Painful Progress

Last year, Rolling Stone writer Brian Hiatt described Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz as “fantastically verbose.” Hiatt might have understated this character trait.

Granted, Hiatt pointed out in his glowing piece that he and Duritz chatted one day for five straight hours — until the reporter’s digital recorder ran out of juice.

But truly, to interview Duritz — performing today at Red Rock Resort — isn’t a process of questioning him. It’s an experience of listening and listening to him.

This makes him a journalist’s dream. He doesn’t hold back. And he’s got an intense story to tell.

Duritz, 44, has been diagnosed with a dissociative disorder. During his entire adult life, nothing about his real life has seemed real for long stretches of time. At times, life has seemed like an acid trip or flashback. In years past, he responded by becoming reclusive, trapping himself in dangerous thoughts of isolation and unreality.

“The world just stops being real,” he explains. “You lose enough touch with reality, you can’t function.

“You ever wonder why Brian Wilson spent all those years in bed gaining weight and growing a beard? I used to be 250 pounds. I’m 200, 195 — something like that now. I was in bed with a beard for a while. There’s a reason for it. There’s nothing to involve you in the world, so you leave it. You leave it behind.”

Now he’s on medication and doing a better job of approaching his illness, although touring exacerbates the symptoms. Feel free to take in Duritz’s own words, since there are so many of them:

“I have a mental illness. I have a serious social disorder. And it makes the world seem unreal. And, really, the best possible thing for that is familiarity — so home, family, friends, those are things that really ground you, because you become untethered.

“Last night was my 173rd night this year I’ve spent in a bed that isn’t mine, as opposed to 19 at home.

“A gig is an utterly evolving, amazing thing to do. But that’s a few hours out of a 24-hour day. And the rest of your time is time not spent with your family, not seeing your nephews grow up, not seeing your friends and their children grow up, not having relationships or children of your own.

“I’m never going to spiral down like I did again. I’m never going to be in danger, probably, of something serious happening to me. Because I’ve come a long way from that.

“But I can still get hit with all the symptoms like I got hit with before, which are no fun at all.

“I can still spend my entire summer living through the symptoms.

“It’s already starting to come up — weird memory gaps, and a sense of real isolation and real weirdness and less of an attachment to reality than I had a while ago.

“It’s just not going to drive me insane and send me off to some institution, anymore. I’m in control of it.

“There’s a difference between suffering and being doomed. I think six years ago, I was in a lot of trouble. And right now, it’s not like that. It’s just something that hurts.

“I broke my finger the other day: 50 degrees out to the right. My left pinky.”

It was during basketball.

“I was running past a guy for a rebound … and my finger just clipped his shoulder and snapped.

“It really, really, really hurt. But with a mental illness, you learn to separate things that are scary, and things that cause you to panic and cause doom.”

Question: Do symptoms of seeing life as false occur onstage? I mean, does the audience, or the experience of performing, not seem real?

“I’m so gone in the music onstage, I don’t even remember the shows afterward. But no that’s not where it happens. The stage is different. It’s more the afterwards and before, when you’re in a hotel room by yourself.

“I’ve always been writing (lyrics) about my inability to connect with people. I just never came out and said what it was before, so I caught a lot of flak for: ‘Why should we care about him whining?’ “

His band’s newest, well-reviewed album, “Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings,” chronicles his “painful disintegration,” he says.

” ‘Sunday Mornings’ is about failure. It’s about an attempt to get your life back together and to fail at it, which is what you do at first. You (mess) your life up as badly as I did — turning it around is a difficult process.”

Sometimes, Duritz fantasizes that he could have quit his band and stayed in some tour city and started a new life, found a wife, had some kids. But that’s not reality, is it? And he’s trying to keep hold of reality.

He doesn’t think life did this to him. He believes, in terms of how symptoms used to ruin his life, he had done this to himself. But no more.

“This is the life you’ve got. So whether it’s a combination of the cards your dealt or whatever it is, it’s still your life, and you have to deal with it, which is why I got out of bed. Because I made a decision I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to go crazy.”

Contact Doug Elfman at 702-383-0391 or e-mail him at He also blogs at

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