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Verse Chorus Verse: Counting Crows – “Washington Square”

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the conversations the songs in my music collection have with one another.  Since adding The Beatles' box set on 09/09/09, just about all my albums have been talking to The Fab Four.  I just spent some time listening to Counting Crows' brilliant Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, in particular a personal favorite, "Washington Square." 

In "Washington Square," the character in the song is trying to unfuck his fucked-up life.  In order to do that, he decides it's time for a change of scenery and leaves his home behind him.  Just that little bit of scene setting made me think of two bits from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  The first is obvious:  "She's Leaving Home."  It's a different kind of leaving home I should hasten to add but I still had the tune jingle through my head.  The other is "man, I was mean but I'm changing my scene and I'm doing the best that I can" from "It's Getting Better."  That fits a bit, I guess.  He's changing his scene and he's doing the best he can to sort himself out, but not really getting anywhere with it.

There's a passage in this song that devastates me every time I listen to it:

And nobody knows me
My friends and my family
Are as far from this city
As Washington Square

The character has realized he's all alone.  If you know a little about the cycle of the whole of Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings, you understand this is a pattern.  He may have changed his scene, but he hasn't changed his ways.  He's going to go through all of this again, just in a different location.  He's cut off from everything he's known.  Whatever connections he may have had, whatever happiness he may have experienced is completely removed from him.  He's not at home nor is he with his friends and family.  He's drifting.  He didn't escape his problems, he's only replaced them and he may not have done that because this pattern will likely repeat.

To the extent a lot of this is autobiographical for Adam Duritz, I confess I haven't lived the same life he has.  That said, there are aspects of this song that make sense to me in on my way.  As a kid, we moved around a few times and I tried moving around a few times as an adult.  Fresh beginnings are bullshit, or at least they were for me.  It's amazing how many of the same friends I've had in different places I've lived.  Sure, they had different names but I found myself in the same spot with the same kinds of people.  Kids can make up their mind about the new kid in a hurry.  It never took more than a day or two for a new school to relegate me to the island of misfit toys.  It may as well have been stamped on my head. 

I tried to convince myself I was happier in one place or another, but now it all seems like a blur.  Some of that is time fucking with my head and the memory eroding.  Some of it is cynicism.  Some of it is realizing that only the names, weather, and accents changed.  I was the same asshole everywhere I've lived and to borrow from Matt Berninger of The National, "I guess that's what assholes get," which is perfect because "Washington Square" ends with this:

In case you should wander
And wanted to find me
I'm traveling homeward
To Washington Square

Is he traveling to his one true home?  In the case of Duritz's telling of the story, maybe.  In my tailoring of the song, screw geography.  It doesn't matter.  It's all Washington Square to me.

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About Josh Hathaway