Adam Duritz knew from the first time he played with his Counting Crows band mates that he had stumbled onto something special.
"Something was different with this band, and we all felt it right away," said the San Francisco-area singer-songwriter. "We all were playing in other bands, and we got together to play and loved it. And the reaction was huge."
That chemistry has carried the band through 21 years of platinum-selling albums, critical acclaim and packed concerts.
It also has been Duritz's saving grace as he struggled with a dissociative disorder, which can affect memory, awareness and perception.
"This whole thing with mental illness has been hard. I wouldn't want to wish it on anybody," Duritz said recently in an interview to talk about the band's Tucson show Friday. "It's not a pleasant way to live."
Until a few years ago, Duritz suffered in silence. His music was his therapy. He wrote songs about lonely people in tortured lives trying to separate themselves from the fog that imprisons them. What his fans didn't realize was that Duritz was writing about himself and his demons in songs like "Round Here": "She knows she's just a little misunderstood /she has trouble acting normal when she's nervous."
"I didn't talk about it for a long time. When this whole thing happens to you, with fame and stuff, you have to really draw some lines for yourself because you all of a sudden start to belong to everybody. And they used to make stuff up. It didn't actually have to do with anything you did in your life, who you actually dated or whether you cared or loved somebody. It's fiction created to sell papers or whatever," he explained.
"So I didn't talk about that (mental illness) because it seemed like a personal, tragic subject, and I didn't feel like I had subtlety and respect out there. So I didn't want to deal with it."
In 2008 when Counting Crows released "Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings," Duritz decided he needed to come clean. The album, after all, laid bare all of his demons.
"It was so much about losing my mind, feeling like I was completely going insane and also about the first steps of trying to get better or at least turn it around," he explained. "That album was so much about that I didn't want it to track off as 'Oh he's just whining about being famous.'
"I don't think I should be embarrassed about it," Duritz, 48, added. "And I think it was better to be clear because my not talking about it for years led to a lot of misinterpretation of songs. I felt it was important to say it."
Duritz was treating his illness with seven medications, he said, and some of the side effects made it hard to be on stage.
"I just felt like I was scraping my insides out and I wasn't able to really access it well for a few years," he said.
Last year, under a doctor's care, he went off those medications.
"It was eight months of feeling like you were taking acid, which is pretty horrific and scary. And it's still scary and weird. Now there is very little protecting me against that stuff," Duritz said. "Being off all the medications is good because you're not wrapped in gauze. You're not like surrounded by amber. You're not protected from everything so you can really experience your life and the songs or whatever.
"But there's a reason they put me on all those medications, and that's because it's pretty horrifying in my head at times," he said. "Without the medications it's just something I have to live with every day. I'm not going to get better the other way (using meds). This is the only way to do it. Also, I wasn't really living the other way. I'm not really living much this way either, to be honest with you. But at least what I do experience I actually do experience. And I play better. It's a big deal to me that I can play better."
Duritz said he and his doctors are experimenting with new medications and supplements.
"I'd like to tell you that I'm getting better and I'm going to win, but I just don't know. It's hard to tell. Right now it's a little raw," he confessed. "It's been pretty scary, kind of. Look, I'd just like to be healthy. Life is a complete sentence - verb, noun, adjectives. You have to be a person who wants something or does something to something; otherwise you're not living.
"Playing and touring is in some ways functioning for me so I know I'm living and not just disappearing into my house or into my head. So that's good. It's my proof that I'm functioning and that I exist. It's nice to know, because it seems questionable inside my head sometimes, which is scary."
If you go
• What: Counting Crows in concert.
• When: 7 p.m. Friday.
• Where: Casino del Sol's AVA, 5655 W. Valencia Road.
• Tickets: $20 to $65, $225 for VIP meet-and-greet package through tickets.solcasinos.com
• Did you know: This is Counting Crows' first Tucson show in several years. Frontman Adam Duritz said the show will draw largely from the band's springtime release, "Underwater Sunshine (Or What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)," an album of cover songs that includes Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Going Nowhere," "Borderline" made famous by Madonna, Coby Brown's "Hospital" and Gram Parsons' "Return of the Grievous Angel." This was the first time the band has recorded songs not written by Duritz. "It was like getting to collaborate with 15 different writers even though they weren't here," he said. "For us it was so incredible hearing different takes on life."