19 People

It was surprisingly easy to part with all of my Ryan Adams’ records. With a few taps I’d already deleted his songs from my phone and wiped them from my computer. Over twelve years I’d acquired all but two of his studio releases on vinyl and overpaid for a 15-disc vinyl box set of a solo acoustic tour. The owner of The Old School Records in Forest Park gave me $170 for the lot. When he sorted through the stack of vinyl I brought in he asked, “Has the backlash begun?”

If you haven’t already seen it, The New York Times ran a disturbing article about Ryan Adams, detailing a pattern of abusive and manipulative behavior toward younger female musicians and romantic partners–promising career advancement before reneging the offers when the relationships didn’t progress to his satisfaction. For years, Adams was my all-time favorite musician and one of my creative heroes. I remember sitting at a high school graduation party, all of us trying to ignore the drunk band playing on my friend’s deck, when someone started talking about Adams’ record Easy Tiger. I downloaded it when I got home, the album moving from “Goodnight Rose” into “Two,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Halloweenhead,” followed by “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” I wanted to ask someone, what is this? It was a huge moment, similar to when I first heard Bob Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home, or Hendrix singing, ‘Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.’

When I left for college that fall I was well on my way to a Ryan Adams obsession. Easy Tiger was his solo ninth album, and I had serious catching up to do. One thing Adams does exceptionally well is give all of his songs such a satisfying ache–he believes every word he sings, even on seemingly throwaway records like Rock n Roll. For a depressed person it was comforting to see someone else take beauty and inspiration from extreme sadness. Even more startling was the sheer volume of songs Adams had written, far more than any other contemporary artist I’d listened to, and so many of them were amazing. Songs like “When the Stars Go Blue,” “Dear Chicago,” and “Crazy About You,” a song that feels like it’s been around forever that Adams wrote when he was 25.

All of this was happening while I was dealing with undiagnosed clinical depression, trying to talk myself into loving biochemistry while secretly indulging an interest in writing. For my first two years of college, listening to Ryan Adams was the only thing that felt good. I enjoyed writing but felt like an impostor. For everything else I was going through the motions. Finding an artist completely unafraid to create so much remains inspiring to me. The same way I’ve never sat down to write anything without thinking of Stephen King’s On Writing, I’ve never picked up an instrument without thinking of Ryan Adams.

There will probably be a time when I’ll wish I held on to some of my Ryan Adams records. “Dear Chicago” is still my favorite song by any artist, but since I read the article I haven’t been able to think of playing it without getting a weird feeling in my stomach. For situations like this, I’m not sure we get to pick and choose. If the idea of Louis C.K. “dropping in” to perform comedy sets makes me want to punch something, continuing to support Ryan Adams is also off the table. I’ve probably left a wake of co-workers and first dates who only remember one thing about me, that thing being that Ryan Adams was seemingly my end-all be-all. Even if this is only true for a few people, I find it deeply embarrassing, but I don’t get to take it back. For years I acted as an Adams evangelist, on some level hoping people would conflate my enthusiasm for Adams’s music as part of my hip, cool personality.

The New York Times article states “seven women and more than a dozen associates” were interviewed regarding his behavior. That’s at least 19 people. 19 people who confirmed Ryan Adams is, in fact, a monster, and in need of serious help. What is most alarming to me about the piece is the story of Ava, a gifted bassist who began corresponding with Adams at age 14. He offered to produce her band and jumpstart her career, had “pet names for her body parts,” initiated naked Skype calls, and sent her the text “I never see pics of you anymore. You were blowing my mind.” By the time all of this ended, Ava was so discouraged she has since stopped pursuing music. This is blatantly predatory, but Adams also robbed a young woman of her passion. I’ve tried to think of anything that would make me decide to give up on writing or music, and short of losing both of my hands I can’t think of anything. How awful do you have to be for someone to give up doing what they love?

After selling my Ryan Adams’ records my first thought was to donate the money to charity, maybe Women In Music or a local domestic violence shelter. I still might do that, but that money would help with The Mechanic’s publishing costs or countless other worthy pursuits. For now it’s collecting interest in my bank account.

Today is International Women’s Day, so I hope we can all do something positive to mark the occasion. However you do that is up to you, but please don’t listen to Ryan Adams. Here are some things you can check out created by amazing women.
The Forgotten Arm by Aimee Mann
Aimee Mann is one of my all-time favorites, and while she doesn’t need any help from me I do feel like The Forgotten Arm is a sleeper among her better known albums. It’s a loose concept album about a couple that falls in love, one of them struggling with crippling alcoholism. I promise it’s not as depressing as it sounds, and all of the songs are flat-out gorgeous.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Maybe you’re completely sick of YA-dystopian novels with a bit of romance, but this one is badass! Half the United States is underwater, and the Navajo gods erected an enormous wall of stone and turquoise around their territory while giving some of the Navajo clan powers (a very nifty way of introducing double-edged superpowers). Oh, and the Navajo have to use these clan powers to fight off monsters, witches, and trickster gods. I inhaled this book and can’t wait for the next installment.

Whoever you are, man or woman, I encourage to approach today with the confidence of Pete Davidson. The dude looks like he’s had a cold for the past decade but is dating Kate Beckinsale. Truly anything is possible with the confidence of a mediocre white man.

Until next month,