Counting Crows - Mixtape Metaphors

 Author: Frank Germano

Author: Frank Germano

It’s pretty hard to express how amazing it is to get a random email from the management company of one of your favorite bands asking you if you’d be willing to do an exclusive piece of art. There’s a split second when your inner fan-boy basically wakes up and jumps for joy while you take a quick moment to process the opportunity that just landed in your lap! And even though I’ve been lucky enough to call Adam Duritz a friend for a good number of years now, getting a that kind of email from the Counting Crows’ management office was (to put it mildly) a very huge deal. 

Over the years, I’ve worked with Adam on a couple projects, including the production of The Outlaw Roadshow, but this was the first time I had ever been asked to do something for the Counting Crows. And as I said, my inner fan-boy danced a little jig at the chance! And beyond simply doing something for the band (which basically ticked off a bucket list item), I was being asked to create an exclusive piece that would accompany the band’s VIP meet-and-greet packages for their summer tour with Rob Thomas. And basically, how cool is that!

Creating something for the most serious of fans was a charge that I took very seriously, and I really loved the group’s concept behind the piece we were going to create. One of the items that those VIP fans would receive would be a custom CD “mix tape” of songs specially curated by Adam. And as someone who considers himself one of those hard-core, VIP fans, I was 100% “in” from the start. And also, as someone who is definitely old enough to remember spending hours and hours perfecting, crafting and honing hundreds of mix-tapes, I felt I was especially suited to the task. 

From the start, I knew there were two important objectives: to make the artwork feel personal to Adam and to create something that felt authentic. My first goal involved creating something that felt like it had been found in an old, forgotten box in a dark corner of Adam’s attic. It needed to feel like he could have personally created it, drawn the cover, taken the time to dutifully write the track names, and (like I had always done) developed an over-arching theme to the entire tape - in this case, “summer.”

My second goal of authenticity was no less important. I began remembering all of my old tapes (or any mix tape for that matter), and instantaneously I knew I wanted to this piece to capture that spirit. You know, those homegrown, ballpoint, felt marker, hand-written sparks that one instantly feels when randomly encountering an old, forgotten tape in a drawer. Who created it? Why? What was the theme? What did the artwork mean? Those tapes were very special, personal, and creative moments. That was the magic I was trying to capture. Personally, many of my own mix tapes were far more special than a record I bought at the store.

I quickly started doodling - all the while asking myself, “what would Adam consider to be his favorite memories of summers past?” What would he hold dear, and what would those most dedicated fans of he band also identify with? After all, you can’t forget this piece is for the fans - it’s for people exactly like me. It’s for people who you hope will treat it as a special memento from an amazing experience, and I really wanted to make it relevant and personal.

Photo credit: Frank Germano

So where did it end up? After a lot of drawing, a bunch of research, and a bunch of inspiration from my favorite Counting Crows albums (plus a lot of input from my wife Holly, also a huge Counting Crows fan) I settled on a few key images… 

Channeling the vibe from the single "Palisades Park" (and specifically mixing amusement park references from opposite coasts) I decided to include the carousel from the Santa Monica Pier, a couple beautiful palm trees to round out that SoCal free spirit, and add a depiction of a very special car, the Karmann Ghia. If you remember a 2012 interview Adam did with Rolling Stone, then you might remember his recounting of buying a ’69 Karmann Ghia for $3,500 with his first record advance from Geffen. The story was amazing, and always felt so personal. So it seemed completely appropriate to include that, “Shitty, fucking little thing.” (Adam’s words - not mine! Haha.)

I included the Bleecker Street sign as an homage to Greenwich Village. Why? Because if you know the Counting Crows’ music, then you know that places like Greenwich, Washington Square Park and Sullivan Street are reoccurring settings in Adam’s conturing narrative. They’re very special places full of ghosts, memories, and special visions of the past. In a city like New York already full of history and life, Greenwich is an extra special place, and it felt to me like Adam would've agreed that it deserved some extra special recognition.

The keyboard image, also on the back of the CD, happened as part of a funny story - at least to me. Have you ever been slightly bored on a phone call and just started doodling on a nearby piece of paper - an envelope, newspaper, magazine, etc.? In my head, I was wondering what Adam might doodle if he were in the same situation, and where I went seemed to fall somewhere between what a teenager would draw in a notebook, and what would easily be part of Adam’s core DNA. Is it silly? Maybe a little, but it just felt really right.

Beyond the more literal drawings, there are actually a few “hidden” images or personal references included in the design of the fake reel to reel tape box. I’m not going to specifically identify where they are, but I will challenge you to find Adam’s birthday along with the logo to his own personal record label somewhere on the box. They shouldn’t be too hard to find if you’re really looking. There are also a couple other more personal references on there that have to do with yours truly, but I will definitely be keeping those to myself. (It's important to have some secrets after all.)  

Oh! And I almost forgot - the boom box! The radio was included just to remind you, the superfan, the one that’s spent so much time listening to the Counting Crows over the years, loving their music, and having been so loyal that you graciously opted to spend extra time with the band while on tour, that it’s critical to take some time to go outside, turn the music up, and enjoy the summer sunshine. That’s what this mix tape is all about.  

Featured on the Album:
Artist Track Name
K. Phillips Hadrian kphillipsmusic.com
Boom Forest Silverhair boomforest.com
Foreign Fields I foreignfields.net
Canyon Spells Good Reason canyonspells.com
Dave Godowsky Making It Up As I Go canyonspells.com
Skunkmello Ridin' The River skunkmello.com
Jill Andrews My Love is For jillandrews.com
Hollis Brown Sandy hollisbrown.com
Twin Forks Back to you twinforksmusic.com
Golden Bloom Searching for Sunlight goldenbloommusic.com
OldJack Drivin' All Night oldjackmusic.com