A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

In the Counting Crows song, is "Mr. Jones" the singer's penis?

June 12, 2001

Dear Straight Dope:

Hey! Oh man, oh man where do I start to begin?? I heard that in the song "Mr. Jones and Me" by Counting Crows, he was referring Mr. Jones as his penis. I have read the lyrics and it does fit in, but I was just wondering if it was true. Anyway I got tons of more questions but I got to go now. Will you please respond because these questions are eating away at my brain.

You start to begin right before you stop to end, Benny. But let's stick with Counting Crows, shall we?

Counting Crows is not the name of an individual but a group. The songwriter, lead vocalist and pianist for the group is Adam Duritz. Born in Baltimore in 1964 and influenced by his father's eclectic record collection, Duritz began writing songs while in high school in Oakland, CA. He dropped out of UC Berkeley just two credits short of his bachelor's in English to travel and write songs. When he was introduced by musician Dave Immergluck to guitarist Dave Bryson, a veteran of a San Francisco band called Mr. Dog, Counting Crows was born (the name, by the way, comes from an old English divination rhyme). Guitarist Dan Vickery, bassist Matt Malley, drummer Ben Mize, and organist Charlie Gillingham fill out the rest of the seven-member band.

With the help of T-Bone Burnett, Counting Crows debuted their first album "August & Everything After" in October, 1993, which featured the song "Mr. Jones." Here some of the lyrics (complete lyrics available at www.countingcrows .com/discography/aea/lyrics/mrjones.html:

I was down at the New Amsterdam
staring at this yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation
with this black-haired flamenco dancer
She dances while his father plays guitar
She's suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful
I wish I was beautiful . . .
Mr. Jones and me staring at the video
when I look at the television,
I want to see me staring right back at me
We all want to be big stars, but we don't know why
and we don't know how
But when everybody loves me, I'm going to be just
about as happy as I can be
Mr. Jones and me, we're gonna be big stars . . .

When you need an answer, even from a big star, we at the Straight Dope find it's best to go right to the source. So here it is, direct from Mr. Duritz's mouth during a "Storytellers" episode (transcript at dnausers.d-n-a.net/dnetYjqY/ ccfaq/newfaq.htm#4.53).

This is a song that has been misinterpreted greatly, to say the least. I think people too often look for symbolism in songs when they're simpler than they seem. This, in particular, is much simpler than it must seem to a lot of people. I have heard everything from it being about some ancient blues man who taught me to play music, which is completely ridiculous (but like somebody's movie fantasy). And I've also heard it's about my dick, which is even more ridiculous. Why do people go there, you know?

When we did the interview for Rolling Stone I walked with David Wilde into the Musée d'Orsay in Paris one day and the first thing that happened was these two kids ran up to us and said, "Hey! You're the guy from Counting Crows, right?" And I said, "yeah." And he said, "Is Mr. Jones about your dick?" I wanted to kill the guy because I knew where that was going to end up, which is the first paragraph of the article in Rolling Stone.

It's really a song about my friend Marty and I. We went out one night to watch his dad play, his dad was a flamenco guitar player who lived in Spain, and he was in San Francisco in the mission playing with his old flamenco troupe. And after the gig we all went to this bar called the New Amsterdam in San Francisco on Columbus and we got completely drunk. And Marty and I sat at the bar staring at these two girls, wishing there was some way we could go talk to them, but we were, we were too shy. And we thought, we kept joking with each other, that if we were big rock stars instead of such loser, low-budget musicians, we'd be able to, this would be easy. And I went home that night and I wrote a song about it.

And I joke about what's it about, that story. But it's really a song about all the dreams and all the things that make you want to go in to, you know, doing whatever it is that like seizes your heart, whether it's being a rock star or being a doctor or whatever it is, you know. And I mean, those things run from like "all this stuff I have pent up inside of me" to, "I want to meet girls" you know, because I'm tired of not being able to. And it is a lot of those things, it's about all those dreams. But it's also kind of cautionary because it's about how misguided you may be about some of those things and how hollow they may be, too. Like the character in the song keeps saying, "When everybody loves me I will never be lonely." And you're supposed to know that that's not the way it's gonna be, probably. I knew that even then.

Mr. Adams and me know the Straight Dope, Benny. And now you do, too.

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