Certain Songs - The Counting Crows - "Anna Begins"

When i went off to school (Miami University), I would not say I was a particularly happy person. I can honestly say that the summer that lead up to my freshman year at school was one of the worst summers i have ever had (the worst you ask?...well, that's another song). My off and on again girlfriend of the past couple years had officially turned off (which i think everyone involved would agree was for the best). Additionally, there was this other girl that i had somehow construed into being the "end all be all" of all girls on the planet (well at least Ohio). Unfortunately for me though, this girl also was not reciprocating my admiration (which i think everyone involved would agree was for the best), so strike two. On top of all this, and in the confusion of all the aforementioned girl troubles, i had misplaced all my friends (for which i was probably to blame...and certainly was not for the best). Anyhow, that was the third strike, making it a long, lonely summer. I counted down the days until my move to Oxford, and accordingly, the days went by as slow as possible.

Eventually though, I found myself in this totally new environment...and most of that summer fell into the background of my mind. All of the sudden there were all of these new people in my life, and we were all going through the same things. They were good things too. We were all getting used to the significantly less structured academic world of college, while trying to juggle video games, nap-time (freshman year of college i actually took naps...me...naps), and of course the most recreational drinking we would ever experience. My freshman year of college will go down in history as the most accepting social experience of my entire life. I was hanging out with all sorts of characters that I never would have known in high school (most of whom ended up being my best friends). I fell in love with school, and loved it for all four years I was there.

I know what you are thinking though: 1) What's the point, so you had some post-high school/pre-college girl troubles and made some new friends in college? 2) More importantly, where's the music? My response to these thoughts: 1) This is just lying the groundwork for the rest of the story, a brief history so to speak (sidenote: those who know me well will appreciate this as being my most brief recollection of these events i have ever told). 2) There are volumes of mixtapes that could stem from these two time periods alone (Summer of 2002 and Freshman Year of College - "New Friends" Chapter), so rest assured there is plenty of music here. However, today's Certain Songs subject, "Anna Begins", would not appear on either of those mixtapes.

No, up until today, "Anna Begins" would have ended up on a mixtape marked "for my ears only". Unlike most of the music in my life, I tried to hold this song close to me because it hit too close to home, and by praising it to others, i would potentially be hinting that it somehow applied to me. Getting off track for a second: This pretty much encapsulates how i give people far too much credit when it comes to connecting the dots (read: my paranoia). Honestly, could you imagine how difficult of a world it would be if everyone was dissecting things as much as i do? I know this comment comes off as pretentious, but trust me I view it as a weakness of mine. Analysis becomes a deficiency when it becomes a conviction. Let's be realistic, is my passing comment expressing my enthusiasm for a single song really going to trigger someone into thinking that i am fighting with something internally? Most likely not. However, maybe you should remember that is how my mind works before telling me you like the song "Rocket Man" (not that there's anything wrong with that). Getting back on track though, this song struck a chord with me because, like most of the songs we fall in love with, it meant something to me (*it means something to me).

Freshman year at school I discovered a double live Counting Crows album that had been out since about 1998. This album, Across A Wire: Live in New York City, consisted of two discs. The first disc was an acoustic show that the band played for VH1 Storytellers which showcased a number of the band's best tracks in a (semi) unplugged format, and the second disc was a full band (fully plugged-in) live show that was recorded for MTV Live at the 10 Spot. I will be honest, I don't think i have ever listened to the second disc all the way through, and this is mainly because disc one is how the Counting Crows should be heard live. I have seen the Crows twice, and while both shows have been quite solid, neither has held up to disc one of Across A Wire. This mainly can be explained by the fact that the strength of their songs does not lie in the band's ability to "rock out", but rather their ability to convey emotion. This, in turn, can primarily be attributed to the unbridled passion of Counting Crows lead singer, Adam Duritz, who makes me look like a stone on his least sentimental days. The stripped down setup of the unplugged format showcases Duritz at his best, letting him rise above the band where he more or less resides anyway. The version of "Anna Begins" that i fell in love with resides on disc one of Across A Wire.

Ironically enough, "Anna Begins" is one of the least "unplugged" songs on disc one, but this is neither here nor there because Duritz had already declared the evening "his" about five minutes into the show when he brings "Round Here" to fervent close atop a single acoustic guitar ("Would you catch me if i was falling? Would you kiss me if i was leaving? Would you hold me because i am lonely, without you?"...those words don't appear on the studio cut...i like to assume - because that's what i do when left to my own devices - the omission was intentional because Duritz knew these saved-up lines would take the song to the next level in the live setting...although he probably just thought of it after the track had already been recorded). Either way, from there on out he owns the whole night, and despite a full band backing him on "Anna Begins", he still manages to rise well above the mix, a beautiful climax to an unforgettable show.

What allows Duritz to get so lost in the music though is that these are his stories (his life), and each night, he is reliving them in front of a crowd of strangers. "Anna Begins" is Duritz's story of two friends (a guy and a girl) that are wrestling with the fact that they are falling for eachother. The male in this story (presumably Duritz) spends pretty much the entire song denying the situation ("I am not worried, I am not overly concerned"), while the female (via Duritz) spends the same amount of time trying to persuade him into surrendering to, or at least acknowledging, what is happening. The narrator's denial at first comes off as cold, but the repetitive nature reveals that he is just trying to convince himself that "this is not love" because "if it's love", as the female character notes, "then we're gonna have to think about the consequences". As the song progresses, we find Duritz starting to let his guard down, but quickly putting the fences back up, and letting us know (multiple times) that he's "not ready for this sort of thing". It becomes clear though that Duritz's denial is really just a mask for his realization of the potential of what is standing before him, and he just doesn't want to fuck it up (risk losing this friendship, this person). Eventually though, Anna begins to change his mind, and he let's himself fall for her. Duritz does an unbelievable job of depicting the reality of this feeling ("Everytime she sneezes, I think it's love" and "She's talking in her sleep, it's keeping me awake...and every word is nonsense, but i understand"), hinting at the little imperfections he has fallen in love with . Unfortunately though (and perhaps something that is often missed by listeners), Duritz missed the boat here. Just as he submits to the feelings he fought for so long, "Anna begins to fade away" and eventually "disappears". As the song comes to a close, Duritz tells us once more that he's "not ready for this sort of thing". At this point though, it clearly is not Anna's love he's not ready for, but rather the loss of her.

I started listening to "Anna Begins" alot during the second half of my freshman year of college, and pretty much beat the hell out of it for a full year after that (and then some). Eventually, things in my life came to a breaking point, and like Mr. Duritz, i chose not to fight the situation any longer. How did it turn out? I think i fared (a little) better than Adam, but in the end i was left with circumstances i wasn't quite ready for as well. I like Duritz's take on the situation though: "... And it's a terrible thing to find out because it's too late, which is what it ended up being at that point and...it's funny she's married now and she's got a kid and she still lives in Sydney. I still talk to her every once in a while, not too much, but whenever I talk to her she says that she still loves this song, and I do too..."

Heavy huh? Yeah, i don't get no sleep, man, i never sleep.



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Certain Songs: Bush - "Glycerine"

For some time I had been considering making a top ten list dedicated to "those songs" that just have always struck a chord with me. It was not necessarily going to be an "end all, be all" list of my favorite songs or anything, but just a list of those songs which will always hit me like a ton of bricks when they come on. The more I tried to compile said list though, the more difficult I realized it would be to do a couple of things: a) Reduce the list down to just a definitive ten songs, b) Capture the emotion/feeling that each of these songs held/holds for me in a small paragraph. Presented with this predicament, I began to think that these songs deserved more than just a little blurb amongst a top ten list which people may or may not read anyhow. As such, I decided to start another "segment" of this blog that I am going to title "Certain Songs". Those hip to the Hold Steady will realize this is a direct "lift" from one of their songs, but the point is so well made by them, that it just makes sense. The theme of the song (and this segment) is best summed up by Craig Finn: "Certain songs they get so scratched into our souls." (sidenote: this is the second time I have actually alluded to this line on the blog). That's what I will be trying to capture with the "certain songs" posts. Just discussing how certain songs have hit me at a particular moment in my life, and how they will be with me for the rest of my life.
What better place to start than the beginning then? Those who know me best, know that I have always been pretty into the whole music thing. It has clearly escalated in recent years, but I have always been "moved" by music in some form or another (I am pretty sure this stems from the fact that I have two of the most emotional parents in the world, who, I have both seen tear up at the playing of particular songs). Anyhow, one of the first songs (that I can remember) having this effect on me is "Glycerine", by Bush. While Gavin Rossdale and company may have fallen off the map since their reign at the top of mid-90's alternative rock scene, the songs that got them atop of that vast heap have stood the test of time, and are still great today (I realize that I probably believe this because these songs have been with me from the beginning, but that's what music is all about, right?).
A little background would be appropriate. Bush's first album, Sixteen Stone, was released in late 1994, a year that was just loaded with great rock albums (Want a not-so-brief list?...Weezer - Weezer (Blue Album), Jeff Buckley - Grace, Oasis - Definitely Maybe, Green Day - Dookie, Soundgarden - Superunknown, Beck - Mellow Gold, Stone Temple Pilots - Purple, Pearl Jam - Vitalogy, Blues Traveler - Four, Live - Throwing Copper, The Offspring - Smash, The Smashing Pumpkins - Pisces Iscariot...). To be honest, I must say I am taken back by that list...are people seeing all of that 1994 greatness? It is like my entire awkward youth all right there in your face. Anyhow, the point is, with all these great albums coming out, Bush was right in the thick of things as one of the best in the crew.
I still remember the first time I heard "Glycerine". It was not until a little over a year after Sixteen Stone was released, so I was about 11 or 12 (5th grade). I saw the video for the song on MTV, and I still remember the first time I heard the somber strings closing out the song, and thinking that they seemed oddly out of place (eventhough now they seem oddly appropriate). The song immediately "clicked" though, and has been with me ever since (talk about loyalty...on a two-way street).
As nothing more than Mr. Stefani himself, an electric guitar and an array of strings flowing underneath the entire song (swelling and receding at exactly the right moments), "Glycerine" has all the makings of a song that I could absolutely beat the hell out of, and still love. It is sparse, with lyrics that are just ambiguous enough that they can apply to any relationship you have (although I must admit, as with most solo songs, "Glycerine" is most appropriate when the relationship is ending or over). By the way, did I mention the strings?
Looking back at the time period in my life in which this song would have received the most heavy rotation, "Glycerine" would have most likely been seranading me to sleep throughout the most awkward years of my life (5th - 10th grade...ouch...five years). In fact, this song was not applicable to any relationships I was having because there were no relationships for the song to apply to. Relationships require two people to be involved at some point, and my life was pretty bereft of that second player in that aforementioned time period. That doesn't mean I couldn't relate to "Glycerine" though. Back then, the song was helping me deal with one of art's favorite topics, unrequited love. While I wasn't in relationships, it doesn't mean that I wasn't feeling heartbreak. As anyone who has ever had a non-reciprocated crush knows, you can feel great agony and never gone on a single date with someone. That's what "Glycerine" was doing for me during those years - helping me through my first encounters with heartbreak. However, anytime (going forward) I have found myself in the role of "unrequited lover", I find myself getting re-acquainted with "Glycerine".
There was a (foolish) time when I would try to argue that "Glycerine" was the name of one of Rossdale's former lovers. In retrospect though, this was downright asinine. First of all, who has a name like Glycerine? Second of all, I am gonna go out on a limb and bet that Rossdale was singing about Glycerine and leaving off the word "Nitro" for songwriting ease. When the song is thought about in this sense, it all becomes a little more clear. I believe that Rossdale is singing about a relationship that grew to be so volatile ("I treated you bad, you bruised my face") that he was afraid to do anything because, like nitroglycerin, if you fuck with it too much, its gonna blow up in your face. In the end, something had to give though ("I needed you more, you wanted us less"), and his idle behavior made no difference because Rossdale's fears came to fruition, and he was left with nothing but sorrow and regret ("Could've been easier on you, I couldn't change, though I wanted to"). The song perfectly frames the role of the one-way lover, who is aware that all is not well, but is too attached to let go, so he just sits there as it all comes crumbling down in front of him.
Like an old friend, "Glycerine" has been around since the beginning. Before girls ever gave me the time of day, and probably before I had even experienced enough to truly appreciate the song. Songs don't discriminate though. They can be whatever each individual makes them out to be, and for that we should be grateful. Looking back though, I am not sure if those "awkward" years ever ended. It seems like everytime you start to get comfortable with who you "think" you are, life throws you a curveball, and it is back to those "awkward" years all over again. Trying to adjust just enough to fit in. Sure, we don't have braces and ill-fitting clothing anymore, but have we really evolved that far from our early teenage selves? It might just be. Clear, simple, and plain.

- Jameson


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