Anything for a quiet life

After finding the fame he craved and suffering a breakdown, Counting Crows vocalist Adam Duritz moved to LA in search of 'normality'. So is living in Laurel Canyon and dating movie stars 'normal'? By Gavin Martin
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The Independent Culture

The myriad attractions of Los Angeles loom large in rock mythology - it is the city where excesses can be indulged, and dreams can come true, a playground for the rich and famous, a magnet for would-be stars. Counting Crows vocalist and driving force Adam Duritz moved there in 1994 when he was already a big star. His band's debut album August And Everything After was on its way to selling 10 million copies, his dreadlock extensions and pained features instantly recognisable from the heavily rotated video for the single "Mister Jones".

The myriad attractions of Los Angeles loom large in rock mythology - it is the city where excesses can be indulged, and dreams can come true, a playground for the rich and famous, a magnet for would-be stars. Counting Crows vocalist and driving force Adam Duritz moved there in 1994 when he was already a big star. His band's debut album August And Everything After was on its way to selling 10 million copies, his dreadlock extensions and pained features instantly recognisable from the heavily rotated video for the single "Mister Jones".

Duritz was then 30. Ten years previously he had been a barely functional acid casualty, unable to leave his family home in Berkeley, California. Cared for by his paediatrician father, he would often crawl into bed with his dad "because I couldn't get to sleep otherwise".

Slouched in a London hotel room, Duritz's softly spoken drawl belies his burly frame as he recalls his period of LSD-induced turmoil. "I only did some but it was enough to damage everything. I was having trips continually - without taking any acid. I had to learn to deal with that. I had to make it go away, get out of the hole and function."

A period of intensive therapy, medication and support of friends and family put him back in working order. Finding his feet as a musician, Duritz dreamed of making his mark on the world - but when the fame craved on "Mr Jones" came his way, he had a breakdown. "I wanted to be a big rock star. Did I have any idea what it would be like? No, how could I? It's like waking up on Mars - the gravity's all different."

Los Angeles was, ironically, the place he came to get his feet back on the ground. "I just wanted a normal life where I could walk the streets, go to the store and get groceries. Nobody cares about me in LA; it's like being here in London. I'm not a celebrity here - it doesn't matter. Berkeley was insane. I couldn't go anywhere, couldn't do anything. My celebrity was always an issue. I didn't want to be reminded all day and all night that I'm famous."

Duritz got a house in Laurel Canyon, tended bar at Johnny Depp's club The Viper Room and dated a list of actresses that included Friends' Jennifer Aniston and Courteney Cox. But life in LA has provided no magic solution for the troubled introspection in his songs. The title of the new Counting Crows album, This Desert Life, refers to Duritz's adopted city. It's a deeply confessional and strangely disembodied work with songs such as "Amy Hit The Atmosphere", and "I Wish I Was A Girl" tapping into the neurosis beneath the façade of glitz and glamour.

"Dennis our producer often talked about making a classic LA record and it was something I could respond to. As we were recording in a house rather than a studio you can really create a world for yourself and get into the mythology of the place. Much of the album is about coming to terms with the duality of my situation - sometimes it's empty and grey, and sometimes it's clear to me that this is a very rich, rare life. A desert can be a dead place or, depending who you talk to, it can be incredibly rich and teeming with life. Much of the richness on This Desert Life comes from the Counting Crows' music. The classic rock reference points of August and its follow-up Recovering The Satellites are now sprung with a spirit of experimentation and adventure which allows the lyrics universal resonance. Duritz chose The Band, the most collaborative outfit in American rock history, as an early role model for the group. But, although all Counting Crows compositions are credited to him, Duritz stresses that, unlike The Band's Robbie Robertson, he gives his group a third of publishing royalties. "I have no illusions - I'm not a good enough musician to be a solo artist. I could never imagine working without this band. I never wanted to do that. If I had my wish, I'd be less famous and it would be more of a band thing. If people think of it as just Adam with a backing band then they are missing what is really happening. That said, I'm in charge because someone has to make the final decision on things. Democracy in art leads to common denominator thinking - you don't end up with the best, you end up with whatever you can agree on. I have no interest in that, I want the best."

In many ways Duritz is a quintessential product of LA therapy culture - a disconcerting mix of damaged sensitivity and tireless ambition. He readily admits that a string of failed relationships with Hollywood actresses provides the raw substance for his candid songs but denies any predatory aspect to the process. He talks freely. About his insomnia: "I don't see how you can just lie down and go to sleep. How do you go from being conscious to being unconscious. Does that not scare people?" About his dreams coming true: "I've always imagined a life better than the one I had. The problem is so much of it actually materialised. It's made me believe that's just what happens, so I have no sense of reality."

The more he talks the more he seems tailormade for life in LA's fantasy land. Where else could he write "Mrs Potter's Lullaby" ("a song berating myself for falling in love with a girl on a movie screen") only to have his friends arrange for the object of his affections (reputedly actress Monica Potter) to be there when he recorded it. He talks excitedly of the relationship that subsequently developed via long phone calls, "It was so cool, like being 15 or 16 again." But he wearily admits its unlikely to last as long as the numerous songs it inspired.

"It's all about the song in the end, that's the shame of it all. I'm very successful at writing songs about girls I have downer relationships with. But songwriting isn't therapy, it's just an outlet for expressing my frustration. Therapy is work, there's something wrong with my head and I have to work at that to find out where the problem is and fix it. But I have come a long way from where I was."

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