In the middle of the day
There's a young man rolling around
In the earth and rain
Omaha, Nebraska, isn't the bustling metropolis that is New York, nor is it a small town. It isn't located on a coastline, not east, not west. It won’t be found in the Deep South or in the Pacific Northwest. Omaha… somewhere in Middle America. It’s a place Adam Duritz of Counting Crows chose seemingly at random, yet it represents so much more. In the second track on 1993’s August and Everything After
, the city is used as an allegory - symbolic of America, perhaps even of the entirety of Western civilization itself.
Duritz is no stranger to the mundane, having only found fame and fortune later in life. Like the majority of us, he grew up in obscurity, able to pay attention to the world and people around him. He weaves this pop philosophy into the lyrics of his songs, sometimes slapping the listener in the face with heavy themes. The heaviness in his best works, however, is found in the subtlety of his elegant lyrics. "Omaha" is one of the latter; simply put, it’s a song about how cyclical life is.
Millions of people are born into circumstances out of their own control. It’s a phenomenon existentialist philosopher Heidegger named Facticity, or "thrownness." If you haven’t taken Intro to Philosophy in college, the concept can be explained in basic terms. None of us are able to choose when we’re born, why we’re born, and to whom we’re born. We don’t get to choose our parents any more than we get to choose our first language. We don’t get to select the century we’re born into, either. For philosophers like Heidegger, Saarte, and Beauvoir, the idea was depressing.
Duritz waxes intellectual about this very notion throughout "Omaha." The narrator introduces us, in three separate verses, to three characters who live a work-a-day existence only to have life beat their idealism and optimism out of them until their deaths, the last one quite untimely. All across the world and throughout history, men and women have been born into poverty, worked their lives away, and passed away with nothing to show for it. Life can be sad, even dejecting, and Duritz wants to open his listeners’ eyes.
The Flatiron Hotel in Omaha
From the opening line, Start tearing the old man down,
to the final one, I think you better turn your ticket in, and get your money back at the door,
"Omaha" beckons us to question our priorities. It calls us to seriously contemplate our individual places in the universe. It doesn’t want us to sit idly by and let life strangle us to death. Should we allow society to force us into indentured servitude, making us slaves to our wages, living paycheck to paycheck, merely to (as Tyler Durden of Fight Club
put it), "Work jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need"? Duritz doesn’t think so.
With a population of roughly half a million, "Omaha" represents an accurate cross-section of the American population. The city’s demographics almost mirror the nation as a whole, consisting of approximately 74% Caucasian, 16% Hispanic or Latino, 16% African-American, and between 3-4% Asian. It’s possible, however unlikely, Duritz did his census homework as he penned "Omaha." He knew what he wanted to say even if the place, centrally located, was chosen at random. He meant to speak to all of us regardless of our geographic location.
Everyone, from sea to shining sea, must face the facts present in Duritz’s lyrics as he, like Thoreau, who went to the woods because he wanted to "live deliberately," warns us to live the most life we can before the world sucks it away from us; East Coast, West Coast, Great Lakes, Deep South, or somewhere in Middle America…
~ Justin Novelli