After the Artiste X debacle, it was early 2010 and I had to regroup. On the plus side, I still had a deal to write a book. But on the minus side, I still had no subject. While I was in Austin that March for South By Southwest, I met with my UT Press editor to discuss possibilities. None of them seemed to move her too much, and she also seemed pretty noncommittal about everyone I mentioned — until Ryan Adams’ name came up. She asked for elaboration. I hesitated because it felt like I was about to jump off a cliff into an unknown chasm. I knew what would happen if I told this story, and also that there would be no turning back.
“Well,” I finally said, “I was one of the first critics to write about Ryan way back when, before hardly anybody outside of Raleigh really knew who he was. And the first time I ever interviewed him, a drunk went crazy in a bar and took the place hostage…”
We were having lunch at a little taco joint in East Austin, and the editor put down her fork. “That,” she said brightly, “sounds like the book to do!”
I gave her a pained smile, groaning inwardly because I knew this was going to be difficult. And yet… I think I’d been kidding myself about the Artiste X biography being anything like “fate.” That one would have been convenient, fun and relatively easy (which is not the same thing), resulting in a book that anybody could have written. But Ryan, if I may be so bold, is a book that only I could write. It’s the one I was truly meant to do, and only a situation like this — a university press where I had an in, and therefore didn’t have to explain my rather unusual take on Ryan in too much detail during the pitch process — even made it possible.
Sure enough, after the editor conferred with her peers, the verdict was unanimous: Ryan was the one UT Press wanted. I had until September 2011 to turn in a manuscript. With much trepidation (which turned out to be well-founded — more on that later), I set to work. Or rather, I signed the contract and then set to procrastinating for the better part of a year before really getting started. I convinced myself I was working on it because I was listening to Ryan’s records a lot, but all I did was peck at it here and there through the rest of 2010; wrote a few outlines, started asking interview subjects for Ryan stories and so on. I had a couple of boxes full of relevant papers and artifacts, and I was overcome with fatigue every time I thought about diving in. So I really didn’t start the heavy lifting until the beginning of 2011. We’ll get to that.