August and Everything After
I have a pretty nasty habit of overplaying albums I really like for a prolonged period of time and, by overplaying albums I really like for a prolonged period of time, I mean listening to these albums so many times that each and every silent pause seems to make a sound or, at least, take on some sort of personal significance. The trajectory is usually the same: I’ll latch onto a certain song which in turn will lead me to explore a given album and, one-by-one, I’ll conquer each and every one of that disc’s tracks until they come to represent a certain moment in my life. Of course, like, say, eating only chopped up bits of hotdog for an entire year, which I apparently did when I was 2 years old, after a while I’ll inevitably get tired of these albums and eventually they’ll fall out of regular rotation. It happened with the Grateful Dead’s American Beauty, the Beatles’ Revolver, Phish’s Billy Breathes, My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves, the Samples’ Transmissions from the Sea of Tranquility, Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses, Talking Heads’ Remain in the Light, Guster’s Parachute, R.E.M.‘s Eponymous, Wilco’s Yankee Foxtrot Hotel, the Disco Biscuits’ Uncivilized Area, the Shins’ Oh, Inverted World, and the Slip’s Eisenhower and, soon enough, I’m sure it will happen to Arcade Fire’s Funeral.
And, of course, more than any album, it happened to Counting Crows’ August and Everything After. That’s right haters, scenesters and each and every members of my Top 8 who keeps their copy of August and Everything After buried in some secret stack of CDs (right next to Gin Blossoms’ New Miserable Experience), I’m not ashamed to admit that I discovered ‘real music,’ or at least the classic-rock sound, through the Counting Crows and if I was stranded on a desert island with one album and all my adolescent insecurities, I’d hope I’d have August and Everything After in my stereo.
Before uncovering the Counting Crows via their infectious single “Mr. Jones,” I was mostly listening to alternative-rock, ’70s punk (thanks Green Day!) and pretty much anything else I heard on z100 in 1994 (let us here tip our hats to the fallen prophet that is Mr. Leonard). While they were initially lumped into the alt-rock bin thanks to Adam Duritz’ post-teenage angst and funky hair cut, Counting Crows were really a classic-rock band at heart and recalled a time when bands created albums, not songs, and song lyrics still had an indefinable mystic quality. In retrospect, with the exception of the records my parents spun on vinyl when I was a toddler, August and Everything After was probably the first time I heard a mandolin, the Hammond organ and music that was melodic, not muscular. It was my most obvious reference point when I later discovered The Band, T-Bone Burnett and Bob Dylan, which in turn led me to classic-rock, jambands and in many ways this column itself (indeed, Woody Allen aside, there is no greater neurotic Jew than Mr. Adam Duriwitz). I remember driving up to see the Counting Crows at SPAC one summer when their opening act, the Wallflowers, brought out some old dude named Levon Helm to play a Dylan song, which is still the classiest sit-in I’ve ever witnessed and, oddly enough, the also first time I explored my collegiate hometown.
I must have listened to that album every single day in high-school, on the way to school, during lunch, when I liked a girl, when I hated my life, when I wanted to feel deeper than I really am and, especially, when I wanted to perfect my bounce in front of a mirror in the bathroom. At one point or another I probably considered each one of August’s eleven tracks my favorite song in the world and, despite the honors degree which sits in my parent’s basement, if I could rewrite my yearbook page this spring I’d probably still cite two of my favorite lines from “Round Here”
(Round here we talk just like lions, But we sacrifice like lambs’ and she knows she’s just a little misunderstood/she has trouble acting normal when she’s nervous’).
I can’t pinpoint exactly when August fell out of regular rotation, but by the time I entered college, I was pretty much only listening to music that included a vacuum solo and suddenly lyrics likes “bag it, tag it” took on some sort of strange significance.
Now and again I’d put on “Round Here,” usually to remember something or someone, but, if it says anything, I didn’t import the album onto my iPod until last Thanksgiving. But, as if by instinct, last weekend I pulled out that dusty disc on the way back to my parent’s house after Camp Bisco. As I drove through the streets of my old hometown, passing by houses full of people I’ve never met, but whose stories I know by heart, the album’s beat seemed to move in time with my tires and I realized that, almost a decade after leaving my hometown, I still know every word to each one of August and Everything After’s songs by heart. And, though I never mastered the formula for converting Celsius into Fahrenheit or even, say, the art of tying my shoes properly, without racking my brain I can tell you that August and Everything After starts somewhere between 11 and 12 seconds into “Round Here.”
Before pulling into my parent’s current driveway I drove around the corner to the house I grew up in, partially to see what it looks like now and partially because I’ve had this recurring dream about a random house located five doors down from my childhood home. In retrospect, when I was a kid I knew my blockevery tree, every rockbetter than anything in the world, mostly because it was my world and walking five houses down the street felt like the a trip to the end of the universe. But, now, I can zoom past that cluster of homes within that short twelve seconds of silence.
It’s weird how certain places, problems and particularly people can consume your entire world one minute and feel like distant memories the next; misplaced scenes from last night’s dream. In mid July, I had drinks with a girl who was once the focus of a great deal of my attention and who, in retrospect, probably knows me better than almost anyone outside my family. At one point a drink with her would define my day, if not inspire a handful of entries in this here blog, but this time our conversation simply reminded me of the lyrics to another overplayed song: “and I know I’d never trace her, I can barely begin to place her chronologically. Just a flurry of white dresses and second guesses, now lessons which martyr me.”
It’s funny, probably because I overplayed August and Everything After so many times, I made a conscious decision to only spin its sequel, the equally beautiful and self-indulgent Recovering the Satellites, on special occasions. And, though I managed to keep it fresh, it also feels somewhat sterile, like a pack of baseball card I never opened, but also never fully enjoyed.
I guess that’s the best part of an album like August and Everything After: no matter how many times I’ve played its singles or how far Counting Crows have drifted into Shrek’s cartoon kingdom, listening to that disc is like peering back at a time when the Hammond organ still sounded fresh and five houses down the block felt like very far away. Now, if only I could figure out a way to overcome my strange fear of hotdogs
Step out the front door like a ghost
Into the fog where no one notices
The contrast of white on white.
And in between the moon and you
The angels get a better view
Of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.
I walk in the air between the rain
Through myself and back again
Where? I don’t know
Maria says she’s dying
Through the door I hear her crying
Why? I don’t know
Round here we always stand up straight
Round here something radiates
Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand
She said she’d like to meet a boy who looks like Elvis
And she walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land
Just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus
She parks her car outside of my house
Takes her clothes off
Says she’s close to understanding Jesus
She knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood
She has trouble acting normal when she’s nervous
Round here we’re carving out our names
Round here we all look the same
Round here we talk just like lions
But we sacrifice like lambs
Round here she’s slipping through my hands
Sleeping children better run like the wind
out of the lightning dream
Mama’s little baby better get herself in
out of the lightning
She says "it’s only in my head"
She says "Shhh I know it’s only in my head"
But the girl on the car in the parking lot
Says "Man you should try to take a shot
Can’t you see my walls are crumbling?"
Then she looks up at the building
Says she’s thinking of jumping
She says she’s tired of life
She must be tired of something
Round here she’s always on my mind
Round here hey man got lots of time
Round here we’re never sent to bed early
and nobody makes us wait
Round here we stay up very, very, very, very late
I can’t see nothing.. nothing round here
Will you catch if I’m falling
Will you catch me if I’m falling
Will you catch me cause I’m falling down on you
I said I’m under the gun around here
I’m innocent I’m under the gun around here
And I can’t see nothing
Nothing round here