Julian Rubinstein

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From The New York Times, Arts & Leisure Section December 1, 1996

From New York Times: Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz

When Fame Glows Bright, It’s Hard to Be Tortured

By Julian Rubinstein

NEW HAVEN—Three years ago, Adam Duritz, the singer and songwriter of Counting Crows, was thrust into celebrity on the strength of his band’s first album, “August and Everything After,” which went platinum faster than Nirvana’s major-label debut, “Nevermind.” The band’s folk-rock-influenced songs were tuneful, if not ground-breaking, and Mr. Duritz’s tormented, dreadlocked mien seemed to match his literate, angst-ridden lyrics.

But by the end of the band’s tour in 1994, it was becoming increasingly difficult for Mr. Duritz to reconcile his tortured-artist persona with his rising celebrity. When he mumbled a barely audible “thanks” to audiences at the end of songs, as if he couldn’t believe he had just shared his innermost feelings with them, he sounded insincere. He seemed caught between earnestness and affectation.

Such is the quandary almost every enduring rock star has had to avoid. At the height of his fame, Bono of U2 dressed in black and wore oversize sunglasses, creating a hipster alter-ego that he called the Fly, which parodied his own celebrity. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam became a recluse, touring infrequently and refusing to be interviewed.

Counting Crows has embarked on a tour to promote its long-awaited second album, “Recovering the Satellites,” playing four sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan beginning tonight. And Mr. Duritz has done nothing to avoid attracting the same scrutiny again.

Adam Duritz

The songs he wrote for the new album are mostly about the burdens of stardom. But since the end of the band’s first tour, he has moved out of the modest apartment he shared with a friend in Berkeley, Calif., into a house in the Hollywood Hills. He has also become a regular at the Viper Room, the celebrity hangout owned by the actor Johnny Depp, and fallen in with a crowd that includes Sean Penn, Samantha Mathis and Jennifer Aniston. “I’m a Hollywood kid now,” Mr. Duritz said.

The seeming incongruity between his personal life and his public image is not so easily explained, though Mr. Duritz is willing to try. Sprawled on a sofa in the dressing room of the Palace Theater in New Haven last month before the first concert of the tour, the 32-year-old Mr. Duritz pondered his recent fate. “I’m sure there’s part of the fame that I like,” he said, running his hands through the beard he grew during the recording of “Satellites.” “It’s great in some ways, but its just horrible in others. The inability to go anywhere without being recognized is something that’s hard to embrace.”

For all the troublesome demands of stardom he endures, however, Mr. Duritz is in the place he always wanted to be. “I know this is going to sound terrible, but I always felt like I was meant to do something extraordinary,” he said.

He seemed almost arrogant in the pursuit. He dropped out of the University of California, Berkeley, two credits shy of a bachelor’s degree in English because he felt it was a waste of time studying other writers when he himself was a writer working in a genre that wasn’t even recognized by the institution. He also created his image before going on tour late in 1993, transforming his thick, curly hair into his trademark spidery, shoulder-length dreadlocks.

“I never felt comfortable before that,” Mr. Duritz said of his appearance. “I remember walking out of the hair salon and onto the street and seeing my reflection in the window and going, ‘It’s me.’ ”

Mr. Duritz admits that his image is contrived but bridles at suggestions from critics that his lyrics do not reflect his feelings. “I don’t accept the judgment as to the validity of it,” he said of his work, “because I know why I write songs. It’s about the thing in your heart that moves you and makes you want to do it.”

A theme common to both of the band’s albums is a sense of a spiritual homelessness. It’s perhaps a reflection of Mr. Duritz’s nomadic childhood as the son of a military doctor. Having lived in five cities by the time he reached high school, he says, he never felt as if he belonged anywhere.

“It was hard for him to understand who he was in light of all of the changes.” said Tom Barnes, a friend and former band mate of Mr. Duritz’s in the late 80’s with a group called Sordid Humor. “When you’re an artist, you’re constantly wondering if you’re deserving of all the recognition. I think Adam was struggling with that.”

Much of the group’s new album, a harder-rocking one than the first, speaks of Mr. Duritz’s personal struggles. The album’s release was delayed for months because of Mr. Duritz’s bout with writer’s block. “These days I feel like I’m fading away/ Like sometimes when I hear myself on the radio,” he sings on “Have You Seen Me Lately?”

But that Mr. Duritz, after years of searching, finally found himself among the glitterati of Los Angeles underscores the paradox of his identity. “It’s like he’s created a role for himself in a movie where he’s the star,” said Steve Bowman, the band’s former drummer who left after a falling out with Mr. Duritz. “He may enjoy some of the drama, but I think there’s a lot of pain that goes along with great intelligence.”

Before the Palace concert, he explained that he would not play the band’s biggest hit, “Mr. Jones,” a catchy, upbeat song about his dreams of becoming famous, because he could no longer relate to it. Mr. Duritz’s greater commitment to his lyrics than to the music is something his band accepts. “Some of my favorite Counting Crows songs were never recorded and never will be because they don’t make sense to Adam anymore,” said the guitarist David Bryson, who formed Counting Crows with Mr. Duritz as an acoustic duo in San Francisco in 1990. “It’s that big a deal.”

While skeptics may question Mr. Duritz’s motives, he is getting a lot of mileage out of being true to the image he has cultivated. “I’m not a particularly happy person,” he said. “A lot of being an artist is the struggle. I always wanted to leave my mark. And I’m going to do so for better or worse.”