One night in March 2004, Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz sat in a hotel room in Australia, wondering what to do.
The day before, his mother had called with sad news: His grandmother, Selma Feldman, had died. Her funeral was being held half a world away in Baltimore, where Duritz was born.
Torn between his love for his grandmother and his duties with the band, Duritz struggled to make a decision. Should he stay on tour with the Counting Crows, or fly back to Maryland for the funeral? He was spending the night in a penthouse suite with glass walls and ceiling, and a violent lightning storm lit up the sky around him. The next morning, he made a choice that changed his life.
"I realized I'd been putting work before everything, forever," Duritz said. "At 6 in the morning, I called America and said, 'You gotta find me a way home.' "
Duritz caught a plane to Tokyo, then a direct flight into BWI, where his sister picked him up. Together, they drove to Sol Levinson & Bros. Funeral Home in Pikesville, where Duritz was a pall bearer. Though Duritz hadn't seen Feldman much the past few years of her life, he spent a good portion of his childhood visiting her in Baltimore.
"She was a very, very cool woman," he said. "It was the first funeral I can remember being at where I had a reaction. I was really [angry] at myself and regretful. Other times I was just trying to figure out how you're supposed to feel at funerals. I had a real reaction at that funeral."
It was a turning point for Duritz, personally and professionally. He checked out for a while, was diagnosed with a mental illness and decided to get his life in order. He didn't release a record until years later, when, in 2008, the Counting Crows put out the double album "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings." Now, the band is back to touring regularly. Monday, they'll make a stop at Pier Six Pavilion.
For Duritz, being in Baltimore isn't exactly like coming home. Though he was born here -- as was his mother, Linda -- Duritz's immediate family moved away when he was 3. As a boy, Duritz came back to Baltimore during the summer to stay with his grandmother. Feldman belonged to a duckpin bowling league, and used to take Duritz bowling often.
"I remember doing it all the time," he said. "I loved it."
In the '70s, Feldman and Duritz would sit up at night watching TV together. Duritz's second cousin, Royal Parker, hosted the bowling game show "Bowling for Dollars," which they both loved seeing.
As Duritz grew up and got involved with camp, sports and other summertime activities, he visited Baltimore less and less. But when the Counting Crows first toured through Baltimore in the early '90s, he made sure the band stopped at local seafood staple Obrycki's Crab House.
"I told the guys, 'We've got to go to this place,'" he said.
Baltimore doesn't weigh heavily in Duritz's music, but it does make one prominent appearance: the song "Raining in Baltimore." The 10th track on the seminal 1993 album "August and Everything After," "Raining in Baltimore" name-checks Charm City in one of the first lines: "It's raining in Baltimore/50 miles east/of where you should be/no one's around." Since Duritz moved around so much as a kid, he doesn't have much of a sense of being from any place in particular -- except maybe Berkley, Calif., where he lived for a while growing up.
"When I'm 50 miles east of Baltimore, it's is like 50 miles east of where I come from, which is blank to me," Duritz said. "I don't know where that is. It's a way of being lost. Somehow, in all these years of traveling around the world, I've only managed to be 50 miles east of the place I was born, and I don't even know what it means to be there."
Since "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings," Duritz said he hasn't written much music for the Counting Crows. He's been filling his spare time with smaller projects, such as writing music to accompany unreleased Woody Guthrie lyrics and putting together a music, film and pop culture website called underwatersunshine.com.
"What I've been doing is getting my life together," Duritz said. "I realized I'm turning my life around and getting somewhere."
If you go
The Counting Crows Traveling Circus & Medicine Show featuring Augustana is Monday at Pier Six Concert Pavilion Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$80. Call 410-744-1131 or go to piersixpavilion.com.
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