Behind The Song Lyrics: “Omaha,” Counting Crows

Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz is eloquent. Especially when talking about his songwriting and nuanced singing ability, for which he’s earned great accolades and acknowledgment.

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Talking to Under the Radar several months back, the frontman said: “I think I realized at some point that I had a nice voice but that wasn’t the same thing as singing. Being a good singer was a craft and I think I felt unable to really properly express the emotions of the songs. So, I wanted to push myself and be able to do more that way.

“I remember doing some recording sessions for Immer [David Immerglück], who is our guitar player now. But he was just a friend of mine then; he was producing some stuff and I remember getting really, really pushed in some sessions for him to sing stuff that was difficult for me. And realizing that there were a lot of textures and dynamics in a voice that I wasn’t really using and pushing myself to kind of become aware of that and learn to be a singer, as opposed to just a voice.”

Duritz continued: “I just remember realizing that it was possible to sing much, much better than I was and that I was just singing melodies but there’s all this emotion and things that could be in there too. And I remember thinking how limited I was and how, you know, much I needed to get better and then really trying to do that. Really—I mean, I’m very, very, very, very self-critical, which I think is good.

“That’s how you get good at things, you demand a lot. And I think I do that in my writing, I do that in my singing. I’m trying to push everything through a very, very critical lens. And I think that helps after a while. Taxing? I guess it is. But, I mean, this isn’t supposed to be easy! Making art of any kind at a high level, there’s a thing that separates people who have hobbies from people who do it, who really do it. It’s the work.”

Duritz has certainly worked hard throughout his career. His band, which started in the early ‘90s in the Bay Area, went on to earn great success with their 1993 album, August and Everything After, which was produced by T Bone Burnett and featured hits like “Mr. Jones,” “Anna Begins,” “Rain King” and “Omaha.” The album peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200.

But “Omaha” is the subject of our consideration here today. Of the hit song, the now-57-year-old Duritz says that the subject matter is timeless but especially so in a spacial-sense.

He explains: “Certainly something like ‘Omaha’ is about more transcontinental. And, I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling. I do think that my writing has a sense of the whole of a—especially of a continent as large as America. That’s a big part of my writing.”

Whereas he notes, a song like the band’s hit, “Round Here,” is more rooted in a single location. “In ‘Round Here,’ specifically, there’s the line, ‘She walks along the edge of where the ocean meets the land,’ which is coastal,” he says. “I mean, it takes place in the Bay Area for the most part. But [the songs] do have larger world connections, too.”

For “Omaha,” specifically, Duritz and his band present a melancholy tone, which does feel ubiquitous. His signature poetic, stream-of-conscious lyrics take you immediately and have you ponder the human condition—your own, especially. Duritz sings:

Start tearin’ the old man down
Run past the heather and down to the old road
Start turnin’ the grain into the ground
Roll a new leaf over

In the middle of the night
There’s an old man shreddin’ around in the gatherin’ rain
Hey mister, if you’re gonna walk on water
Oh, could you drop a line my way?

Omaha, somewhere in middle America
If you’re right to the heart of matters
It’s the heart that matters more
I think you better turn your ticket in
And get your money back at the door
Oh yeah

As with many of the band’s early hits, there is a lamenting quality to the music and to the lyricism. But coupled with those is a sense of passion, a lust for life, a curiosity that pushes the proverbial singer’s sails forward. Duritz sings:

Start threadin’ a needle
Brush past the shuttle that slides through the cold room
Start turnin’ the wool across the wire
Roll a new life over

In the middle of the night
There’s an old man threadin’ his toes through a bucket of rain

Hey mister, you don’t want to walk on water
‘Cause you’re only gonna to walk all over me

Music, Duritz says, has “been the center of my life since I was a child. It was my comfort and my joy. It was what I turned to for everything from the time I was very young, I’ve been obsessed. I’m geekily obsessed with music. And then weirdly enough at a certain point in my life, I started making it.”

No matter the song, narrative, life event, success, or heartbreak—or even location—Duritz says there’s always something to rely on in the world when it comes to music and his songwriting.

“Music is the one constant,” he said. “It’s always there, there’s always a gig the next night. There’s always that thrill.”

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