Counting Crows' Adam Duritz Discusses Mental Health and Metaphors

Music and mental health have a complicated, reciprocal relationship. Songs can simultaneously settle and exaggerate moods, augment intellect, numb pain, recall thoughts good and bad. Many of music's most magnificent figures have grappled with various degrees of mental instability, experiencing the revelatory peaks and troughs of the human condition.

"Writing a song doesn't take a problem and make it better."

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Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz is one of rock 'n' roll's most cinematic songwriters. His thoughtful, tortured lyrics paint scenes with pigments of human emotion. People he's met, places he's been, and feelings he's felt are brushstrokes on a musical canvas. Using an off-the-wall analogy, Duritz can conjure a sensation usually confined to a single, insufficient word.

Since his early 20s, Duritz has suffered from what he describes as a dissociative disorder, which can, at times, make his world seem unreal. He perceives everyday scenes like a projection on a movie screen. These experiences create abstract associations between concrete things, as do many of Duritz's lyrics.

Counting Crows will kick off their Somewhere Under Wonderland tour at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre this Thursday. Before the show, Adam spoke with New Times about his lyricism and disconnect.

New Times: When I first heard the song "Dislocation," it reminded me of an interview some time ago in which you mentioned suffering from a dissociative disorder. This song seemed like the first time you explicitly reference this condition in your lyrics. How does your dissociative disorder inform your lyricism and songwriting?

Adam Duritz: It did, does, and will inform every song I ever write probably. The disorder makes it seem like the world isn't very real. It makes it hard to connect with people because I have to force myself to take [the world] seriously, as if it's real. It's the sensation of watching a movie in front of my eyes — like someone is projecting a film onto my eyes. It's very disorienting and causes a lot of disconnection.

It's important to every single song I've ever written. It's the reason for all of them. I just didn't talk about it for a long time. I didn't know specifically what it was for a long time, but the feeling was always there, since I was in my early 20s. It isn't referenced specifically in "Dislocation," but it's certainly part of what the song is about.

There was a period when I felt like I was getting worse and worse for years. Then around Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, I felt like I got a handle on it a bit. Not necessarily that I got better, but I stopped getting worse, and I got a grip on where I was. A few years after that, I realized I probably wasn't ever going to be fine.

When you have something wrong with you, you want to get better. You get strep throat and you expect an antibiotic to be healthy again. A lot of things in life work that way, but not everything does. That was a hard realization.

Your lyrics seem to have developed from more morose and serious to humorous and lighthearted. Do you find your songwriting to be therapeutic?

No, I don't think there's anything therapeutic about songwriting. You've got to get your therapy done outside of things like that. But an album is probably a good way of judging how the person is feeling. I might have been feeling better at that point, but I think it's more effect than cause. Writing a song doesn't take a problem and make it better.

That said, if I have to choose a day where I feel like shit and a day I feel like shit and finish a song, I'll take B. At least I was productive. It's always better to do something than just mope around. So I feel better when I've written a song, but the song doesn't make you feel better.

You described a disconnect from people and places in relation to your dissociative disorder. But in your lyrics, there are always proper-noun people and places. How do you relate your real-world disconnect and your lyrical connection?

A lot of the songs are about connections I've made and lost. That's part of it. But when I started off working, a lot of people said, "You should use less proper names, less place names. Don't make it so specific because it makes it harder for people to relate to your songs." While I understand what they meant by that, it seemed like stupid advice. You should make art as you want to express it. People will like it or not. But the idea that you can temper what you're doing seemed like idiotic advice.

These proper names resonate with me because they're real people and places I'm writing about. The details fill out songs. People make the mistake of thinking you should sing about vagueness. But if it resonates for you, it will resonate for them.

Songs call up memories. If you want your song to call up memories, you need to put your own memories in there too — the details, the sense of place, the things that give your world gravity, as opposed to a free-floating series of ideas. The descriptions and the details give the world gravity, which makes it a place that people can live in. Without it, it's just air. People don't live in air. They live in worlds, in buildings.

Counting Crows with Citizen Cope and Hollis Brown.7 p.m.Thursday, July 30, at Bayfront Park Amphitheatre, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305­-358-­7550; Tickets cost $35 to $195 via

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Dyllan Furness is Miami New Times' "foreign" correspondent. After earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida, he crossed the pond and dove into music, science, and technology from Berlin.
Contact: Dyllan Furness