Before you judge me, consider this. The first Counting Crows album, August and Everything After, came out in 1993, and when “Mr. Jones” got heavy rotation on MTV (back when they played videos), it catapulted them into instant stardom. The album became the fastest selling album since Nirvana’s Nevermind. The band has since sold over 20 million albums, which is no small feat.
Now, that doesn’t make them Beethoven or The Beatles, but it don’t make them Justin Beiber, either. The music is tightly crafted and honed by a focus on live performance rather than studio trickery. Take a listen to rhythmic structure of “Anna Begins,” the interplay of instrumentation in “Perfect Blue Buildings,” or the crisp build of “Round Here,” which never feels forced or muddy.
And let’s look at the lyrics. Sharp and insightful, they have so much more to say than, “Oh baby, I want to be with you.” They do say that, on occasion, but usually with the weight that comes from knowing, “Yes, I want to be with you, but we’re both broken, and will we fix each other or just be two broken people limping through the world?” I paraphrase, of course. But consider “Round Here,” one of my favorites on their first album.
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
For a lot of writers I know, they find inspiration in the writing of others. I had a conversation with a friend last week who is reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan books for the first time, and I could hear the inspiration in his voice. I can hardly wait to see what that spurs him to write. It’s no different with me, but I find myself being sparked by song lyrics as much as anything else. I recently had a story picked up for the Rock is Dead anthology that illustrates that truth quite well.
My story “Memory in the Time of Bones,” available as a free 13 minute audio podcast on the wonderful Wily Writers website, was inspired entirely by the Crow’s “American Girl” song off Hard Candy…specifically the line “…she has porcelain under her skin.”
There is also a line from the Counting Crows song “Mr. Jones” buried in Cobalt City Blues, and I’ll buy a coffee for anyone who finds it.
Good writing is good writing is good writing. It doesn’t matter to me where it comes from. And if you keep your ears open, you’ll find gems where you least expect them.