“Maria says she’s dying, through the door I hear her crying Why? I don’t know,” Adam Duritz sings in “Round Here.”
The name Maria has appeared several times in Counting Crows’ lyrics over the years, showing up in songs like “Mr. Jones,” “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” and “John Appleseed’s Lament.”
But who is Maria?
In the past, Duritz has been quoted as saying that Maria is largely fictional, or that he’s actually Maria in some lyrical sense. That much remains true.
“It’s the one character that for the most part is not a real person,” Duritz told HuffPost this month at Build Series. “In a lot of ways it is a representation of everything that made me want to write songs. A lot of it is me in that.”
But there’s actually more to the story. Initially, at least, a real-life Maria inspired the Counting Crows frontman.
“I think originally it also had a lot to do with Maria McKee, who was a friend of mine and an idol of mine at the time. She was a labelmate of mine at Geffen. She sings all over ‘August and Everything After,’” Duritz said.
Ah yes. That Maria McKee.
She co-founded the band Lone Justice in 1982, and went on to have a solo career as a singer-songwriter. She scored a hit in the U.K. with her 1990 song, “Show Me Heaven,” and her track, “If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags),” is featured in the film “Pulp Fiction.” McKee also sings background vocals on recordings of Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” and “Sullivan Street.”
Cut up, Maria / Show me some of them Spanish dances / Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones...
Durtiz said he got to know McKee before he recorded Counting Crows’ debut album, “August and Everything After,” for Geffen Records.
“The first things I ever did on a major label were two songs with Maria — when I first got signed to Geffen. The first ‘Sweet Relief’ benefit album, her and I did a song called ‘“Opelousas’ … It was my first step into the big leagues, I guess.”
That compilation album, dubbed “Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams,” featured songs by an array of artists ― from Soul Asylum to Lou Reed. It arrived in 1993 ― several months before “August and Everything After.”
“So a part of it was her,” Duritz continued. “I really idolized her ... I both idolized her and had a huge crush on her. And I think part of writing those songs then was directed toward her. But more than that, it’s really about me.”
It was around the release of “August and Everything After” that Duritz’s life dramatically changed. With hit singles and accolades, he soon became recognizable and had to face life in the spotlight. Looking back now, he said the fame part was “weird.”
“I don’t think I was really cut out for that kind of life. I had to really learn to adjust to that. Fame is a weird thing for anybody. It’s like waking up on a different planet. You have a whole new gravity all of a sudden. As far as I was concerned, I was still me. Everyone else was acting really weird,” he said. “I used to be able to just walk down the street to do something. Now it was an issue one way or another, especially in Berkeley [California]. There were kids camped out on my lawn. … It was great career-wise. It’s one thing to sell a lot of records. It’s a great thing for your bank account. But it’s a weird adjustment in the just walking down the street part of your life.”
More than two decades later, Counting Crows are still going strong with a committed fan base and album releases every few years. The group’s most recent album, “Somewhere Under Wonderland,” arrived in 2014, and this summer, they’re hitting the road with the rock band Live on a tour dubbed “25 Years and Counting.”
When asked what’s changed the most about touring life, Duritz said he thinks he’s gotten better and more disciplined about it.
“And I’m a lot less drunk,” he added. “I enjoyed the enjoying parts of being in a rock band for a long time. It was really fun. And staying out late was really cool and getting drunk all the time was really cool. But you just can’t sustain it forever. Your voice goes. Your body goes … I think I nipped that in the bud,” he said. “What you don’t want to do is get to a place when you have to completely stop drinking. That would be no fun at all. I really like wine, but I just don’t drink every night on the road. And like a lot of things in life you just have to get it under control. And I did. That’s probably the biggest change. I just don’t go out and party as much. I’m a lot more like a monk these days.”
Along with the tour, a new album could be in the works soon. Duritz plans to get together with guys from the band to start going over some music in the next month or so.
“I’ve got a lot of pieces and ideas. I just haven’t put them together in songs. I just haven’t had the urge to do that part of it. But I’ve got 5 million pieces recorded.”
Duritz writes when he feels “moved,” or when he experiences an “emotional jolt.”
“I wrote ‘Rain King’ after watching ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ I was sitting at home watching ’Doctor Zhivago,’ and it’s really moving. At the end, I got up and I wrote ‘Rain King.’ It has absolutely nothing to do with ‘Doctor Zhivago.’ But it took me about 40 minutes and it was done,” he said. “It’s always something like that.”
That was a long time ago, but Duritz’s writing process hasn’t changed all that much.
“Everything else is a ‘long time’ now,” he said of the band’s longevity. “We’ve been here forever, and we’re not dead.”
Indeed. Not dead yet, but still counting.