proven to himself that by its powers he will never be truly transformed. Truly, that is, brought into a state of genuine self-acceptance. Sat-Chit-Ananda
There is the Essence of Kurt Cobain, which like The Essence of the Counting Crows is similarly a cultural hypostasis. You can access that archetype yourself more readily than ever, by means of the internet.
You, too, can legally and without social stigma cultivate a dopamine addiction in a vain pursuit of self-acceptance. Granted, it’s less easy to really experience the Ultimate Futility of Virality, the Curse of Internet Fame, but you can still fuck yourself up pretty good on the more readily available forms of social media feedback.
Perhaps you won’t be able to slouch yourself all the way to Jerusalem, but you can at least get a sense of the general direction.