When the New York Times recently broke the Ryan Adams story about his sexting with a minor, and his emotional abuse of women, I was understandably disappointed, like many other loyal fans. I say disappointed instead of devastated because as a lifelong New Yorker who consistently attends concerts where performers are visible, and sometimes, accessible, I know the difference between personal distress, and when someone’s music makes us feel intimately connected to their lyrics, even though beneath the surface, we don’t know them at all.
So here is a man whose music that, over a period of years, I’ve come to admire, highlighted in the media for turmoil and whose label, Pax Am, decided to halt the release of his next album.
I’ve read the comments on Twitter that defend and chastise him, as well as his half assed apology.
It’s abominable for him to skirt the issue of having hurt women who looked up to him professionally by saying, “Some people believe I caused them pain,” a fancy way of failing tohold himself accountable.
Ryan Adams wrote gorgeous songs that were in the background for those of us who love the arts. La Cienega Just Smiled was on an episode of Felicity. Come Pick Me Up was featured in the film Elizabethtown, and Cary Brothers, well known for his song Blue Eyes on the Garden State soundtrack, did a haunting cover of it with Harper Blynn at some of his concerts. Both Ryan Adams albums, Love is Hell and Ashes & Fire, were part of the rotating Starbucks playlist in New York City locations, and could often be heard playing in Barnes and Noble cafés.
During his concert at Carnegie Hall in 2011, there was so much surrounding excitement that my row was full of drunk hecklers with song requests, and one year later at Hammerstein Ballroom, a standing room only venue, people of various ages crowded around the stage to be near him as he performed beneath green, blue and orange lights, his unique voice filling the room. Gimme Something Good was sold in Starbucks by the registers, the image of his green and red hair bright on the album cover as it faced potential buyers.
On a more personal note, a few of his songs held special meaning for me.
Avalanche for the day I sat on the floor of my childhood bedroom rifling through photos and recalling his lyrics, “I found your photograph in a cardboard box, in a magazine. She comes apart in the Avalanche, fades out like a dance, crawls back into bed when it’s over. “
It was a rough patch in my twenties when I wondered if I’d ever get out from under, and there were his perfect words, describing everything I was feeling as I tried putting myself back together.
Hotel Chelsea Nights was a song about his time at the hotel I very much came to adore, staying overnight there with friends, taking my pop culture class to visit the lobby, and attending a Leonard Cohen memorial inside of a photographer’s home on one of the upper floors. The song captured the very essence of the location Ed Hamilton wrote about in his book Legends of the Chelsea Hotel where he mentioned “Rocker Ryan Adams” as a fellow resident.
“I’m tired of living in this hotel,” Adams sang. “In fact I’m tired of 23rd Street. Strung out like some Christmas lights, out there in the Chelsea Nights.” The subjects of depression and addiction run rampant in his work, no question.
But how is it that someone who wrote so genuinely about his own pain could tweet such an insincere response regarding that same emotion in other people whose lives he altered, and not for the better?
We, his once trusting fans, who were anticipating another album, and another tour, are still trying to wrap our minds around it.
Kathryn Buckley is a Brooklyn native who will likely never leave except for vacation. She teaches writing at the college level, and her work can be found in 34th Parallel, The Rumpus, Yahoo, The Chaffey Review, Clash Media, Toad Journal, Ravishly, She’Said‘, and Eclectica. Some of her favorite things are people, the beach, Halloween, anything pop culture related, creative writing, and her cat, Sam. Lately her friend calls her Taylor Swift because she works out heavy emotions through her writing. She can live with that.