The other day the brand new Counting Crows album arrived in my mailbox. You think having U2’s latest nonsense appear on your phone is a big deal, huh? I still get the occasional letter bomb! So I’m unwrapping this particular letter bomb, and as soon as I see the words ‘Counting’ and then ‘Crows’ I have a flashback. Like an acid flashback. You see I was taken back to the one and only time I bought a Counting Crows album.
Earlier that day I had taken acid.
And the night hadn’t gone as planned.
There we were just dancing around in the kitchen, listening to Moby, stirring together leftover spirits and cocktail ingredients in a saucepan on the stove. The element wasn’t on – but we needed some way of mixing together all the bits and pieces of chartreuse and schnapps and midori and brandy and whatever else. The bar we’d been hanging out in had closed, shut down, we’d been good customers. They gave us the last of their stocks in exchange for – I don’t quite know what? But possibly we helped dismantle the place – I mean after trading hours were over. Anyway, keen for the party to continue the flat now hosted whoever was left from that crew of regular bar-goers. It started off as a wake – a chance to mourn the loss of a favourite drinking hole. It ended up with no chance of ever being not awake. A very deep dark hole. And Adam Fuckin Duritz singing, “it gets harder every time/She is leaving here tonight/Take a breath, take your time/Spread your wings and rise”.
This girl was crazy – right. Like fucking batshit party-girl. But after too much Moby and not enough acid or probably too much acid and not enough Moby she was convinced we needed to go to the hospital. She was dying. We had just enough money for a taxi there. It was pouring with rain. We got there and were given a clipboard. Half way through filling in the page she threw the pen in the air and leaped over the chair, cowering behind it, yelling “make it stop!” I picked up the pen and decided I would be the straight man, the guy that could fill this all in and work this all out. I carried on with the admission-sheet, noticing right away that all that had been filled in was a circle-swirl of scribble across any and all of the questions and instructions.
I asked for a fresh sheet.
A second toss of the pen when she was asked to try again. And this time I remember seeing her eyes flash as I stumbled to keep it all together and be on top of things. She really was nuts. This was a game. But we were there. At the hospital. And it raged in my mind that the cops would come if we admitted to being not unwell and to not requiring the hospital’s brand of help. The hours seemed interminable, but she faked her way through several tests and moaned with pain when prodded – then winked at me when the doctor would turn his back. Or did she? I had no fucking idea. She switched beds and rooms and complained about this and that. Treatment, lack of treatment. And I could still hear Moby going, “here we are now going to the east side/I pick up friends and we start to ride/right all night, we ride all day/some may come and some may stay” even though the hospital wasn’t playing Moby. Only my head was.
She told me she needed cigarettes. And I was sure that I did too. So I ran from the hospital out into the rain at 5am or 6am or something like that. It was bucketing. And I ran, soaked, to the basin, to a service station. I bought a pack of Strikes. Tried to light one in the rain. It turned to mulch. And I threw it in the bin. And scratched together the last of my coins to get a taxi back to the hospital – all of 500 yards I suppose – because Moby had been switched off temporarily. And all that was transmitting now was, she’s dying! She’s dying! So I convinced the cab driver to take me to the hospital entrance – gave him $3 – and then stumble-ambled to find her. She had bludged a smoke from anyone else and I was panting and soaked. And stupid. But my tears were just laughter.
After telling me she had cancer, the doctors in the A&E had determined that with no blood tests, no serious examinations, only ever just managing to put up with her shit, we walked free from the hospital as the rain stopped and a bit of sun started to show.
“I need Counting Crows! I need Counting Crows!” I was sure that’s what she said. So I bought the new album of the time. This Desert Life. And turned up later that day with it as a gift. For her ordeal.
I bought a copy for myself – people had been saying it was different, a vast improvement. Their best. Something new. I spent a few weeks listening to it – trying to see influences from The Byrds and The Band and the things I obviously wanted to hear.
It turns out she had actually been asking for Clean Clothes – not Counting Crows.
I gave my copy of the album to anyone else.
And when I had returned to my room that night – or the next day, as it was – there was a pot of green booze-slurry lurking on the stove. And Moby was still playing in my room.
“I’m gonna find my baby before that sun goes down…”
Postscript: The new Counting Crows album, the latest “letter bomb”, is being hailed by critics as the band’s best collection since its debut. (Hardly a compliment). Adam Durtiz speaks of his mental illness and refers to it as being nightmarish and terrifying, like “you just woke up from an acid flashback”.