Song of the Day #375: ‘Perfect Blue Buildings’ – Counting Crows

augustandAs I’ve mentioned on the blog before, it annoys me that Counting Crows don’t get the critical or mainstream respect they deserve. I don’t need to feel sorry for rich, famous rock stars, but Adam Duritz and company shouldn’t have such abuses heaped on them. So I’m doing my part this week to stand up for a band I’ve found consistently excellent over the 15 years they’ve been recording.

It’s rather fitting that this theme week follows the one I did on The Smiths because (as much as it will irk Dana to read this) the groups are similar. Not in sound — they’re quite different in that regard — but in that they both have self-indulgent lead singers with non-traditional voices that people either love or hate. Morrissey is accused of wallowing in self-pity in his lyrics but Adam Duritz puts him to shame in that department. That doesn’t bother me, though… I adore both groups.

I’m sort of impressed that Counting Crows have released only five studio albums in 15 years. I get the sense they take their time getting everything right when the studio would no doubt prefer they release new material far more often. They have released a few live and greatest hits albums, likely for that very reason.

I remember a Rolling Stone account of the band’s first appearance on Saturday Night Live, right after their single ‘Mr. Jones’ came out. The SNL producers wanted them to play ‘Mr. Jones’ in the first musical segment but Adam Duritz refused. He said this was the biggest stage the band had ever played on, their introduction to millions of people, and he wanted that first impression to be a performance of ‘Round Here,’ the slow-building epic that opens their debut album August and Everything After. He got his way (here’s a video of that performance).

That integrity (some would say arrogance) is one of the things I like about Adam Duritz. He takes his art seriously — it matters to him and that helps it matter to me.

August and Everything After is full of great songs… it’s one of the best debut albums I’ve ever heard. In addition to ‘Round Here’ and ‘Mr. Jones,’ its highlights include my all-time fave ‘Anna Begins,’ the zippy ‘Rain King’ and the alt-country ‘Omaha.’

Another favorite is ‘Perfect Blue Buildings,’ an emotional beauty about depression (or heroin, if you believe some Web commenters). Duritz has written a ton of songs about being alone, afraid and hurting but this was his first and still one of his best.

Just down the street from your hotel, baby
I stay at home with my disease
And ain’t this position familiar, darlin’?
Well, all monkeys do what they see
Help me stay awake, I’m fallin’…

Down on Virginia and La Loma
where I got friends who care for me
you got an attitude of everything I ever wanted
I got an attitude of need
So, help me stay awake, I’m fallin’…

Asleep in perfect blue buildings
beside the green apple sea
gonna get me a little oblivion, baby
and try to keep myself away from me

It’s 4:30 A.M. on a Tuesday
It doesn’t get much worse than this
In beds in little rooms in buildings in the middle
of these lives which are completely meaningless
help me stay awake, I’m fallin’…

Asleep in perfect blue buildings
beside the green apple sea
I wanna get me a little oblivion, baby
and try to keep myself away from myself and me

Well, I got bones beneath my skin, and mister
There’s a skeleton in every man’s house
Beneath the dust, and love, and sweat that hang on everybody
There’s a dead man tryin’ to get out
So please help me stay awake, I’m fallin’…

Asleep in perfect blue buildings
beside the green apple sea
I wanna get me a little oblivion, baby
Try to keep myself away from me

Perfect blue buildings
oh, beside the green apple sea
I wanna get me a little oblivion, baby
and try to keep myself away from myself and me

Oh, little perfect blue buildings
I can’t keep myself away from me

Oh, little perfect blue building

Said how am I gonna keep myself away?
How am I gonna keep myself away from me?
Keep myself away…
How am I gonna keep myself away from me?
Keep myself away…
How am I gonna keep myself away from me?

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11 thoughts on “Song of the Day #375: ‘Perfect Blue Buildings’ – Counting Crows

  1. Amy says:

    Now THIS is a theme week :) You mention that Duritz is self-absorbed and has a huge ego, but you neglect to point out that he also had a great sense of humor, which is one of the things that makes it easy to forgive the other stuff. That and the fact that he is as loyal to his fans as they are to him. While I don’t read a fraction of what is out there. I’ve read enough to know that he connects (mostly through a couple of blogs he’s kept over the years) in completely grounded ways to the people who listen to his music. Whether he’s describing how he came up with a paticular lyric or writing about his frustration trying to get through a particular film on a couple of flights, his voice is authentic, funny and engaging. And it’s the same voice that sings these lyrics. No posturing. I like that.

    As for this song, and this album… not only is this one of the best debut albums ever, I’d put it in a list of top albums ever created. Is there a mediocre song on it? Talk about coming out of the cage swinging. Wow.

    One of the many aspects of their music that I love is the way Duritz phrases words and verses, not always pausing where you would expect him to, finding powerful emotion in any crevice between words (or within them) that he chooses to uncover.- probably best exemplified in this song by his delivery of “gonna get me a little oblivion, baby/ and keep myself away from me” – each time slightly different from the time before, each time his new vocal interpretation adding to the meaning of those lyrics.

    Yeah, these guys should get nothing but respect. I look forward to spending this week contributing my voice to what should be a deafening roar of appreciation.

  2. Amy says:

    Just watched the SNL video. Great job with the song, but it’s really too bad that Durtiz couldn’t afford a new pair of pants for their introduction to millions of people on the biggest stage they’d ever played. You’d think maybe Lorne could have thrown a few bucks his way.

  3. Amy says:

    http://www.countingcrows.com/?em50=1106_-1__0_~0_-1_8_2009_0_0&content=adams_blog

    this quick entry is a great example of what I mean about Adam in his blog…

  4. Amy says:

    Oh, and, um…. they’re going to be here August 18! At Bayfront Amphitheater (where is that? By Bayside?) Just figured we should know this at the start of theme week!!!

  5. Clay says:

    I do like his blog, especially when he rhapsodizes about another musician he loves. It’s cool when artists are unapologetic fans of other artists.

  6. Dana says:

    Well, I couldn’t approve of this theme week more! And I agree that this is one of the best debut albums ever, and further agree with Amy’s point that it may be one of the best albums ever period. The standouts on this album are certainly Round Here, Mr. Jones and Anna Begins, but I appreciate highlighting one of the “lesser” (at least lesser known) songs. By the way, Omaha “alt-COUNTRY?” Don’t think so–not in construct or instrumentation. That song is pure folk rock, baby!

    As for the Smith’s comparison, while both writers may be self absorbed, I suspect that label can probably be attached to the overwhelming majority of songwriters and artists. As such, I fail to see this as a basis for comparison. For me, The Crows are all about connection and emotional gravity to their music, while all the Smiths stuff I have heard just leaves me distant and cold. I see these two bands and their music as different as chalk and cheese.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to this theme week and I suppose you you will be progressing through their albums chronologically. However, as far as I’m concerned you could do a theme week on just this album alone.!

  7. Clay says:

    I knew I could get you with the alt-country and Smiths references… too easy! :-)

  8. Amy says:

    I never thought for a moment that this was the only song we’d get from this album! Say it ain’t so, Joe. And while I don’t know The Smiths well enough to truly explore this comparison, I agree with Dana that nothing of what I do know about that band would bring to mind my beloved Counting Crows.

  9. Clay says:

    Sorry, one per album… that’s how it works. You can always revisit the ‘Anna Begins’ post, though.

    And don’t take the Smiths comparison too seriously… like I said, I just noticed a parallel between the lead singers (self-indulgent and vocally divisive).

  10. Michele says:

    I’m not sure exactly what Counting Crows (and Adam Duritz) did to merit such negative reactions from random people in the last few years. They’re one of my all time favorite bands. I love how they change things up when they play live, and that you never know what you’re going to hear when you go to a Crows concert. I’m also a big fan of AD’s lyrics – and his sense of humor. So thanks for posting something positive online about them.

  11. Amy says:

    While wallowing in all things Crow, I came across this and just had to share it:

    “I always want to feel like each song is happening right there and then when I’m singing them and I know listening to that show helped a great deal in getting my head and heart back to a few songs I’d had trouble relating to in recent years. I particular, it helped me reconnect to “A Murder of One” and “Perfect Blue Buildings”.

    With “Perfect Blue…”, I think it was the ending that made the difference. The Prince lyrics “Sometimes it snows in April/Sometimes the skies are grey” and the lyrics I wrote to follow them really brought me back to the sense of uncertainty and the fear that accompanies uncertainty which are both such a big part of where I was at back then. I couldn’t get an emotional grip on that song, which is about both wanting to escape from life so badly that you begin to fantasize about the seductive paradise of being in a coma and wanting so badly for someone to come along to pull you out of that, lately in any real substantive way. Understanding those feelings again through that old ending, including the final lines, which, as you all know, ended up as part of “Miller’s Angels”, really allowed me to find some cool new ways to approach the verses and choruses that make up the body of the song.”

    That’s Duritz, of course, talking about how a concert concept (to play the entire August album, then perform new songs in the encore) that had been suggested to him (and rejected by him) had suddenly become attractive and actually was a very powerful experience to perform. More important, he provides cool insights to today’s SOTD :)

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