The Counting Crows version (by far the more well-known recording) is a slow and mellow, if emotional, folk rock song. The original by the Himalayans is done in a more "pure" rock style—somewhat harder and faster, with prominent electric guitar and bass parts. In a tradition that has manifested in several Counting Crows songs, the two versions of this song feature somewhat different lyrics. Various live recordings of the song also feature significantly altered lyrics.
The first way Counting Crows ever sounded, it was me and Dave in bars and coffee houses playing open mics, doing this song this way. The song begins with a guy walking out the front door of his house, and leaving behind this woman . But the more he begins to leave people behind in his life, the more he feels like he's leaving himself behind as well. The less and less substantial he feels like he's becoming to himself. And that's sorta what the song's about because he feels that even as he disappears from the lives of people, he's disappearing more and more from his own life. The chorus is, he sorta keeps screaming out these idioms these lessons that your mother might say to you when you were a kid, sorta child lessons ya know, "round here we always stand up straight", "carving out our names". Things that you are told when you are a kid that you do these things that.. that when you're grown up it'll add up to something, you'll have a job, you'll have a life. I think for me and the character of the song they don't add up to anything it's just a bunch of crap kinda. Your life comes to you or doesn't come to you but those things don't really mean anything. By the end of the song he's so dismayed by this that he's kinda screaming out that he can stay up as long as he wants and that no one makes him wait...the sort of things that are important if you are a kid. You know that you don't have to go to bed, you don't have to do anything. The sorta of things that don't make any difference at all when you're an adult, they're nothing. And uh and uh this is a song about, about me.
In a concert in Amsterdam for "This Desert Life", on October 17, 1999, Duritz adds
We wrote this song in 1989 ... We were all in bands and we had shitty jobs.
We would wash dishes, work in record stores and wash windows and ... by day, so that we can be in a rock and roll band at night. You know? And it was after college and our friends are getting on with their lives. And they had good jobs, well... boring jobs... but they all had more money than we did, and they had futures and we didn't. There comes a point in the life of everyone in a rock and roll band that you have to sort of decide, am I going to do this with my life, or am I going to go get one of those other jobs? Because I can't deal with washing dishes anymore and I can't dig any more holes, and I can't wash another window. And there is those that go, and there is those that stay. And you walk out on the edge of the world and you balance yourself there for a while and you try to figure out just which one you're gonna be. And a lot of our friends are doing other things right now. And we're standing right up here on this stage.