Ryan Adams – Introductory Page

Ryan Adams



What is the deal with today’s biggest pop stars being so squeaky fucking clean? I just read the cover story on Taylor Swift in the latest Rolling Stone, and as I read her fifteenth quote about how she just abhors breaking rules and gets her life lessons from Hugh Grant movies, I began to feel as though I had fallen into an alternate universe in which Disney ran the media and Mormons ran the government. Wait a minute… OH GOD THAT’S ACTUALLY THE REAL WORLD SOMEBODY HELP MEEEEEEEEEEE

Whether it’s Taylor, Justin Bieber, or the Jonas Brothers, many of the biggest musical stars in the world today are well-groomed blonde teenagers who seem like they would rather drink a glass of milk than a Jack and Coke. And these are the people that 11-year old girls idolize now! It’s like some conservative wet dream where rock stars have become freaking role models. Rock stars aren’t supposed to be role models! They’re supposed show us how to question authority and how to be cool and what to do when you start getting boners! I mean, there was a huge scandal a couple years ago because a picture of Miley Cyrus’ naked back showed up in a magazine! Compare this to twenty years ago, Madonna released an entire book of nothing but pictures of her cunt. I’m not a Madonna fan by any means, but she was the world’s biggest pop star at one time, and certainly didn’t give a shit about “setting a good example” for the Disney Channel’s viewership.

Did this happen because we finally got sick of pampered, debaucherous assholes defining popular culture and wanted to try “nice” people for a change? If so, then we should probably blame Amy Winehouse and latter day Britney Spears for being the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back. But I wouldn’t discount the contributions of Jacksonville’s own Ryan Adams to this state of affairs. He’s hardly a pop star (though he’s married to a pop star – Mandy Moore, which is probably the number one reason most people in America might have heard of him), having only ever scored one minor hit single (that’s “New York, New York” in 2001, which got a bunch of airtime on MTV in the weeks after 9/11—which apparently was still showing music videos in 2001?—only because the video, filmed just a few days before the terrorist attacks, featured Adams miming along to the song across the river from the Twin Towers). Known for his petulance as much as he is for his music, he’s played the part of rock star douche in ways both traditional (trashing hotel rooms, doing a lot of drugs) and pioneering for our age of technology (frequently getting into heated exchanges with his fans on his own message board).

It’s a shame that the guy’s personality often defines people’s perception, because he really is a prestigious talent. OK, so he only does one thing really well – playing the tortured soul armed with only an acoustic guitar and his feelings to combat an eon’s worth of heartbreak. When he tries to branch out from his singer-songwriter/country/folk wheelhouse, the results are rarely exceptional, but man, when he’s on, he’s produced some of the most emotional and well-crafted examples of singer-songwriter music I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if it helps or hurts that he’s ludicrously prolific and seemingly writes a new song about as often most people scratch their asscracks. There are only so many variations possible on the prototypical Ryan Adams song, but somehow he manages to keep going to the well and (most of the time) keep things interesting.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Ryan’s music, the path from conception to release has rarely been smooth. His career would be a textbook case of how record companies screw over artists if I wasn’t so sure that Ryan’s assholery contributed heavily to the friction between himself and Lost Highway Records. Shortly after the dissolution of Whiskeytown, Ryan kicked off his solo career in the year 2000 with the hushed masterpiece Heartbreaker, which earned him innumerable critical accolades and the distinction of becoming the 5,986th singer-songwriter to be called “the New Dylan.” Looking to ensure that he wouldn’t become a one-album wonder, Adams recorded at least five albums worth of material in 2001. Lost Highway, however, was not so gung ho about flooding the market with Ryan Adams product, so all that ended up coming out during this period was the slicked-over retro rock double record Gold, which was a hit, and, in 2002, a compilation of material recorded during the previous year and a half called Demolition, which wasn’t. Upset at having to edit his work so severely, Ryan responded by throwing together the crass modern radio rock hack job Rock N Roll in 2003. This move did not buy him any more sway over the machinations of Lost Highway, which forced him to release his next album, Love Is Hell, as two separate EPs (though it was eventually released as a full album in 2004). During the tour in support of Love Is Hell, he fell off a stage in Liverpool (presumably in a drug-induced stupor, but that’s just baseless speculation) and broke his wrist.

It would seem his injury gave him some time to revaluate the direction of his career, which led him to form a now-renowned new backing band, the Cardinals. He released two excellent albums with the Cardinals in 2005, the country rock Cold Roses and the just plain country Jacksonville City Nights, plus a solo album, 29, later that year. In 2007, Easy Tiger became the first top ten album of Ryan’s career to that point. But after another album with the Cardinals, Cardinology, in 2008, Adams was diagnosed with Ménière’sDisease, which causes hearing loss, and promptly broke up the Cardinals and took a previously unthinkable hiatus from recording and touring. He couldn’t stay away for very long, and returned with Ashes & Fire in 2011 (the man fucking subsists on recording songs to the point like it seems like he would literally die if he had to stop forever. You’re telling me he came back just because he got bored of having nothing to do but fuck Mandy Moore for two years? The hell he did. A couple of eternities of hot sex with her wouldn’t be enough for any sane red-blooded man). He’s also begun issuing previously unreleased material on his own label, PAX-AM, and there’s obviously plenty to be drained from that well.

Ryan’s recorded output has been frustratingly erratic and inconsistent, for sure. But he’s done enough great stuff to be recognized as one of the major songwriting talents of his generation. He’s also a pretty outstanding and versatile singer – the timbre and tone of his voice seems to change on every album. Alas, a lot of his best work remains unreleased. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of bootleggers and the world wide web, you can compile a collection of everything Ryan has ever recorded just like I have (well, almost everything… there’s no way I’m touching all that DJ/hip hop pseudo-parody shit he used to post on his website or any of his one-off side project jokes… a man’s gotta have his limits, and that man’s hard drive only has so much space on it). Of course, this means the man’s catalog is rather vast for someone who’s only been around for ten years, so it helps to know what to look for and what to avoid before diving into it. That’s where I come in, of course. Jeremy Etc: wading through 400 mediocre Ryan Adams songs so you don’t have to since 2012!

One Comment

  1. […] ADDENDUM: There must be something in the air because a writer named Jeremy Winograd is also grading Ryan’s catalog. […]

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