By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
The fact that Duritz barely flinched when he saw this rumor pop up on the Counting Crows' fan-message board should tell you something about the California-based crooner's ability to let aphrodisiac-addled rumors roll off his shoulders like a hot morning shower. After all, this is the guy who's supposedly bedded everyone from Natalie Imbruglia to the entire female cast of Friends. Since the release of the Crows' multiplatinum debut, August and Everything After, nine years ago, Duritz's sex life has been a hot topic.
But if he were to share a toothbrush with the beguiling Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times editorial columnist for a spell, you can bet he'd write a thoughtful, probing song about her. Even though Duritz's songs often root themselves in a particular city or country -- see, for instance, August's "Raining in Baltimore" -- it's people, not places, that drive his compositions.
"I don't think any of these places really influence the lyrics," says Duritz, who's based his ditties in such varied bastions as Spain, Texas, Omaha, New Orleans and, most frequently, his creative home bases of Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. "I didn't write about Baltimore so much as me being there."
Women -- lots of 'em -- enjoy the most prominent place in Duritz's lyrics; they inevitably pass him by en route to a more stable relationship. Asked about the song "If I Could Give All My Love," from the band's latest album, Hard Candy, Duritz says the lyrics were inspired by -- surprise, surprise -- a woman: "Me and the girl came back to my house, and the paper said that Richard Manuel [of the Band] had died. I remember thinking that you can't let things slip by you, because one day they're gone. The girls that you can't get your act together for, they go off and marry someone else."
Women are everywhere on Hard Candy, a solid-from-wire-to-wire collection of beautiful pop songs that's at least as good as the band's seminal debut. The gals are on the other end of booty calls in "Why Should You Come When I Call?," pregnant with Duritz's love child in "Carriage" and pining for Friday-night cock in the wryly misogynistic "American Girls," which features backing vocals from one of America's most desirable gals, Sheryl Crow.
"I was sitting in Jimmy Iovine's office listening to Sheryl's mixes [for her C'mon, C'mon album]," Duritz explains. " That song ["American Girls"] is really derogatory. It's a very seductive, nasty song. I was having huge problems with the way it sounded -- and [Iovine] said, 'Maybe what you need is a girl singing high.' And the first person to pop into my head was Sheryl."
Seductive and nasty, indeed. To wit, the song's closing salvo: If I made you cry, please tell me why/'Cause I'll try again if you let me try/American girls, all feathers and cream/Come into bed so edible. But such fuck-and-run bravado is the exception rather than the rule on Hard Candy, a self-deprecating tableau of memories both sweet and sour from Duritz's romantic past. What's most striking about Candy is its consistency: There's not a track worth skipping on it. It's therefore a great album in the purest sense of the word, something that's by and large unappreciated in today's music biz.
"I think there's a difference between music and the music business," Duritz says. "We may have sold less records, but while other people are hemorrhaging money, we're packing 'em in. On the other hand, the music business has no use for albums.
"Radio is no longer a place to be opened to music," he continues. "You don't go to the radio anymore to hear good things. College radio's the only place, but it isn't quite the influence it was when we were coming out."
Duritz cites AOL Time Warner's rejection of Wilco as a prime example of this gap in industry agendas. "[Wilco's music] is a perfect example of what used to be available on FM radio that isn't anymore," he says. "If the DJ liked it, they played it, and then it became a hit. If you're only playing 30 songs -- or this exact kind of music -- it doesn't make it. Nobody buys the record. Used to be there was a ton of overlap."
Incidentally, had the Crows and Wilco gotten their way, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart -- the acclaimed documentary chronicling the latter band's struggles -- would have served as the "opening band" for the Crows' current tour, which began earlier this month in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and continues with a European scamper in 2003.
"As the crowd came in, we were gonna show the movie," Duritz explains. "It would go up till the first band came on. We were gonna introduce people to Wilco that way, and I could see the fuckin' thing, 'cause I don't have any time. The distribution people wouldn't let us have it. They were afraid it would compete with their showing the movie in certain cities. We were, like, 'Are you crazy? What could be a better promotion for your fucking movie?' Wilco's people were all for it; the director was all for it. It's a damn shame."
A child of the early-'90s Bay Area pop scene, Duritz is a Camper Van Beethoven devotee who waxes nostalgic for the days when breakout single mattered not. But with the chart-topping success of "Mr. Jones" and "Round Here," the Crows found themselves in a strange position, as August went on to sell some 5.5 million copies.
The band's subsequent studio releases -- 1996's Recovering the Satellites and 1999's This Desert Life -- each sold about half as many units as their predecessor (Hard Candy, released in July, just went gold). But whereas Eddie Vedder recently admitted to intentionally "weeding out" his fanbase after Pearl Jam's debut, Ten, sold nearly ten million copies, Duritz just lets the chips fall where they may.
"I'm a huge Pearl Jam fan, but I write songs because I'm inspired to write them," Duritz says. "Do they really care so little about their songs? I think that's a pile of shit. I do believe they said it, but I think more of them than that, to be honest with you. I think the whole fame thing is a huge issue for Pearl Jam because they got flagged from day one as being wannabe Nirvana."
The gravity of fame isn't the only area in which Vedder differs from the dreadlocked troubadour. While the Crows were touring with the Who in Washington, Vedder sneaked backstage and left Duritz a book on the purportedly negative influence of Coca-Cola on schoolchildren. Not by accident, either -- the Crows had recently cut a commercial promoting the fizzy behemoth.
"What the book said was that Coke was willing to pay all this money to put Coke in the cafeterias. It doubled the amount of money this particular public-school system could spend per child," Duritz explains. "I appreciated what [Vedder] was trying to say, but to me, it's a no-brainer."
Continuing to churn out insightful pop tunes is a no-brainer for Duritz, too. It's a living and, fortunately, one that stimulates him creatively, gossip mongers be damned. "You can't affect everyone's opinion," he concludes, "so just write your music."