Song of the Day #253: ‘Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby’ – Counting Crows

One of the things that irks me to no end is the utter lack of respect shown to Counting Crows over the years by both critics and music fans. Sure, they have their ardent fans, but so do all bands. Somewhere out there is a well-visited Right Said Fred fan site.

But for Counting Crows to be lumped in with the Hootie and the Blowfish(es) of the world is just criminal. This band has put out five stellar albums… albums full of literate, challenging music. Their songs are smart, funny and emotional. Yes, they’ve cribbed from Van Morrisson, The Band and R.E.M. over the years, but if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best.

The Crows’ debut album August and Everything After perhaps remains their finest achievement, but I can make an argument for Hard Candy and This Desert Life as well. And ‘Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby,’ the second song on This Desert Life, may well be the best thing they’ve ever recorded.

Apparently this song was inspired after lead singer and songwriter Adam Duritz saw Monica Potter in a film and fell hard for her. A verse toward the middle of the song makes that connection pretty clear, painting a vivid picture of a man in a dark theater pining over the projection onscreen:

So I throw my hand into the air and it swims in the beams
It’s just a brief interruption of the swirling dust sparkle jet stream
Well, I know I don’t know you and you’re probably not what you seem
But I’d sure like to find out
So why don’t you climb down off that movie screen

The rest is far more ethereal, a forlorn look at memory and lost opportunities. It’s one of my favorite songs. So everybody get with the program and show these guys some frakkin’ respect!

Well I woke in mid-afternoon cause that’s when it all hurts the most
I dream I never know anyone at the party and I’m always the host
If dreams are like movies, then memories are films about ghosts
You can never escape, you can only move south down the coast

Well, I am an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame
I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame
If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame
And though I’ll never forget your face,
Sometimes i can’t remember my name

Hey Mrs. Potter don’t cry
Hey Mrs. Potter I know why but
Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me

Well, there’s a piece of Maria in every song that I sing
And the price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings
And there is always one last light to turn out and one last bell to ring
And the last one out of the circus has to lock up everything

Or the elephants will get out and forget to remember what you said
And the ghosts of the tilt-a-whirl will linger inside your head
And the ferris wheel junkies will spin there forever instead
When I see you a blanket of stars covers me in my bed

Hey Mrs. Potter don’t go
Hey Mrs. Potter I don’t know but
Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me

All the blue light reflections that color my mind when I sleep
And the lovesick rejections that accompany the company I keep
All the razor perceptions that cut just a little too deep
Hey I can bleed as well as anyone, but I need someone to help me sleep

So I throw my hand into the air and it swims in the beams
It’s just a brief interruption of the swirling dust sparkle jet stream
Well, I know I don’t know you and you’re probably not what you seem
But I’d sure like to find out
So why don’t you climb down off that movie screen

Hey Mrs. Potter don’t turn
Hey Mrs. Potter I burn for you
Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me

When the last king of Hollywood shatters his glass on the floor
And orders another
Well, I wonder what he did that for
That’s when I know that I have to get out cause I have been there before
So I gave up my seat at the bar and I head for the door

We drove out to the desert just to lie down beneath this bowl of stars
We stand up in the palace like it’s the last of the great pioneer town bars
We shout out these songs against the clang of electric guitars
You can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far
Oh, you can see a million miles tonight
But you can’t get very far

Hey Mrs. Potter I won’t touch
Hey Mrs. Potter it’s not much but
Hey Mrs. Potter won’t you talk to me

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7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #253: ‘Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby’ – Counting Crows

  1. Amy says:

    Didn’t they actually date? I thought she was one of his many celebrity romances.

    Regardless, I couldn’t agree with you more about either the song or the band. I didn’t realize they weren’t get the credit they deserved, as they certainly get it from me 🙂 Even Maddie was saying the other day that this is one of her favorite songs of all times. We played it for Mom and Dad on the way to Canada, since it was important to Maddie that they hear it. I’ve always loved the line, “the price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings.” So simple but so profound. That, and “If you’ve never stared off in the distance, then your life is a shame” get to me every time I listen to it. Right in the gut.

    And Adam’s voice! Does any other singer have as strong an emotional connection with the songs he sings? On a selfish note, I want them to continue doing the same wonderful thing they’ve been doing for years; if having a bigger following or more critical acclaim got in the way of Counting Crows being Counting Crows, then I don’t want to change a thing.

  2. Dana says:

    Well, I had written a whole commentary yesterday that somehow evaporated into the cyberworld before I could hit the send button, but I will try to briefly recap my thoughts:

    First, I think that some critics feel they must knock down an artist who comes out of the box as a commercial success and then maintains that level of success in subsequent records. My suspicion is that critics like to play the role of discovering artists and when that role is uspurped by the public, they are loath to hop on the bandwagon, as they see themselves as leaders, not followers. So, with Counting Crows, you had a big hit right away with Mrs. Jones on the debut album, and then the Crows had the nerve not to go back into commercial obscurity so critics couldn’t come forward with how great they were for changing it up even if to do so sacrificed popularity. The same can be said for Dave Matthews Band, who came out strong with Ants Marching and then had the audacity to keep making hits.

    By contrast, you have artists like Springsteen, REM and U2, who critics could claim right of discovery before they became huge commercial successes and then these artists had the decency to change it up with less commercial work. Think I’m off? Well, ask yourself if Springsteen would have really been a critics’ darling if his first record was Born in the USA with Dancing in the Dark and Glory Days as the first hits. Or would REM be a crticis’ darling if Out of TIme were the first record with Shiny Happy People as the big hit, or if U2 would be a critics darling if Joshua Tree and With or Without You were the first hit. Then ask if they would have remained critics’ darlings if they hadn’t changed it up–Springsteen not going into less commercial work like Nebraska, etc…

    Anyway, I love the Crows and I love this SOTD. Amy already mentioned above (though I had written it first–Damn those cyber gods!:)) Maddie’s love of this song and the lyric about staring off into the distance–great stuff, and the fact that it hits so deeply with both my daughter and us alike must mean something. One of my fondest memories is driving with a 5 year old Maddie in the backseat of my convertible as I would take her to school each day, and we would blast this song, and Maddie, who had memorized EVERY word, sang it at the top of her lungs. It doesn’t get much better than that.

    So, I agree with Amy–forget the critics of they won’t jump on board–I look forward to hearing more great Crows songs in the future.

  3. Amy says:

    Glad you took the time to rewrite your comment. I think it makes a lot of sense. Not only critics, but some elitist fans, too, are guilty of loving an artist if they are the ones who make the discovery, then abandoning that same artist when others jump on the bandwagon. That whole backlash effect you see again and again, when suddenly that television show, movie, muisician, book, that once was considered special now has the unfortunate luck to be embraced by the masses. The popularity soars, but the stamp of being an undiscovered gem fades.

  4. Dana says:

    Exactly, well said you–and it is true of fans also.

  5. Clay says:

    I think there’s something to this. Looking at the most critically-acclaimed albums of the past few of years, the only ones that stand out as commercial hits are Lil Wayne, M.I.A. and Rihanna. So maybe this bias is reserved for white men? 🙂

    And even those three had a relatively slow rise to fame, with songs or albums released before their biggest hits. So perhaps they fit into your formula after all.

  6. Dana says:

    Yes, I do think that critics (who are primarily white male) like to show off their hipness factor by embracing minority and foreign artists. But, how much do you want to bet that those same critics have and will jump off that minority artist’s bandwagon if the next album is immediately commercially accesible and popular, rather than the artist eschewing that commercial success and changing course?

  7. Amy says:

    We’ll have to follow the reception of their follow-up efforts, though I doubt M.I.A.’s first album is considered “commercial,” despite having some commercial success. And I don’t seeing them kicking Rihanna when she’s down, so it all comes down to Lil Wayne 🙂

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