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STCML: Volume 1

Believe it or not, I wrote most of this entry on the same day I wrote the last entry.
Life has just been a bit difficult lately, and I finally got around to finishing this one up.
It's still a bit rough, to be honest, but I think it gets the main points across.
This first song is a doozy, and there a million other things that could be said about it.
Feel free to add your thoughts...

STCML (Songs That Changed My Life), Vol. 1

“Round Here,” by Counting Crows. From “August and Everything After.”

words by Adam Duritz.
music by Dave Janusko, Dan Jewett, Chris Roldan, & David Bryson.

Purchase the song Round Here.

Purchase the whole CD August and Everything After.

********************

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
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 and 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 we 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
Catch me if I’m falling
Catch me if I’m falling
Catch me if I’m falling down on you
I said I’m under the gun
Round here

© 1993 EMI Blackwood Music Inc./Jones Falls Music/Free Ohio Publishing/This Ought To Get Me A New Guitar Music/Pork Chops and Apple Sauce Publishing BMI

********************

Reading these lyrics are like poetry.
I really just don’t know if it gets any better than this for me.
Look at the first verse. It’s masterful. The images are so evocative.

The feeling of anonymity—like a ghost in fog. Unnoticeable.
And the stories that we’ll see in the following verses are alluded to here by saying that angels in the heavens even see that our constructs of “wrong” and “right” oftentimes fall apart in the face of real life. Our stories are so much more complex than simple rules, and the writer is going to show us a couple of examples of this. Complex stories and characters.

*Maria says she’s dying through the door I hear her crying*
Who is Maria? The writer (Adam Duritz) acts as though he’s already introduced her to us, and that creates mystery for the listener. It draws us in.
How does she know the writer of the song? We don’t know, but it. We want to know more.

*Maria came from Nashville with a suitcase in her hand*
(Here’s that Maria again)
There would have been much more obvious ways to say this.
“Maria moved here from Nashville looking for a new life,” or “a chance to start over.”
But Adam Duritz doesn’t say it that way. What he does is give us a picture. We see Maria at the front door with all her possessions in one suitcase. She has nothing else. Her only hope is to find new life in a new city. What city? We don’t know. It’s part of what makes the song feel so personal. Early on, Duritz sets this up like it could be a poem from his personal diary. It may have been.

One of the things we’ll see over and over in great songs is the writer SHOWING us something rather than TELLING us it happened. It’s not as easy to do this as you might think. It’s so much easier to say “yesterday I was walking down the street” than to come up with “Monday was cold on the sidewalk.” But what tells us more information? Duritz makes use of every word very carefully in this song. It’s almost like being a journalist. You don’t have much time or space to tell the story, so it needs to be chock-full of rich images.

*She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land /
Just like she’s walking on a wire in the circus*

What an amazing picture. Incredible image. Have you ever seen someone do this? Walking at the water’s edge, trying not to get too wet, but following the sweep of the last wave that came in to shore. Or maybe he’s being totally symbolic with this line. Maria’s life is a balancing act. On one side are people raging like an ocean against her, on the other side, unchanging hard principles. She has only a razor-thin margin to walk with her life. And if she falls, is there a net to catch her? And there are spectators to her life, watching to see if she will slip off the high wire. They watch, holding their breath. Have you ever lived your life thinking that other people are watching you? That somehow you’re always on stage, performing for everyone but yourself? You are pierced by others’ eyes, broken by their expectations. Maybe this is how Maria feels.

*She knows she’s more than just a little misunderstood /
She has trouble acting normal when she’s nervous*

Aha—something is going on here. She has been hurt on an emotional level, probably. She has had difficulty fitting in and finding a community to accept her as she is. So maybe she’s a bit skittish around people. She has some anxiety because when she has shared something of who she really is with people, they haven’t treated her spirit with care. Maybe they told others her secrets. She’s afraid to trust people now. So she gets nervous and isn’t sure anymore how to react to people. Like at a party where there are loads of people asking questions. Maria’s not sure how to react anymore. “How much do I tell? Will people judge me if they know the truth? What if someone else tries to use me?” Obviously, this is all speculation on my part, but the lyrics leave a lot of places we can go with the story.

The first chorus seems to speak of trying to figure out how to have some individuality. We carve out our names like lovers on a tree, trying to leave some trace of ourselves behind, because on the outside “we all look the same.” We talk a big game of how we’re going to make a difference in the world (“we talk just like lions”) but we’re full of doubt and weakness (“we sacrifice like lambs”). Again, lots of ways to interpret these lines.
And he uses the title here—we’ll see it over and over. “Round here…” He’s talking about his own situation. But who doesn’t relate to that idea? MY life feels like it’s going nowhere. MY life has no real future. And in MY life she (Maria?) is “slipping through my hands.” Again, how does the writer know Maria? Are they lovers? Were they lovers long ago and now she has reentered his life? Or is this story all past tense?

The bridge is interesting, and maybe the most difficult part of the song to understand.
Many times bridges serve to summate the song’s ideas, to show us the same information from a different angle. The music changes, and so does the perspective. So what are we told here? If we are “sleeping children,” the writer says, we need to “run like the wind out of the lightning dream.” We need to wake up to reality. It reminds me of a Bob Dylan line: “The battle outside raging / Will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls / For the times, they are a-changing.” There is an existential reality that simply does not match up with our simple “health and wealth” ideas, at least in America. We tend to believe that good things happen to people who work hard. But even the Bible says that rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike. Sometimes this song reminds me of John Irving’s book The Cider House Rules. The rules just don’t work in the real world. Real life is too messy for that, too complicated.

But what happens when the writer is waking up to reality?
He is told “Shhh, it’s only in your head.”
“You’re dreaming,” in other words. Go back to sleep.
And then there’s that great word in the English language, “but.”
Just as he’s about to drift back off to sleep, he remembers something.

*But the girl on the car in the parking lot…*
Wait a second. I can’t just go back to sleep.
There’s a girl sitting on top of her car outside.
Something is wrong.

*…says, “Man, you should try to take a shot. Can’t you see my walls are crumbling?”*
This is the verse that just finally rips my heart out.
She’s at the end of her rope. Nothing to live for. So she’s willing to try anything at this point. It makes me think of teenagers who cut themselves. They just want to feel something, anything. So does this girl on the car.

*Then she looks up at the building and says she’s thinking of jumping /
She says she’s tired of life she must be tired of something…round here*

There are two basic responses we can have to suicide.
One response is to say, “Wow, that is totally selfish. Think of all the people s/he is leaving behind. People that love and care for her/him.”
The other response is to say, “Wow, that person must be feeling incredibly desperate about her/his life. S/he must feel that nobody really cares about or understands her/him. Something about life feels too crushing to want to continue.”
Two very different ways of looking at the situation.
The writer seems to put himself in the latter camp here.
“She’s tired of life, she must be tired of something round here.”

People who have never had suicidal thoughts tend to be in the former camp.
Their lives have never been so awful for them that they seriously thought about ending it all. So suicide must be selfish. Maybe on some level it is, but Sartre thought suicide was the only logical course of action in a world with no meaning. And I actually think Sartre was probably right on that. Even hedonism would be at best putting off the inevitable (of course, if the world does have meaning, then we’re in a different boat). But to the suicidal person, it’s not a selfish act. It is a way of ending the pain. It seems to be the only recourse when you are “tired of life…tired of something round here.”

I have no idea if Adam Duritz has ever contemplated suicide or not.
But he seems to understand it in this verse, and it’s pretty incredible.
This verse gives me chills almost every time I hear it. I resonate with the existential feelings of hopelessness in this verse. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that it just feels true or right to me. I know that’s vague, but that’s the only way I know to describe it.

Again, as I said in the last blog, “Art that impacts us is often indescribable. It escapes words and description because it touches our souls and our emotions in a deeper place than language can reach. It really does shake us to the core and challenge our ways of thinking.”

And that’s what “Round Here” by Counting Crows does to me.
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