Albums of Our Lives: The Counting Crows’ August and Everything After

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A few days before we left a life in New York, my then-husband drove home drunk from a bar in the Bronx—up, somehow, through the curves of the Major Deegan that I could barely follow sober, across the Cross County Expressway—and parked the car in front of our apartment, one wheel on the curb, in a no-parking zone.

In the hot June he stood in the middle of the living room and sweated out the afternoon’s beer in front of me. We’d had plans hours ago and when I asked where he’d been, he showed all of his cards. Unprompted, but too drunk to maintain normalcy, he yelled that he hadn’t done anything wrong. That he wasn’t going to listen to this bullshit, and then he left, and that’s when I knew that he had. Her phone number was written on a scrap of notebook paper on the passenger’s seat, waiting for me when I moved the car to a legal parking zone, but it wasn’t telling me anything I hadn’t already known. The next morning we packed up our things—every last possession loaded up to the roof of a Ford Escort—and drove away. Since I wasn’t sure what to do, I did nothing but drive. Out of the rush of New York and into the hills of Pennsylvania, country music going in and out on the radio.

Later, I found out that he’d written her emails from the budget motel in Pennsylvania, as I sat beside him, flipping through basic cable, and then more were sent from my parents’ basement, where we stayed until our new apartment was ready. The night I told him I knew, there was a summer downpour, and we sat on the front porch of my parents’ house while they slept, feet away, and he said, “Well, what if I’m not ready to be married?”

He wrote his life in passive voice—things were happening to him, but he was innocent, blameless.

***

 I was 13 when I first heard “Mr. Jones” on the closing credits of an episode of Entertainment Tonight. The four repeating chords at the beginning pulled me into the room. All we were hearing on the Top 40 station in Flint that year was R&B—The Bodyguard Soundtrack and Mariah. “End of the Road” was on heavy rotation—in our bedrooms, and at the after-school parties in the cafeteria, where we danced plank-armed in slow circles to the sort of heartache we couldn’t fathom.

Until Counting Crows. Later that night, in my room, I put a blank tape in my cassette recorder and waited; when I recognized the opening chords to “Mr. Jones,” I jammed down the record button, cutting off only the first note. Once I’d captured the song, I spent a handful of nights alone, playing the song on loop while the rest of my family was downstairs. My sister walked in and out of our room every half hour or so, eyebrows raised, asking me what I was doing.

In the video, lead singer Adam Duritz sang with his hands in his pockets. I loved him for being lost and for saying so. I was lost, even if it was just an innocuous, expected kind of lost. At 13 and 14, I had the sort of acne that required a medication so strong that it would have literally caused birth deformities, had I become pregnant. There was an entire world going on around me DJ’d by Boyz II Men singing about relationships I’d never been in. Adam Duritz, singing there’s got to be somebody for me—singing If there’s anyone home at your place, darling/why don’t you invite me in—felt for the first time like music may have been made for me, too.

Throughout high school my interest only grew, and I accumulated facts about Adam Duritz. He was Jewish. His father was a doctor. His struggle with addiction and mental health issues was well documented.

In the end, I found someone like Adam—the idea of him—and I married him. He was a musician—on the side, locally, but known. We met on campus and slept on a mattress on the floor in his apartment, where everything smelled like mildew. He did poorly in school and played his guitar and stayed out all night at coffee shops and talked passionately about books he hadn’t read. He shared the apartment with a girl who had once been his friend, but now they passed by one another silently and, when she left, a friend of a friend moved in, who grew and sold pot in the room beside us, but regardless of what was happening on the other side of the wall, in our room, it was the same. He fell into depressions—deep, brooding moods that covered the apartment like a blanket over a birdcage—and until they lifted everyone inside was hostage.

We lived like this in the L-shaped apartment in Michigan, where I cried in the stairwell and listened to the sounds from the bar across the street. After we married, the depression, untreated, simply grew another limb and branched off into anger. In Yonkers it was his fist against the walls of our studio. In Bronxville it was a dinner plate thrown against the floor, his face inches from my own, saying, “What’s the matter, Laura? Do you think I’m going to hit you?” And he never did. Melodramatic, he liked to say. You are being so melodramatic.

So we went back to Michigan, to a one bedroom, and finally a house. In all of these places, I thought, We are working through this. I came from working through it, from seeing it through. My parents were high school sweethearts married 35 years before my mother died of cancer.

But that isn’t the entire truth. Even in the worst of it he made me laugh so intensely it shot adrenaline through my body that I could ride through half a day on. Sometimes I still feel it. It’s an ache, like lactic acid that builds up in your muscles after a long run, or a healed bone that reminds you it was once broken, right before the rain

The sadness carried more weight. The heavier things sink down and become the story while the lightness floats away. When that happens I’m left with the memory of sitting in a dark living room in the middle of the day, shades drawn because he swore that the old widow across the street was always watching him.

The August and Everything After CD—the original that my mother put in my Easter basket at 13—followed me with every move but, starting in New York, slowly but consistently, I found that I couldn’t stand any of Counting Crows’ music.  I reasoned that I was growing out of it. But really, listening to it felt like standing in the middle of a loud, crowded room, where you couldn’t escape the noise. Hearing the opening piano chords of “A Long December” on the radio induced genuine anxiety. Instead I listened to things that didn’t intensify what I was going through, or I listened to nothing.

I learned to satiate his depression with offerings. When words became useless I turned to the tangible. We went under and up, beneath the commuter train tracks, to a movie at the theater in town, graduate school work left unfinished on my desk. One night we drove across the Cross Bronx expressway and bought a game system we couldn’t afford, on a credit card. He set it up and played past midnight, and I went into the bedroom and crawled under the comforter. Again and again, I bought my peace.

It’s only now, four years after I rented him a U-Haul and watched him back out of the driveway, that I can listen to Counting Crows again. I have the capacity to enjoy that sadness again. Though I’d lost my original copy in one of the endless moves, I found a copy of August and Everything After at the Goodwill. I listened all the way through “Omaha” In the parking lot; all of the words and inflections came back immediately although it’d been years. It was like driving through the town you’d grown up in, but left behind: distant and familiar at the same time. I sang through August and Everything After from beginning to end and turned it off when I wanted to feel something else.