re-examining songs from my youth, part 4: "mr. jones", counting crows

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(Read Part 1: The Unforgiven; Part 2: Funky Cold Medina; Part 3: Mr. Wendal)

(Lyrics to "Mr. Jones")

Not Everybody Wants to Pass as Cats

At its core, "Mr. Jones" is a song about ambition. At various places in the song, Adam Duritz proclaims his desire to be:

a) Beautiful
b) A lion
c) Bob Dylan

In comparison, the character of Mr. Jones has almost laughably modest ambitions. His only wish is to be "just a little bit more funky". One assumes that Mr. Jones wants to be a little more funky than he already is, rather than just a little more funky than Duritz, or else his ambitions are totally pathetic. Later, Duritz theorizes that you attain maximum funkiness when everybody loves you. So, we must conclude that either Mr. Jones has abandoned all hope of becoming a "big big star", or Mr. Jones is already extremely funky and the love for him is near-universal.

[Math note: There is a possibility that F(x), where x = funkiness, and y = belovedness, is an exponential, asymptotic function, in which case Mr. Jones has a slightly more logical attitude.]

Colors Are Meaningful, Symbols Are Symbolic

The key section of "Mr. Jones" is the second verse. It can be a challenging passage for the lyrical close reader. For one, Duritz's color symbology is difficult to follow. He announces plans to paint himself blue, red, black, and gray, but in the same breath admits that all of the colors are meaningful. Very very meaningful, in fact. What is that meaning? Duritz says he "felt so symbolic yesterday". Symbolic of what? Perhaps Mr. Jones is privy to this undisclosed system of allusions, colors, and symbols, or maybe it's something you pick up from stumbling through the barrio of North Berkeley.

There is a notable non sequitur here, about how, if Duritz knew Picasso, he would buy himself a gray guitar. I know Adam Duritz means that as a homage, but to me, bringing a gray guitar to go hang out with Picasso seems similar to wearing a band's t-shirt to their own show. It's just not cool to do that. Rejected lyrics for this section included:

"If I knew Matisse, I would buy myself a gray cigar."
"If I knew Ann Geddes, I would buy an aodrable gray animal costume for a baby."
"If I knew Jackson Pollack, I wouldn't have Mr. Jones pass me the bottle. I'd have him hide it so Pollack couldn't get to it."

Some of those lyrics are catchier than others.

Upon reflection, the second verse really reads as if it was written by a non-native English speaker. If I had to write a poem in Spanish, I might produce something similar. The subject matter is very familiar from introductory Spanish classes - Adam Duritz lists his colores favoritos. Even when Duritz wants to really emphasize an adjective, he does what I would do, and merely adds an extra "muy" - the colors are "very, very meaningful". If there was a line about what Duritz ate for lunch, this verse could pretty much have been one of my essays for Ms. Costa's class in 9th grade.

Who Is She Looking At?

She's looking at you? No, no, she's looking at me?

Guys, she's not looking at either of you.

You're Very Well Read. It's Well Known.

Bob Dylan has his own Mr. Jones; he is the addressee in "Ballad of a Thin Man". We know Adam Duritz wants to be Bob Dylan almost as much as he wants to be a lion, which might account for the song's title.

Based solely on "Ballad of a Thin Man", what would Dylan have to say about this song? Would he find poetry in Duritz's struggle to believe, in order to be someone who believes, or would that idea still make no sense? Would Dylan appreciate the color symbology? Or would he realize that, amidst all the lines about "passing as cats" and flamenco dancing, there really is a compelling narrative about self-delusion and rock n' roll dreams, but Duritz sort of misses the thread. Something is happening, but you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Duritz?

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DYLAN: (on phone) You think your Mr. Jones could rival mine? Mine's thin, smart, and possibly gay. You know what that is, Adam? It's hot. H-O-T hot. (pause) Oh yeah, definitely, Brokeback should've won. Wha-- (eyes widen) No, I'M not gay! Mr. Jones is! MR. JOOONES!!!!

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Keane published on March 17, 2006 10:13 PM.

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