Gameplay with Ryan Adams

tokennoteGiven how much of his life he’s spent pursuing numerous and varied types of gaming arts, it’s hard to imagine anybody on earth who would be more thrilled than Ryan Adams to have his likeness stamped onto an arcade token. So it was probably a bucket-list dream come true for a pinball enthusiast like Ryan to appear on tokens for the Analog Arcade Bar in the Quad Cities town of Davenport, Iowa. Analog is a game joint stocked with a ton of cool pinball machines and arcade games, and it looks like the kind of place that would be Ryan’s go-to hangout spot if he lived in the vicinity.

The tokens are about the size of a quarter and depict a bespectacled and tousle-haired Ryan beneath the motto “IN RYAN WE TRUST” on one side, with the Arcade logo emblazoned on the other. Ryan responded to the honor with an Instagram post, saying he felt like he’d “won the Nerdlympics.” The folks who run Analog were kind enough to send me a few with I asked for some, along with a very nice note. I plan to keep them in my Whiskeytown treasure trove, right next to the whiskey bottle. And I’d call this the coolest act of DRA homage this side of the menu at Sticks & Stones Pizza in Greensboro, North Carolina.


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Whiskeytown on the alt-rock roadmap

altmapThis thing is kind of making my head explode. Seriously, the “Alternative Love Blueprint — A History of Alternative Music” data-viz poster (available for $43), which elegantly portrays the lineage through connections on the circuit board of a transistor radio circa the early rock era, is definitively mind-blowing as well as theoretically sound, with unbelievable attention to detail.

Having once attempted a similar project myself, a very long time ago, I can tell you that putting something like this together is a lot harder than it looks. And for me, the cherry on top of the whole thing is that our man Ryan Adams is in there, in the upper right corner in the same vicinity as Black Keys, White Denim, Uncle Tupelo and Wilco. But Ryan appears in such a way that you could say he’s subordinate to Whiskeytown. Like I said: theoretically sound!

Online, check it out at, where you can hover over various quadrants to get an enlarged view of all the details.


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“Exile on Franklin Street”

One of the tenets of The Mythology of Ryan Adams is the guy’s endlessly hyper-prolific nature. Yes, he cranks out songs as easily as most people breathe, often excitedly committing them to tape very quickly — where, more often than not, they languish unreleased and unheard by the world at large.

So it is that, as covered in “Losering,” Ryan has recorded at least several dozen albums worth of songs that have never been properly released. Chief among these is Exile on Franklin Streetnamed in honor of one of Ryan’s old back-in-the-day Raleigh addresses and a collection of songs he was talking about when I was interviewing him 15-plus years ago. Most of the songs on Exile have been intermittently available over the years as bootlegs; and here they are, compiled in extensive and relatively accessible form.

Seems like just the thing to listen to while awaiting his next magnum opus.

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Fifteen years of “Gold”

dragoldToday is the 15-year anniversary of one of those Ryan Adams records I sure wish I liked better than I do, Gold. This is the album that was supposed to rocket him to the toppermost of the poppermost back in 2001; and while it didn’t quite accomplish that, it remains his commercial high-water mark. Having written tons and tons about this album over the years, including here as well as Chapter 13 of “Losering,” I don’t feel the need to rehash it all again one more time. But Ryan’s take on Gold and that time of his life is interesting — he published an anniversary note today on Instagram, and it’s worth a read.


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So close!

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in on “Losering”‘s sales ranking on Amazon, mostly because I quit checking regularly when it got to be too depressing. So I took a look today and saw that it’s up to 39 reviews, which is nice; and even nicer, that it’s currently the closest it’s ever come to the summit of Amazon’s Country Books, at least in America. It did get all the way up to No. 1 in the same category up in Canada, but never in the U.S.

Anyway, fun to see “Losering” at No. 2, right behind the noted song scribe Whisperin’ Bill Anderson and just ahead of bluegrass deity Ricky Skaggs.


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Launching “A Life in Pursuit”

Just in time for this week’s Americana Music Festival & Conference in Nashville — where T Bone Burnett is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech — dig our latest American Music Series title, which is about that very artist and penned by the estimable Chicago-based scribe Lloyd Sachs. Officially, “T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit” won’t be published until after the calendar rolls over to October. But it’s already picking up reviews, and here is an excerpt.

Lloyd and my University of Texas Press editorial colleague Casey Kittrell will be in Nashville to unveil “A Life in Pursuit” with some events at the Americana festival (which was also where I launched “Losering” four years ago). This brings us to an even 10 titles for the series. Meanwhile, “A Life in Pursuit” should already be on the shelf of your favorite retail establishment wherever fine books are sold. And of course, you can order it online from the usual places.

ADDENDUM (9/23/2016): Here is Mr. Burnett’s Americanafest keynote address.


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Bookmarking Scuppernong

ScuppernongWhat will most likely be my final round of “Comin’ Right at Ya” promotion happens later this week, with a couple of book events over in the greater Greensboro/Winston-Salem Triad vicinity. Friday evening (Sept. 9), I’ll be at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books to chat about “CRAY” as well as “Losering” as part of Scuppernong’s Words of Note Festival — which coincides with the National Folk Festival and 17 Days Festival, both happening concurrently in Greensboro.

BookmarksThe next day (Saturday, Sept. 10), I’ll be in Winston-Salem for the annual Bookmarks Festival. My bit happens from 12:30 to 1:15 p.m. Saturday on the City Stage of Winston Square Park (on Spruce Street right by the Hanesbrands Theatre), a panel called “What’s in a Name? Eye-Catching Titles.” I’ll be there alongside “Good Morning, Midnight” author Lily Brooks-Dalton; and Steven Sherrill, author of “The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time.”

Bookmarks is bringing in close to 50 writers for this year’s edition and the author list  includes best-selling novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and John Grisham, as well as a couple of my former News & Observer colleagues, Debbie Moose and Bridgette Lacy. The complete Bookmarks 2016 schedule grid is below.

Both of these events are free, so I hope to see some folks.


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Coming in November: New Ryan Adams LP

DRANovLPRyan Adams will release his still-untitled next album on Nov. 4, and from the sound of things this seems to be the project he was working on back in February when he claimed to have recorded more than 80 songs. Studio svengali Don Was is back behind the board in what Ryan calls his “Gandalf” mode. And in Entertainment Weekly’s announcement interview about it, Ryan goes into excitable-boy mode and mentions the following sonic reference points:

Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town
The Smiths, Meat Is Murder
Bruce Hornsby
AC/DC, Fly on the Wall
Bachman-Turner Overdrive
Electric Light Orchestra

I have no idea what a combination of all that might sound like, but I guess we’ll find out! Below is a live version of a new song Ryan debuted at Red Rocks recently, “Do You Still Love Me.” If the rest of the record is anything like this, well, I would not call that a good omen.

ADDENDUM (10/11/2016): Timeline for this album, titled Prisoner.

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Ryan Adams, “Flying Dracula”

It’s been years since Ryan Adams has lived in (or even visited) the setting for “Losering,” his old pre-fame stomping grounds of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. A lot has changed in the years since Ryan has been gone, but a few traces of his time here linger into the present day. And below is an artifact, if you could call off-color graffiti an artifact.

This is written on a bathroom wall of The Cave, a cool subterranean nightspot on the main Franklin Street drag over in Chapel Hill whose co-owners include Van Alston (Ryan’s “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer). It is of uncertain provenance and looks like something Ryan could have written himself, based on the handwriting and how often he has used variations of “Dracula” as a pseudonym over the years — including “Sad Dracula” and, going way back, “Count Chocula.” And for a limited time, you can get this on a T-shirt, red print on black. They’re gong for $20 while they last. Email to check on availability.



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The late great Stevie Ray Vaughan: dynamicals

RIPSRVI went to college in and around Austin, Texas, during the first half of the 1980s, right before Stevie Ray Vaughan launched to fame. Even then, Stevie Ray was pretty much the last word in guitar flash. I used to see him playing clubs there quite a bit, probably scores of times, and I rarely had to pay more than a couple of bucks (at least up until the point he played lead guitar on David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, got on MTV himself and became huge). But what I remember most is the time I missed Stevie Ray, and it was my own damn fault.

It was in July of 1990 and by then I had moved on from school to the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, Colo. Stevie Ray was playing down the road in Denver, and I went to the show mostly because I’d never seen his opening act, Joe Cocker. There was some other band I wanted to see playing elsewhere in town later that night; more than a quarter-century after the fact, I can’t even recall who it was — just that I left before Stevie Ray came on. I figured I’d always have another chance.

Well, you know how that turned out. On Aug. 27, 1990, Stevie Ray died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin. That was 26 years ago today. Years later, when I was working on “Comin’ Right at Ya” with subject/star/co-writer Ray Benson and recounted that story, he told me I was a dumb-ass. He was not wrong about that, either. Ray and Stevie Ray were tight, and we talked about him a good bit. Below is some of it, from the book chapter titled “Deadly Sins.”

Stoned or straight, Stevie Ray was always an astonishing player to watch, even if he could be hard to take for anybody onstage with him. I went to see him play this all-star thing before he sobered up and he was coked out, twitching, all over the place and not leaving a bit of room for anyone else. Dr. John, a man who knows a thing or two about mind-altering substances himself, was onstage, too, and he could tell what was happening. He called it to a halt and announced, “What we NEED here is some, uh, DYNAMICALS.”

Everybody who ever jammed with Stevie Ray had a similar experience, but it wasn’t just the drugs talking. I remember one late-night jam in this old union hall near where he lived. When you’re jamming like that, you play until you relinquish the solo spot; go until you run out of ideas and then let somebody else jump in. Stevie Ray, however, just would not let up. He kept on playing and playing and playing, to the point where everybody else got fed up. Nobody got mad, exactly, but we were all a little irritated because he was hogging the jam.

The line you always heard about the Vaughan brothers was that Jimmie only played some of what he knew because he’s a great, understated player, while Stevie Ray played every last thing he knew every time. Which was true, and after he died, I thought back to that jam session. Somewhere deep down, it almost seemed like Stevie Ray knew he would not be here for long. So he put it all out there and never held back a thing. Playing guitar was a full-body experience for him. I went to his house once and found him practicing making faces like B.B. King, getting his whole body into it.

He never stopped, even when he was asleep. His wife Lenny has talked about waking up at night beside Stevie Ray and seeing that he was moving his hands – playing guitar in his sleep. Sleep guitar. She’d just watch, and listen. I bet it was worth hearing.

I miss him.


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