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Scratch That: Interview with "801" @ Columbia U.

About six weeks ago, I got an email from Steve Elwell, a reporter for the music magazine "801", published by Columbia University. Steve was doing research for a story related to the Counting Crows, specifically about the identity of the "Maria" that Adam Duritz mentions in several of his songs. During the course of his research he came across my last blog post about the song "Round Here". Steve asked if I would do an interview with him about my thoughts on Maria and Counting Crows in general, and I obliged.
The magazine comes out sometime this month, but I thought it might be of some interest to include the interview in its entirety here on the blog. As always, feel free to comment or start discussion...

Interview with “801” music magazine at Columbia University.
Interview by Steve Elwell.

SE: A few things about your experience with Counting Crows music:
When did you first hear them, and when did you first become
interested in their lyrics?

MW: I first heard Counting Crows not long after the "August and Everything After" record came out. I liked it, but I just didn't give it the time it deserved. That record just seemed to "percolate" for me over the years. I always liked it, but it seemed like every couple years I would "get it" more and more. It just spoke to me on deeper and deeper levels. Adam's lyrics came to transfix me over time.

SE: Have you ever been to a Crows concert?

MW: No, I've never been to a CC concert. I'd like to go to one, actually, but it's just never worked out.

SE: Do you own the albums? Which is your favorite, if you have one?
I'm kind of assuming Hard Candy, but I could be off…

MW: Yes, I own every one of their albums (except that recent "Greatest Hits" compilation). My favorite is most definitely NOT "Hard Candy" (HC). In fact, I think “HC” dukes it out with "Recovering the Satellites" for the weakest CC record. In my opinion, they have never come close to equaling "August". I mean, not even close. "This Desert Life" (TDL) is a good album, but it doesn't have the focus that "August" has. As a writer myself, I think Adam's lyrics have just become less personal. He doesn't often write about his own struggles these days. I think the best songs on “TDL” and “HC” are "all my friends and lovers", "high life", "speedway", "new frontier", and "carriage". There are other good songs on those records, too, but the ones I listed are the big ones that to me reveal something about Adam's world. Now granted, I think Adam is one of the great lyric writers of our times, so in a sense, the bar is pretty high for him. But I just don't buy a new CC record the day it comes out so I can hear party music. I want to hear something I can believe in, something that gives me hope that I'm not alone in my struggles to make sense of a life that refuses to be pinned down. That's what I think Adam does at his best. There's a line from the movie "Shadowlands" by Richard Attenborough: "we read to know we're not alone." That's certainly why I read Adam's lyrics. And the consistency he churned out on "August" is simply incredible. There's just not a bad song on that whole album, to my ear. And you can't say that about very many albums, ever. "August" just emotes *feeling*. It burns. Even the "happiness" of "Mr. Jones" says things like, "man, I wish I was beautiful", and "cause I want to be someone to believe..." Wow. That's amazing.

SE: Like I said [over email], I found your analysis of "Round Here" pretty
impressive and spot-on. It made me almost positive that you've had
some training in literary analysis or writing or something of the
sort, but then again, some people are just naturals. Where did you
learn to examine lyrics and poetry that way?

MW: I don't have any formal training in literary analysis, though I’d love to take some classes. Words enrapture me, they encircle me, they whisper in my ear, they cry out to me, and they taunt me. Communication with others is why we live. And words are a veil behind which lies Meaning. When life beats the crap out of you, you start to look to words to understand, to try and make sense out of pain, to find meaning where there seems to be none. I've always been in love with words, but I've also been through some real personal hell over the past 5 years, and that's enough to make a literary critic...

SE: Now, on to Maria.
When did you first start thinking about the significance of Maria, and what's your current theory of who (or what) she is?

MW: I first started thinking about Maria the very first time I heard "Round Here". I immediately wanted to know who she was. And how Adam knew her. I think Maria was a former lover of Adam's. Actually, scratch that. I suspect Maria was the first woman Adam fell in love with, but I kind of think she broke it off at some point. She may not have reciprocated his depth of feeling.

SE: What do you think is behind the search for Maria, or in other
words, why are some people drawn to the mystery while others aren’t?
[And] what do you make of Duritz’s refusal to give a final answer on
the Maria question?

MW: Well, until you wrote me, Steve, I wasn't really aware that people had been on a search to find out who she was. It really doesn't interest me all that much anymore, in one sense. If Adam wants it to remain a mystery, then I would bet he has his reasons, and as a writer myself, I respect that tremendously. This is not to say that I don't respect what you're trying to do, Steve, because it seems like one of your goals is to chronicle people's fascination with the topic as well as the supposed "answer" to who she is. Again, what I make of Adam's refusal to give a final answer to the question of Maria's identity is simply that it's too personal. He's let us in to an awful lot of personal things as a writer. I actually respect him *more* for having some places stay private.

SE: And, of course, some questions that your post brought to mind:
You basically get right to the heart of what I've been thinking
when you write "Were they lovers long ago?" At this point, I'm
nearly convinced she was a high school sweetheart, and something
went wrong. Your thoughts?

MW: Yes, I think she was a woman Adam loved. Very deeply. It's possible she's a composite of more than one woman, but her character in "Round Here" feels too specific to be a composite. I think the Maria he mentions in "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" *may* be more of a composite. He echoes this again with the line "you put your girl up on a pedestal / and you wait for her fall" in [the song] "Hard Candy". In some ways, it's like Maria ruined him. She was the "perfect" girl, and she broke his heart. And ever since then, he hasn't been able to put it all back together. Relationships are hard. Especially for writers…

SE: One thing I hadn't thought of until I read your post was the
possibility that Maria may have committed suicide, which would
explain why Duritz is so private about this. How do you feel about
that theory, and could it hold weight, given what we know from the

MW: I'm not sure about the Maria = suicide thing.
I'm pretty certain the "girl on the car in parking lot" [verse 3 of “Round Here”] is NOT Maria. I think if it were, he'd tell us. That character "feels" different to me. She's got a little bit different lingo than Maria, as well. She doesn't seem to have quite the same voice. But I suppose it's possible Maria committed suicide, and he's connecting her in some way to "the girl on the car in the parking lot". If Maria *did* commit suicide, it would certainly explain his silence on her identity. It is a bit odd, when you think about it, that no woman has surfaced and claimed, "I am Maria!" So maybe she did die. Maybe she did.
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