Counting Crows: Omaha
Counting Crows is a band that grew out of a music scene in the bay area in California. Omaha is from their first album, 1993’s August and Everything After, so I think it’s safe to say that the band had not traveled much by the time the song was written. Omaha, then, is not a reference to a place, but to an idea of a place. I read an article online that suggested the choice of location for the song was random, but I don’t think that is entirely true. Omaha is, as the song says, “somewhere in Middle America”, and that idea is vital to what the song is about. There are two Midwests in the US: the industrial Midwest, as represented by cities like Chicago and Detroit; and the agricultural Midwest, which is where Omaha fits in. Cities here are smaller, and they grew out of market towns where farmers would bring their grains and livestock for transport to the rest of the country. In Adam Duritz’ mind, places like Omaha are tied to the life cycle of agriculture, from the spring growing season to the fallow time of winter. Rain here is life, because it means a good harvest later. Full disclosure: I too have never lived in the Midwest, so I am responding to my knowledge of the region from afar as I hear it expressed in the song. The song Omaha starts in winter, and tells of a place where life boils down to its most essential elements. Duritz begins with an old man and ends with a young one, telling us that endings are also the origins of fresh starts. The lines about walking on water that close each verse are a brilliant metaphor, at once referencing the importance of Christianity in this part of the country, while at the same time echoing the rain references that are such an important part of the song. Other cities around the country have associations that would have detracted from the essentials of the song, but the agricultural Midwest is where this song needs to be.
Bonus track: I couldn’t resist closing this post with this live version of the song from 2012. Counting Crows have been influenced by the jam bands, in that they allow their songs to change over time. By 2012, Duritz is arguably a better singer that he was early in his career. He has retained his love of making music, and he welcomes the audience in to this performance, even asking their help on the chorus.