His latest output with Counting Crows, a covers album titled Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did On Our Summer Vacation) sidesteps the pitfalls of most records of it’s kind: it’s rich with passion instead of pastiche.
Duritz, who is bringing his band to the Festival at Sandpoint, talked with us about songwriting, the allure and the reality of fame and his takes on the meanings of “Mr. Jones.”
It seems like doing covers album would be an arduous project because you’re pressured to match the quality of the original artist. Do find you the experience more challenging than composing an album of songs you wrote yourself?
DURITZ: No, it’s just different. You have the same pressure when you write an original song: you have to match the quality of the song, and you have to come up with an arrangement as good as the song. When I write songs for a record, it’s just chords and words. They’re just real skeletons, you know? As a band you turn them into a song, and that’s the same thing you have to do with one of these (covers). You have to owe it the same dedication.
In one of your band’s biggest hits, “Mr. Jones,” you sing: “We all wanna be big big stars, but we got different reasons for that” and “When everybody loves me, I will never be lonely.” But a few years after that song came out, you would recant those sentiments.
I didn’t. You were supposed to see through that at the time. I mean, I don’t think people did. [laughs] But the guy’s not right, that’s the thing. Popularity and money and everything, it doesn’t work that way. “When everybody loves me, I’ll never be lonely” – he’s just wrong.
Seems like you chose to be more forthcoming about the true meaning to “Mr. Jones” when you played it live.
I remember one of the reasons we started playing an acoustic version of that song was because I wanted to give people a different look into it, a different direction.
Once you play a song acoustically, you come through in a different way. I did, anyway. A lot of songs I wrote were about more than one thing. They’re kind of complicated. “Mr. Jones” is not only about wanting to be a big star — it’s about all the reasons we get people to dream and the reasons we dream those things. And how some of them are going to turn out and how some of them aren’t going to turn out. Which is no reason not to dream, anyway.
It’s also about dreaming about being a big rock and roll star, which seemed really cool at the time. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact that it doesn’t turn out to be everything you want, well, that’s just life. Life doesn’t turn out to be what you think it’s going to be. Nothing is what you dream it’ll be.
So “Mr. Jones” is about disillusionment with fame?
No, no, no. It’s about trying to be famous, which is a perfectly fine thing to do. It’s just not going to turn out the way you dreamed it. It’s not a disillusionment thing; it’s just real. When you dream about going on a first date with a really pretty girl and you’re imagining what’s it’s going to be like, well, it’s not going to be like the dream of her because she’s a real person.
Thinking that when everyone loves me, I’ll never be lonely – that’s not going to work out either. Doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be lonely, it just means that fame isn’t related to everyone loving you. Truth is, fame is what it is. And I knew that before I was famous which is why I wrote that song. I knew that we wanted to be big stars so that we could go talk to these girls, but I also knew that that’s not going to fix your life.
Long before I was famous I knew that being famous wasn’t going to fix everything. That’s not disillusionment; it’s just understanding what fame is: a popularity contest you run against people you don’t know. It doesn’t change you; it doesn’t change things for the better. It just changes the way people react to you.
Hey, fame is great for getting dinner reservations. It’s great for getting concert tickets. And it’s great for having a career in rock and roll. But it will not make you happy.
A version of this interview was previously published by StereoIQ
Counting Crows plays Festival at Sandpoint with the Outlaw Roadshow • Fri, Aug. 10, at 7 pm • War Memorial Field • 855 Ontario St., Sandpoint • $60 • All-ages • festivalatsandpoint.com • Also at the Festival: Pink Martini (Thu), Kenny Loggins (Sat) and the Spokane Symphony (Sun)