A long December and there’s reason to believe / Maybe this year will be better than the last
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee but more readily known as “Music City,” not just for all the celebrated music that has come out of it, nor simply for Music Row – home to a plethora of famed record label offices, radio stations and recording studios, or even for the presence of world-renowned music venues such as The Grand Ole Opry, the historic Ryman Auditorium, or even the Country Music Hall of Fame. No, Nashville, to my way of thinking, is also “Music City” because it seems like just about every other person you come across there is, was, or is trying to be a musician. On my own last trip there, a long weekend a couple summers ago with my wife and our friends Zing and Maryellen, I found one such music man in what I’d consider to be a particularly odd place.
We were down there for – what else – a concert, though not necessarily a Nashville-styled choice, but a big show at the Bridgestone Arena featuring some old-time favorites of all of ours: James Taylor headlining, supported by Bonnie Raitt, and with special guest star Delbert McClinton. When we first arrived at our hotel, a spiffy new Kimpton, an amiable concierge named Steve asked what we were in town for, and once we’d mentioned our anchor event we struck up a little conversation on music. Passing through the lobby again a short time later we encountered Steve once more, the topic turning anew to music, and this time ending in us taking guidance on a couple out-of-the-way clubs where we might catch some good, local tunes. I wound up chatting with Steve a few other instances throughout the course of our stay, each time unsurprisingly arriving on our obvious shared avocational interest, until Sunday morning when he was assisting us in front of the hotel as we were preparing to head off to the airport. The cab all loaded up, he turned to me, very low-key, and casually inquired, “Do you happen to like the band Counting Crows?” “Well, sure,” I replied, “I probably haven’t listened to them in a long time, but I was a big fan when they came out in the early ‘90’s, especially that amazing first album.” “When you get home,” Steve suggested almost sheepishly, “maybe check out the liner notes on that one. You might be surprised who’s on it.”
Instead, I googled it on my phone, and as we pulled away found that our music-friendly Kimpton concierge Steve was actually Steve Bowman, drummer on that incredible, instant-classic 1993 debut album, August and Everything After. He played on the song ‘Round Here,’ I thought to myself, on ‘Omaha,’ on ‘Rain King.’ “Holy shit,” I exclaimed out loud, “That freaking guy played on ‘Mr. Jones’!” It was none other than Steve the concierge who had come in after the first two verses with those two magical snare hits and a quick kick-drum tap/cymbal crash that propelled one of my favorite tunes ever into its irrevocable motion. Sha-la-la-la-la-la-la, yeah…My man Steve! It turns out that following the multi-platinum success of that jangly, alt-rock sensation, a lengthy concert tour opening for the Rolling Stones, and Counting Crows landing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, Bowman amicably parted with the band, going on to play in several others (one being Third Eye Blind), before settling in as an in-demand session player in Nashville – where he became known as The Skin Doctor1 – running drum clinics and releasing a book on drumming entitled “Groove Control.” He just pleasantly chats up musically-inclined hotel guests in his spare time.
So, about Counting Crows, who I’d deem quite an underappreciated band which, in addition to that exceptional debut, has gone on to produce numerous other outstanding records in a now-lengthy career, all the while led by a guy, Adam Duritz, with arguably the worst hairdo in the history of popular music. And, let’s also tie things to the present with an absolutely bewitching song, the timely closer off their second studio album, entitled ‘A Long December.’ Besides a piano in the woods and the band rocking-out in front of a strip mall, the accompanying video features a longing, despondent, thoroughly tormented Courtney Cox, who Duritz began dating in real life shortly after its filming, already having been previously linked to Jennifer Aniston. Are you kidding me?! Monica and Rachel both, with that fakakta, Sideshow Bob, Komondor2-looking head of hair?? Well, malformed matted locks notwithstanding, Duritz is a masterly and remarkably evocative vocalist, here duly bringing forth the anguish that, chances are, many of us have unguardedly felt through our own long Decembers, coming as it does at the close of an eternal year. But concurrently he emanates a sense of change, even hope, perhaps in the face of amassed contrary evidence – as Duritz sings in the third verse, “The feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters, but no pearls” – that better days do lie in front of us. “It’s a song about looking back on your life,” Duritz said, no doubt lamenting having somehow missed out on Lisa Kudrow, “and seeing changes happening. And for once, for me, looking forward and thinking, ya know, things are gonna change for the better – ‘maybe this year will be better than the last.’ And so, like a lot of songs at the end of an album, it’s not about everything turning out great, but it at least is about hope…and the possibilities.”
My friends, here’s to that hope and those possibilities: of traveling, once again, to melodious places like Music City; of chance meetings with famous rock drummers engaged as hotel staff; of dating gorgeous TV actresses ridiculously out of our league;3 and quite simply, that this year will, in fact, be better than the last. Here’s to us shucking the communal oyster of 2021 and finding a shimmering pearl.
1Hitting “the skins,” of course, being a familiar expression for drumming, despite what I found in Urban Dictionary.
3For you single readers, naturally