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
Boom Forest Silverhair
Foreign Fields I
Canyon Spells Good Reason
Dave Godowsky Making It Up As I Go
Skunkmello Ridin' The River
Jill Andrews My Love is For
Hollis Brown Sandy
Twin Forks Back to you
Golden Bloom Searching for Sunlight
OldJack Drivin' All Night

Taylorgate: A History

It was the mic grab heard 'round the world in 2009 when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift's speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. The backlash against Kanye was immediate and Taylor's golden girl status was solidified. 

A year later, Kanye apologizes via Twitter and Taylor releases a song about the ordeal, "Innocent," and performs it at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. Although they don't exactly hug it out, it may be a step in the right direction. 

The two seemingly have an amicable exchange at the Costume Institute Gala in 2011 and everyone takes a sigh of relief. Beef squashed?

The feud (or lack thereof) becomes major headlines again six years later at the 2015 VMAs, where Taylor presents Kanye with the prestigious Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. 

Then Kanye sends Taylor a beautiful bouquet of flowers, which she posts on social media and fans rejoice. It's official: We no longer have to choose between #TeamTaylor and #TeamKanye.

Just when we thought things were going well...2016 happens and that all goes up in flames. Four days before the Grammys, Kanye releases his new song "Famous," which has the following lyrics: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous/Goddamn, I made that bitch famous." 

Mouths drop everywhere. Kanye claims he got Taylor's permission, so NBD. He lights up Twitter with his version of the story, which her reps promptly deny, claiming, "Kanye did not call for approval, but to ask Taylor to release his single 'Famous' on her Twitter account. She declined and cautioned him about releasing a song with such a strong misogynistic message. Taylor was never made aware of the actual lyric, 'I made that bitch famous.'" 

Taylor wins Album of the Year at the Grammys four days later and gives a speech that might as well have began with, "Dear Kanye...." 

The world implodes again. The feud is back....bigger than ever.

On Feb. 17, a leaked recording of Kanye having a meltdown on SNL gets out, where he calls Taylor a "fake ass."

Kanye tweets on Feb. 23: 

Kanye releases the music video for "Famous," which uncomfortably displays a Taylor Swift lookalike naked in a bed next to Kanye, amongst other naked celebrities all in the name of art. Taylor remains mum.

Kanye's wife, Kim Kardashian, jumped into the ring with an interview for GQ where she backed up Kanye's side of the story, even claiming there was video proof to back it up. 

Fast forward to last night....when Kim released said footage through her Snapchat in a moment that may have been bigger than the original feud itself. 

Naturally, the internet exploded accordingly. On Twitter, the trending topic #KimExposedTaylorParty quickly took over. But did Kim actually expose Taylor? Did we find out any new information? 

In a move that was unlike Taylor, she promptly took to social media to respond:

And if you really dissect her rep's statements against Kanye's original claims, the video evidence isn't quite as damning as initially thought. 

There are a few pieces worth considering. Kanye's original tweets claimed specifically that Taylor heard the lyric referring to her as a "bitch," and she approved, even thinking it was funny and giving her blessings. 

In the Snapchat videos, she does think the lyric is funny....except it's the lyric about "me and Taylor might still have sex," not the one he originally claimed they spoke about. So....Taylor didn't lie about that part. 

Her rep has said from the beginning there was indeed a phone call but Taylor did not approve that particular lyric, and the video actually backs up that claim rather than refute it. 

Did she warn Kanye of the misogynistic content of the song, as originally claimed by her rep? If she does, we don't see it in these choppy edits of the conversation, so the jury's still out on that.

So, back to the now age-old question....#TeamTaylor or #TeamKanye? Let us know in the comments!