So it’s wonderful to hear from folks who love your book, however much or little they have to say about it (seriously, any and all feedback is welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org). But it’s also great to hear from readers who engage with your book so strongly that they are moved to respond with vigorous disagreement. I’ve heard from plenty of folks who have read “Losering,” and no one has responded with quite as much verve as Sharon Black, a librarian and fellow DRA obsessive from Philadelphia. Below is the first of several messages she has sent, reprinted with her kind permission. Not that she’s changed my mind about Jacksonville City Nights, but I did agree to give it and “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” a fresh listen. I figure it’s the least I can do.
I really enjoyed your book on Ryan Adams–thanks for being such a good fan and critic. Most of the time you are spot on, but a couple of the misses are huge. So let me take issue. First of all you must go back with a clear head and list to JCN. It holds up as one of his BEST recordings. It is more consistent through and through than Cold Roses or Easy Tiger (which are plenty good). To have no respect for a song like Games (that starts with a killer lyric like “You aint but a fire on my sad estate, burning my house to the ground”) boggles the mind—the whole song has a beautiful melody and I like how it gets surreal out there where the taxis don’t ride. ‘Nuf said. Seriously, please reconsider JCN. Even Pitchfork respects it more than you do. And over the years it has gained in favor among critics. When he came out with it wasn’t what folks were expecting and they felt they heard enough from him that year. The first time I heard it I was jarred too. But then it grows on you and it stands as one of his most solid albums.
You also write off one of his best songs ever, omg! That being “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.” That title is not lazy playfulness, or unfinished writing. Yes, he can be immature like that but this is not an example of that. Please read this analysis of the song:
“It is a beautiful song about grace and the ineffable wonder of life realized by a motel worker after an ordinary, modestly described (in amusing, idiosyncratic Adams fashion) double shift. The lyric is fairly profound but has this really light touch (nice achievement). No flowery language or big statements and it never gets sappy. It starts with the worker hearing the noises of lovemaking through a wall. He knows their names, “One of them’s James/The other’s some name she changes every time she lies across his bed,” a line that cleverly elaborates on the stereotype of lovers signing the motel registry under various aliases by going on to suggest the female might be good at what she does, at least she has different personalities (names)—just the kind of reverie a motel worker might entertain. The next verse contains the wonderfully quirky line. “If I could I’d fold myself away like a card table, a concertina, or a murphy bed.” He appreciates that everyone tips but baldly confesses “not enough to knock me out.” No one’s “generosity” at this place is going to change his life. Ah, but something else is about to… Both of these verses are punctuated by the beautiful chorus where this everyman double shift worker looks up at the sky and experiences a moment of awe; the music here is transporting, you feel yourself drawn upwards into the constellation as “the light of the moon leads the way/Towards the morning and the sun/The sun’s well on the way too soon to know…” A kind of spiritual feeling sneaks up on him but he’s tired, he’s everyman and not a poet so all he can say is “…and/Oh my god, whatever, etcetera.” He doesn’t have words for the wonder, but it registers with him. He gets it. Epiphany achieved. Of course the songwriter, Mr. Adams, IS a poet even if the poetry of this song is understated, duh, that’s part of its poetry.”
So my point, Mr. Menconi, is of course you don’t have to like everything he does (I find his most uneven, sophomoric work is on Cardinology, e.g the moralizing, this is the way life works lyric of “The Sun Also Sets” ugh) but be careful not to single out his masterpieces for scorn! It makes me not trust you musical aesthetics.
But good work on the book, I did enjoy it.
Sharon Black (who was one of those readers who pre-ordered Losering)