The Anthropology of Adam Duritz
Reading Time: 13 minutes

Adam Duritz, a songwriter from San Fransisco, suddenly entered the public scene early in the 1990’s, having rangarted a band named Counting Crows.1 After publishing their first album, August and Everything After, Duritz’s alternative, folk-rock band rose from the ashes of previous popular music (at least in North America during the 1980’s) and gathered a large following of listeners.

Though musical tastes change from generation to generation, Duritz’s lyrics offer and interesting window into a Jewish-American’s perspective on life and the state of humanity in fairly-modern times. Of course, like anything else, the band’s success was fairly-short lived in the grand scheme of time; but, they have continued publishing songs even to this day.

So, this text will consider a collection of about seventy songs published from 1990 to 2010 in hopes of tracing out Adam’s anthropology, as a singer-songwriter. What will not be accomplished is a deep analysis of every, single song; but, this paper wishes to survey Duritz’s understanding of the human condition.

While anyone’s point-of-view retracts or expands or over time, as the sands of time blow through the winds of change, certain consistent themes often emerge when one sifts and filters the corpus of a writer’s work. And, these works lean towards two tendencies, the first being an inward introspection of ‘adam’ , one’s own self, and the second a use of short fictional stories to summarize, or parabolize, intricate concepts.

With careful attention to the cited song-titles, one notices that personal names are quite important to Duritz, who has a unique affinity for-misfit characters with strange names and connections — those on the edges, in the basement, out among the bario, standing on their front lawns, in the bars, or sitting on the street-corners. But, it is actually in Duritz’s evaluation of oneself that we see the deepest made connections to life, truth, love, and meaning. Duritz’s anthropology can be best described by starting with his theology, summarized in an obscure song, called ‘When I Dream of Michelangelo’.[1]

In order to describe romantic relations between he and a significant woman, Duritz imagines the scene in the Sistine Chapel, where God reaches out and nearly touches the human’s hand (‘Adam’ – pictured in the endnotes). And, even though every songwriter has their share of literary tricks, alliteration, rhyme, assonance, consonance, this is a sort of typological trick – remember, Duritz’s own first name is ‘Adam.’  So he puts himself in the shoes of the ‘man’, Adam, on the ceiling.

The song utilizes a kind of intertextuality which provokes the reader, if they are aware, to picture among the cluster of paintings along the chapel, and isolate this prominent one.[2] Duritz actually here intimately links himself to ‘Adam’ in the picture, the biblical Adam, reaching out towards God and phrases the portrait in the following words, ‘[God] He seems so close, as he reaches out his hand; but, we’re never quite as close, as we’re led to understand’.

You see, Duritz’s foundational worldview does not start off with a God who is close, nor intimately near, but a God who is far — a God who may or may not have made the world, but if out there barely participates in it, reaching his hand down to meddle in society from time to time.[3] If God is out there, he certainly is not near, probably personally does not care, and is nothing like a Triune God, overflowing with love for the world. God is viewed possibly as a power, but certainly not ‘love’.

If God exists, or what the eternal fate/state is, the truth is ‘Adam’ ‘does not really want to know’, repeating that phrase close to a dozen times at the end of one particular song.[4] Though, Duritz uses Jesus as an example from time to time (mostly as an demonstration of immense suffering), and desiring to believe in something, Duritz clearly does not accept the Christian claim of redemption, nor the intimate presence of God.[5] Particularly, this is a fairly faithless depiction of the world, the ultimate outworking of a worldview disconnected and untethered from God, even if never denying His existence.[6]

In light of this conception of God, and in view of himself, ‘Adam’ sees the self as faint and afraid, ‘impotent, insignificant, invisible’ in our textbook’s terms.[7] Interestingly, despite the denial of a God who is near, and the fact Duritz claims to want a ‘white-bread life, something ignorant and plain’ (essentially, not to know if God is near or far at all), the Sistine Chapel, embedded with a powerful image, nonetheless seems to affect his heart — as something so radically cultured, colored, and strange.

Yet, in light of this display, Duritz then hides himself from God by asserting God himself is hidden! If we were to use the typological model discussed in this class: foreigner, faint, fugitive, fighter, flattened, Duritz feels a foreigner in that the universe seems arbitrary, devoid of meaning, yet still partially wants to appeal and hear from God.[8] The irony is, of course, ‘Adam’ hides himself.

Two songs particularly speak to this feeling;[9] for, the silence of God remains the prominent foundation for Duritz’s theology, tethered to an anthropology which naturally follows — a hurting, suffering, ever-changing view of humanity, tossed by the winds of our own freedoms.[10] Yet, despite this, the songwriter sees the self first as ‘innocent’ and somehow the autonomous self feels to ‘deserve more’.[11] To Duritz, people are clearly different, ‘always changing’, (slowly or suddenly) often not what they seem, and linked to the human condition by their weakness, rather than their strengths.[12]

Unfortunately, they do not always do what they intend for better or worse, whose fates are fairly unpredictable — even to their own mind and heart. And because of this, the heart is considered and described as unreliable, desiring to be someone else and one that cannot please itself. ‘Adam’ can hardly trust anyone, or anything, maybe worst of all his own self. So, in this way the songwriter also shows to be also the fugitive, self-admittedly.

Even if able to ‘give all my love’ to the object of his most affection, Duritz knows and says he could not ‘justify himself’ — oddly, precise legal-language that has been used much in the Reformed-Christian tradition.[13] Duritz can only slow, not stop, the guilt and pain ‘Adam’ day-to-day feels, a clear discontent with one’s own self and life,[14] the “gap of discontent between who I am and who I want to be,”[15] — passions which are conflated, and changing, and difficult to discern.

Knowing one’s innate, natural, own lust, Duritz extends that to all human beings, saying, ‘Hey, I only want the same as anyone.’,[16] particularly, as a critic of cravings for fame.[17] Eventually, Duritz extends these images first used of himself, using fictional characters to describe a world where all human-beings are ultimately weak, and knows their most intimate sins firsthand.[18] Consider the song, ‘St. Robinson and his Cadillac Dream’, where a ‘Saint’ has a dream that involve luxury cars — and such is the irony. People are described as those who typically hide their true selves and intentions from the world; and all remain hypocrites.[19]

These illicit passions put our author or the characters in various scenarios which create tension and desperation. During live performances, Duritz often universalizes the language of these characters (rather than, “she must be tired of something”, the words will be rendered, “everybody’s tired of something”), demonstrating that these people are not isolated instances, but transcend humanity as a whole.[20]

And, Duritz does not seem to view ordinary, middle-class folk as much better off than the poor or the elite. In contrast, ‘Adam’ sings of rural, American people who, if able to ‘walk on water…[would] just walk all over me’.[21] This shows although much of the songwriter’s criticisms are pointed inward at the human heart, nonetheless, some social anthropology is done by Duritz about the world at large. Though the songwriter does not often ‘shake his fist’ directly, but occasionally this bleeds through the framework of these stories.

As mentioned before, Duritz’s songs are filled with personal names, and stories of obscure characters often on the edge of society. The names themselves demonstrate an affinity for the poor and ordinary. It is these people that teach us what it means to be human — the hopeless, downcast, downtrodden, (the flattened), rather than the social elites. Through one of the more famous songs, our author best describes the ambiguity and collapse of moral values of our age,[22] but also goes as far to conflate the human project of technological advancement as a nursery rhyme (of Humpty-Dumpty, singing that the worst is within the world, not outside it).[23] However, the most exemplified virtue in any song, seems to be ‘kindness’.[24]

Stringing these words together like pearls on a thread, we can trace the boundaries of Duritz’s anthropology — and ‘Adam’ certainly understands the world is broken, yet his theology does not remedy it, anthropology still points to human frailty, and there is little hope of redemption for the human condition. Pain can only be alleviated rather than resolved at our current socio-historical moment, and no hints within Duritz’s work expect ultimate redemption.

So, in summary, within the corpus of the Counting Crows catalogue there can be found a certain foolish wisdom to Duritz’s songs and stories: the genre varies from song to song, the author likes to borrow from nursery rhymes, and the lyrics often speak of protagonists (including himself) exemplified by their weaknesses (not their strengths). Ultimately, all five points of contact between our typological model (provided by Virginia Holeman) and Duritz’s songs can be made quite clearly. While the window of the human condition is a tinted and tainted one, many of Duritz’s comments on the human condition are still pertinent — especially the creative anthropology of ‘Adam’ who typologically connected to the ‘Adam’ of the Sistine Chapel.[25]


[1] Counting Crows, “When I Dream of Michelangelo” track 9 on Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, Geffen. CD.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Essentially, Duritz sees the way we speak about God’s relation to man as a lie; in essence, and ‘Adam’ thinks ‘we are farther away than the scene depicts’. In the same way this woman is not ‘his friend’, God is not ‘his friend’. Considering for a moment a different biblical character, Abraham, a ‘friend of God’ (Gen 12-25), and those who pattern their lives after Abraham’s ‘friendship with God’ (Isa. 41:8), are being led by a misunderstanding of God’s relationship of the world, though Duritz leaves ambiguous the question of God’s actual existence. If he exists, God certainly is not close; his conception of a god is neither intimate, nor personal. God may be out there, but if he is he must be far, far, away, never meddling closely in human society.

[4] Ibid. “Amy Hit the Atmosphere,” recorded 1999, track 3 on This Desert Life, Geffen. CD. “All I really know is I wanna know. And all I really know is I don’t wanna know…”

[5] Ibid. “Mr. Jones” recorded 1993, track 3 on August and Everything After, T-Bone Burnett. CD. In one sober, later rendition of Mr. Jones, Duritz says ‘I want to be someone who believes; you should not believe in me’ — self-ascribing unreliability and untrustworthiness, the original lyrics reading ‘Believe in me, because I don’t believe in anything, and I want to be someone to [who] believes.’ The song is an ironic and sarcastic treatment of everyone’s desire to be successful and famous, to alleviate our own loneliness. He says to himself ‘he will never be lonely’ if he is famous, and everyone knows better, yet we seem to say that to ourselves anyways.

[6] Ibid. “Rain King” recorded 1993, track 7 on August and Everything After, T-Bone Burnett. CD. In one song, “faith and sex and God” are thrown together in one sequence (exactly as the quotation is printed) and often conflated. This is a faithless world, where ‘Adam’ wants to believe, but seems to demonstrate Duritz does not.

[7] Holeman, Virginia Todd. Theology for Better Counseling: Trinitarian Reflections for Healing and Formation. 2012. 54.

[8] Ibid. 53.

[9] Ibid. “When I Dream of Michaelangelo” track 9 on Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, Geffen. CD. “And He seems so close as he reaches out his hand, but we’re never quite as close as we’re led to understand.”

[10] Ibid. “Angels of the Silences”, track 2 on Recovering the Satellites, Geffen. CD. “Where’d you come from? Where am I going? Why’d you leave me ’till I’m only good for… Waiting for you. All my sins…I said that I would pay for them if I could come back to you. All my innocence is wasted on the dead and dreaming…Did you come? Would you lie? Why’d you leave us ’till we’re only good for waiting for you…”

[11] Ibid. “Rain King.”

[12] Ibid. “Anna Begins” recorded 1993, track 5 on August and Everything After, T-Bone Burnett. CD,

[13] Ibid. “If I Could Give All My Love (Richard Manuel is Dead)” recorded 2002, track 4 on Hard Candy, Geffen. CD. Existential thoughts sometimes overwhelm him, as it often does when others die.

[14] Also, Counting Crows, “Hanginaround” recorded 1999, track 1 on This Desert Life, Geffen. CD. Even the fictional characters are painted and polished in ways that demonstrate discontent. Duritz says of himself, though, “I got all this time to be waiting, for what is mine, to be hating what I am after the light has faded.”

[15] Theology for Better Counseling: Trinitarian Reflections for Healing and… pg. 54

[16] Ibid. “Rain King”.

[17] Ibid. “Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby” recorded 1999, track 2 on This Desert Life, Geffen. CD. “Well, I am an idiot walking a tightrope of fortune and fame, I am an acrobat swinging trapezes through circles of flame.”

[18] Ibid. “Mr. Jones”.

[19] Ibid. “St. Robinson and His Cadillac Dream” recorded 1999, track 10 on This Desert Life, Geffen. CD.

[20] The Howard Stern Show. Sirius XM Radio, March 2008.

[21] Counting Crows, “Omaha” track 2 on August and Everything After, T-Bone Burnett. CD. This is a scene set ‘somewhere in middle America’, showing that they feel even in the heartland of American society, where often core, heartfelt values are most preserved, the strong take advantage of the weak, and no one acts like ‘Jesus’. Duritz’s advice to the world, society, in neighborly love is to ‘get right to the heart of matter, ‘cause its the heart that matters more’.

[22] Ibid. “Round Here” track 1 on August and Everything After, T-Bone Burnett. CD. ‘[I] step out the front door like a ghost into the fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white; and, in-between the moon and you, the angels get a better view of the crumbling difference between wrong and right.”

[23] Ibid., “Einstein on a Beach (For An Eggman)” recorded 1994, track 9 on DGC Rarities Volume 1, T-Bone Burnett. CD.

[24] Ibid. “Anna Begins.” Possibly not the first virtue people would think of when thinking of the remedy for the human condition, ’Kindness’ is a soothing influence even in the midst of intense heartbreak,. It has loud affect, and ‘bangs a gong’ and ‘falls like rain’.

[25] “The Creation of Adam.” Digital image. Encyclopedia Brittanica. Accessed January 26, 2018.


  1. This was written for my Theology of the Human Person class at Tyndale as an example of Trinitarian reflection on a cultural object.
News Reporter
From Madison, Wisconsin. B.A. Biblical Studies: Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. M.Div. Student at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, Ontario.

1 thought on “The Anthropology of Adam Duritz

  1. Interesting conclusion Ryan. As humans we think we approach God when He has already approached us through His word and His son. God bless you my friend.

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