Posts Tagged With: Bryan Adams

Ryan Adams enters academia’s hallowed halls

SpanisDedRecently I happened across a picture someone posted on social media, of the thank-you page of a Master’s Thesis — in Spanish. Here it is on the right, and the relevant part roughly translates as:

Finally to all my friends for all the support they have given me, you know who you are. And why not…to Ryan Adams, Gary Moore and John Lennon for inspiration when I needed it most.

Figuring there was a story there, I got in touch with the author, a young man named Sebastián Chiwo from San Luís Potosí, México, to ask about his Ryan Adams fandom. As you can see below, he had a lot to say! It’s pretty cool that Ryan’s name is enshrined in an academic document on file at the library at Universidad Autonoma de San Luís Potosí, even though he himself didn’t go to college. Ryan’s fanbase is not just enthusiastic, but geographically widespread and diverse.

The first time I ever learned about Ryan Adams was in September 2001 when I was 13, after the tragedy of 9/11 — from the cool and lovely “New York, New York” video with many shots of New York City and a young guy with an acoustic guitar in his hands. I was very confused because my parents were fans of Bryan Adams, and I didn’t pay attention at first because I was busy learning classical guitar. But I became bored and began learning rock and blues, especially songs by John Lennon.

One afternoon I turned on the radio and heard a very beautiful guitar riff and voice, which the deejay said was “So Alive” by Ryan Adams. From that day, the music of this crazy guy has had an important effect on me, the guitar parts and lyrics both. Soon after was my father’s birthday and my mother gave me money to buy him a present. I went to Sears and saw a beautiful Zippo lighter that I thought could be perfect. But then I stopped in the music section and Ryan’s “Rock ‘N Roll” album was waiting for me. So I bought “Rock ‘N Roll” for me and the newly released “Let It Be…Naked” for my father. I think he enjoyed the CD more than he would have the lighter. After that, I was also listening to “Love Is Hell,” “Cold Roses,” “Easy Tiger” and so on.

Years later, I was in a severe depression. My only reason to live was playing guitar every night, for very little money — just for getting drunk and high. I can’t believe now that I was doing those stupid things. One of the few good memories of that time was playing all the “Love Is Hell” stuff every night; not the songs exactly, but the main guitar riffs. The feelings were the same, “poor guy” is what I was thinking about me. I knew Ryan’s life had been crazy and wild between “Heartbreaker” and “Easy Tiger,” but also sad like mine.

SebastianAfter a series of personal tragedies, I got clean and began working hard in my profession. Ryan’s music was always there, albums like “Ashes and Fire,” “III/IV,” “Orion,” “Ryan Adams,” “1984” and “1989.” They gave me a more optimistic (and weird) way of living. I bought a denim jacket and customized it with logos of OCP, Weyland-Yutany, Nuclear and Misfits Fan Club. Guitar is still an important part of my life and I’m always asking questions about equipment and guitar techniques of the guitar players in Ryan’s bands — Neal Casal, Brad Rice, Johnny McNabb, Ethan Johns, Mike Viola, etc.

ThesisNowadays I am an electronics engineer majoring in instrumentation and control systems, with a Master of Science in electrical engineering with a major in biophotonics and medical optics. I completed both studies in the physical sciences department at the Autonomous University of San Luís Potosí. My personal tribute to and acknowledgement of Ryan is a little paragraph in my Master’s Thesis, “Design and Construction of a Portable Raman System For Non-Invasive Medical Diagnosis.”

Definitely, Ryan’s music is the soundtrack of my life, and he is a very strong influence on me as a person. I commonly cite his statement, “Stay Weird,” in my own life.

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Political science

BreitbartPut a book out into the world and you just never know where its ripples might surface. For example, “Losering” has been popping up in the conservative political blogosphere, believe it or not.

As you probably know, Ryan Adams covered Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” the other night at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, the same hallowed hall where he did not respond well to a heckler’s request for that same song way back when. As you’d expect, this was widely reported in the usual places — but it was apparently a big-enough deal to attract attention from politically slanted sites that dabble a bit in pop culture on the side. So it is that my book is now enshrined on Breitbart.com (the conservative network founded by the late conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart with an agenda of “the destruction of the old media guard”) as background source for an item about it:

In October 2002, Ryan Adams ejected a fan from his concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for repeatedly requesting a cover of Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69.” The show was part of the singer’s intimate “Demolition” acoustic tour; the heckler’s repeated shouts for the song were an annoying distraction.

The incident haunted Adams through the years, according to Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown by David Menconi.

“Over the years, the Ryman ‘Summer of ’69’ incident has come to be Ryan’s equivalent of Bob Dylan getting called ‘Judas’ onstage in England in 1966,” Menconi writes. “It’s the one thing that everybody seems to have heard about Ryan, even nonfans.”

Golly. Oddly enough, however, Breitbart.com isn’t the first right-wing site to have cited “Losering.” In the fall of 2013, Ryan got into a Twitter dust-up with Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity. That inspired the folks at Moonshine Carolina — a political blog that lists keywords like “Obama” and “ACA” under the heading “Prohibited thoughts” — to opine on “celebrities as role models,” and to summarize Ryan’s career via my book thusly:

The Jacksonville boy Ryan Adams, who made a name for himself as frontman of Raleigh’s alt-rock band Whiskeytown, has lived every inch of the clichéd rockstar lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. As David Menconi details in his book Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown, Adams dropped out of school as a teenager to start up the band, and quickly became dependent upon a variety of illicit drugs and alcohol. The band was notorious for smashing up equipment and generally behaving badly. Once, the whole band was fired from a gig in Texas; alcoholism treatment was on the cards for Adams shortly after that. Following more stints in rehab and a successful solo career, Adams has calmed down – he married the very lovely singer and actress Mandy Moore in 2009, they have adopted a puppy, and are both committed to their careers, with Adams running a successful recording studio. Importantly, he has his addictions under control – he made mistakes, and learned from them.

Scoldy! Well, sir, there was a little more to it than that, but so it goes. In any case, we’d better not tell Moonshine Carolina about this.

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In the spring of 2015, Ryan Adams plays “Summer of ’69”

In October of 2002, Ryan Adams played Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and it did not go well. A heckler kept yelling for “Summer of ’69,” Ryan threw something of a fit and it’s been following him around like an albatross ever since — still the one thing everybody seems to know about him, even non-fans (see Chapter 15 of “Losering” for more on this). In a long-overdue settling-up, however, Ryan played the Ryman again last night and actually played a right nice solo acoustic rendition of Summer of ’69.” Take a listen; and there’s more about it herehere and here.

So, wow. Do we dare hope a Raleigh date on his tour schedule is next?

ADDENDA: This actually wasn’t the first time Ryan played “Summer of ’69” in public. In a July 2005 show with the Cardinals, Ryan kind of burned it to the ground. And here are Bryan Adams’ thoughts about it.


While I’m at it, the night before Ryan brought Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires onto the Ryman Stage for a drop-dead gorgeous run-through of Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia song “Jacksonville Skyline” — check that out, too.

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Oh, no…

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 4.53.07 PMWell, this is regrettable. But I suppose it’s the sort of thing that’s going to happen at Best Buy. Besides, it’s not like there aren’t some pretty striking visual similarities between key albums of the Nov. 5 Adams twins, Ryan and Bryan — plus nowadays, the dudes are buddies.

(Thanks to Mr. Anthony Neff, who posted this photo on the Guitartown people page of Facebook.)

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Ryan Adams: Lordy lordy, look who’s 40

40thBDIn my mind’s eye image of Ryan Adams, the picture that comes to mind remains that hyper-enthusiastic kid I first met two decades ago, and it probably always will be. Back then, he was 20 years old and lying his way up to North Carolina’s legal drinking age, even though he looked boyish enough to pass for a high-school underclassman. And it’s kind of mind-boggling to think about how much time has gone by, but that young man hits a major midlife milestone today,  Nov. 5, in that he turns 40 years old. Suddenly, this makes more sense than it did two years ago.

So happy 4oth birthday, Ryan; here’s to you (and the rest of us) staying forever young. Sing out, brother man, in between tweets with your name/birthday doppelganger.

The rest of us can take this here Bryan-or-Ryan Quiz (yes, I got 10 out of 10 and I bet every other superfan will, too).

 

 

 

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What might have been: Ryan Adams goes back to “Jacksonville”

RyanAdamsCoverBelieve it or not, I really don’t go out of my way to be contrary about Ryan Adams’ late-period work. With every record he’s released since the Whiskeytown days, I’ve put in a fair amount of listens, trying to find something to like. And while they all have some merit (or at least a handful of decent songs), overall most of them come up short for me. That goes for the current eponymous album Ryan Adams, which has drawn mostly positive reviews but still strikes me as somewhere between meh and okay. There’s a song or two on it that I’ll find myself humming along with, but for the most part my preliminary conclusion on it from just over a month ago still stands:

A self-titled album, especially by someone who has been around a while, implies a statement-of-purpose declaration of sorts: This is who I am. And what bothers me about “Ryan Adams” is just how generic it is. It’s not bad — in fact, it’s perfectly pleasant while it’s playing — but it also sounds like something that any number of other people could have made. I’d rather hear another record that Ryan and only Ryan could have made. Given his thoughts on his own catalog, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe ever.

draJvilleIf I thought that Ryan could no longer do this kind of work anymore — if he had really moved on from that phase of his life, personally as well as artistically, to the point that it just wasn’t in him — I believe I could reconcile that and move on myself. But then he does something like his latest seven-inch EP, “Jacksonville”-“I Keep Running”-“Walkedypants,” and it just keeps me hangin’ on.

It’s not flawless, of course. “Walkedypants” is one of Ryan’s infamous in-studio goofs, two-and-a-half minutes you’ll never need to hear more than once. The other two songs, however, could be the missing link between Whiskeytown’s dark masterpiece Strangers Almanac and Ryan’s ambitious ornate-pop effort Pneumonia (with a little solo-era Cold Roses thrown in). More than a decade and a half later, he’s gone from sounding older than his years to sounding like he’s finally caught up with himself.

In glorious shades of pop-twang, Ryan sketches out yet another bittersweet lament for the old North Carolina hometown he used to curse. But you can’t tell me he doesn’t love it now, just from the way his voice quavers on the “Oh, Jacksonville” chorus. It’s heart-stoppingly lovely. Then, just to split the arrow in the bullseye, he follows that with another attempt to explain in song why he’s still running away from it after all this time.

I’m faster than the pain
That’s running through my veins
And you can’t break my heart if you don’t know my name
I keep running…

But that’s the thing. Run from something long enough and eventually you’ll find yourself running back to it (“Run To You,” indeed). And close to 20 years since Whiskeytown’s heyday, Ryan can still resonate on that wavelength when he gets a mind to. Had he done a whole album like this, he’d deserve the current round of accolades and a whole lot more. Instead, he puts out a major-label album that sounds like second-rate Tom Petty/Bryan Adams mash-ups while relegating his best work in years — songs that sound like they actually mean something! — to a limited-edition seven-inch release.

You have gone missing from my life…

Ryan Adams is better than Ryan Adams and “Jacksonville” proves it. I really wish I could have picked someone less frustrating as object of neurotic fandom. But for the seven-and-a-half minutes “Jacksonville” and “I Keep Running” are playing, it feels just like old times.

That’ll have to do.


 

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Ryan and Bryan Adams: It’s a 1984 thing

1984So this week has brought the International Bluegrass Music Association’s annual World of Bluegrass festival/convention to Raleigh, which has kept me insanely busy (whew; I enjoy IBMA, and yet I’m also glad it only happens once a year because I need more sleep than this). But I still had an amusing little Ryan Adams moment the other night, listening to a band from Minneapolis called Monroe’s Crossing playing a deadpan bluegrass version of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69” — and thinking about past fits Ryan has thrown over that very song. Could not help but giggle, especially given the Monroe Crossing frontman’s introductory description of Bryan Adams as music harsh enough to annoy parents.

What made it even funnier in retrospect was hearing that Ryan himself dipped into the Bryan Adams catalog the same night, performing “Run to You” onstage at a show in Santa Barbara, Calif. Someday, maybe he’ll deign to do “Summer of ’69” and the circle really will close.

(ADDENDUM, 4/29/15: The circle is now closed — and at the Ryman, no less!)

Meanwhile, Ryan also recently unveiled yet another 1984-vintage cover, I Want To Know What Love Is,” the super-maudlin and epic power ballad by Foreigner; to go with his earlier Pointer Sisters “Neutron Dance” cover and acoustic version of Ratt’s “Round and Round.” Given his current Orwellian predilection for that era’s artifacts, can accompanying covers of “Purple Rain,” “Footloose” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It” be far behind?

ADDENDUM (3/5/2015): Ryan’s latest ’80s artifact isn’t from 1984, but a few years later, a cover of Patrick Swayze’s “Dirty Dancing” hit “She’s Like the Wind” with Natalie Prass. Um, really?…

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Ryan Adams gets reckless

Multiple reviewers, including yours truly, have pointed out that some songs on the new Ryan Adams album sound strikingly similar to Ryan’s name/birthday doppelganger Bryan Adams. And in an email discussion, a critic colleague of mine mentioned that the Ryan-and-Bryan similarities extend to the area of typography, too — most notably the cover of Bryan Adams’ 1984 album Reckless (from whence came “Summer of ’69,” a song Ryan hates hearing about).

So I decided to take a look for comparative purposes, and…well, see for yourself. Compare the typefaces and, except for Bryan’s use of italics, they don’t look similar so much as identical. Maybe it’s just coincidence; but don’t forget that Reckless came out in what seems to be Ryan’s favorite year, and Ryan is an unabashed Bryan Adams fan.

No doubt, Ryan will also be picking up the Super Deluxe Edition four-disc box set of Reckless when it comes out on Nov. 25.

ADDENDUM (10/17/14): According to Ryan, the similarities between these two covers are entirely coincidental.


BryanRyan

 

 

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Reckoning with Ryan Adams’ new album

It’s complicated
I just don’t love you anymore…

— Ryan Adams, “Am I Safe” (2014)


One thing that writing “Losering” did for me was to underscore the futility of music journalism and criticism, especially album reviews. The book forced me to reconsider release-date-vintage things I’d thought and written about everything from the Ryan Adams/Whiskeytown discography in the harsh light of the present, a process that induced a cringe or two. While I think I was more or less right about most of the records, there were definitely some I had significantly underrated at first (especially Love Is Hell) or thought too much of (Rock N’ Roll). And as I was finishing up the book in the fall of 2011, Ashes and Fire came out and I overrated that one, too. I should not have been surprised; just because I was writing it in a book rather than a newspaper review, that didn’t make my snap judgment any more long-lasting.

Something else “Losering” emphasized was the futility of fandom: the fact that if you follow anybody long enough, they will surely disappoint you. Whether I should feel that way or not, I am disappointed in Ryan. I wish I didn’t feel that way because I hate being That Guy — the dock worker in Liverpool who liked The Beatles during their Cavern Club days but thought they sold out when they went on “Ed Sullivan.” Or the guy in Greenwich Village who thought Bob Dylan should have stuck with old folk songs. Or the dude in Asbury Park who thought Bruce Springsteen’s calling was to stay a bar-band journeyman. So maybe giving up what he had in order to get to where he is now was the right call for Ryan; perhaps his upcoming self-titled album will one day be mentioned in the same breath as Rubber Soul or Blonde on Blonde or Darkness on the Edge of Town.

But…I don’t think so.

RyanAdamsCoverSo anyway, yes, Ryan Adams (Pax Am/Blue Note Records) will be released next week; in the meantime, you can listen to a stream of it here, here, here, or here. A few reviews are starting to appear, because right around or even before release date is when outlets tend to be interested in running them. Never mind that the pre-release period, when a given artist does a bunch of interviews (usually saying some variation on the same thing in each one), tends to be the least-interesting part of a record’s life cycle. It’s just how the game goes.

At least Ryan has been his usual swaggering, quotable self in his latest round of interviews, covering all his by-now-obligatory recurrent bullet points. Drug use, check; disavowing outlandish behavior he has supposedly outgrown, check; references to his prolific nature by way of another high-profile addition to his stash of unreleased music, check; tantalizing suggestion that he might actually release one of his “lost” golden oldies, check; and through it all, Ryan’s insistence that he always just goes with the flow — check.

As for the record itself, whatever I think about it at this point, chances are good I’ll think something completely different a year from now. But you know me, I can never shut the hell up even when I know I should. So here are a few initial impressions based on several days of listening to Ryan Adams:

(1) This might be damning with faint praise, but at least Ryan Adams is better than I expected it to be based on the lead single “Gimme Something Good” — a song that I still find pretty ho-hum after a decent amount of listens over the past few months.

(2) Tom Petty’s shadow hangs heavily over this album, which is not an inherently bad thing because Tom Petty is really good. Multiple songs (most notably “Trouble” and “Stay With Me”) have wailing guitar leads echoing Petty’s 1980 signature hit “Refugee,” and the overall vibe and dynamics are very similar to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Ryan Adams is a more engaging Petty album than Petty’s own current effort Hypnotic Eye. (ADDENDUM, 12/11/14: Stereogum agrees.)

(3) On the other hand, it pains me to say this, but other songs on Ryan Adams seem reminiscent of (God help me) Bryan Adams, especially “Feels Like Fire.” Now if you’re going to evoke Bryan Adams, “Run To You” would definitely be the right song for it. But still…Bryan Adams? Et tu, Ryan?

Elsewhere, “My Wrecking Ball” sounds like Whiskeytown’s “Avenues” as rewritten by Springsteen, while “I Just Might” sounds like a Springsteen demo. And speaking of popular rock-star dudes of a certain age evoked by this album, let’s see what Ryan’s old Whiskeytown bandmate Phil Wandscher thinks:

PhilRA

(4) It took me a while, but ultimately I decided that my main objection to Ashes and Fire was that it was a bit too subdued and monochromatic. While I wouldn’t call Ryan Adams jumpy or anything, it does vary tempos and textures enough to make me think I might someday prefer this one. But ask me a year or so from now.

(5) It’s tempting to read autobiography into anyone’s songs, but especially with someone like Ryan whose songs have been an open book for so much of his career. Maybe he’s turned over a new leaf, in which he’s no longer writing about himself. But if these songs are anything like an accurate reflection of his current mental state, he’s in a mighty grim place nowadays — and spending a lot of time in his own head. The opening couplet on the album, from “Gimme Something Good,” pretty much sets the tone: I can’t talk/My mind is so blank/So I’m going for a walk/I’ve got nothing left to say…

“I Just Might” is no cheerier: Everything’s broken/In my mind/Ain’t no place to run/Ain’t no place to hide. And “Shadows” likens the space between the singer’s ears to prison with a “field of razor wire” that “comes a little closer.” By the end, he’s “Tired of Giving Up” and decides to “Let Go.” And so he does.

(ADDENDUM (1/24/2015): In light of the two paragraphs above, this is not surprising.)

(6) A self-titled album, especially by someone who has been around a while, implies a statement-of-purpose declaration of sorts: This is who I am. And what bothers me about Ryan Adams is just how generic it is. It’s not bad — in fact, it’s perfectly pleasant while it’s playing — but it also sounds like something that any number of other people could have made. I’d rather hear another record that Ryan and only Ryan could have made. Given his thoughts on his own catalog, I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Maybe ever.

And that, dear reader, is why I’m disappointed (though not quite as harshly so as this guy).

ADDENDUM (8/28/2015): I don’t agree with this, but it’s a good take.


EthanReckoningMeantime, I actually do have a current favorite Ryan record, sort of, an album that unobtrusively slipped into the marketplace last month. That would be The Reckoning (Three Crows Music) by Ethan Johns, a mate of Ryan’s who has produced a significant chunk of his post-Whiskeytown solo career (Heartbreaker, Gold and 29). In a role reversal, Ryan is listed as producer of The Reckoning and also credited with drums, bass, electric guitar, synthesis and “Trash can.”

There’s not much trashy about this, though. Understated and emotional, The Reckoning is a song cycle about a young immigrant on the frontier in pre-Civil War America. But never mind the storyline. This brooding little record has a lovely atmosphere that seems fragile but is powerful enough to linger and draw you in. Imagine Heartbreaker if Nick Drake had made it; take a listen here and see what you think.

I’ll keep listening to both these records, of course, and I’ll continue paying attention to Ryan for as long as he’s making music (yeah, even when he’s just goofing off). But down the road, I’m fairly certain that The Reckoning will be the record I’m still interested in hearing.

ADDENDUM (9/9/14): Ethan Johns interview.

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GQ says Brian Adams, I say Ryan Adams, let’s call the whole thing off

Oh, GQ magazine. How do you go from bad to worse? Well, you do a listicle in which actor Rainn Wilson details his “10 Essentials,” including a Jura Espresso Machine, Orson Welles and “Songs Played By Sad, Intelligent Men With guitars.” Given the company below, the name between Josh Ritter and Bob Dylan is almost surely supposed to be Ryan Adams. Alas, GQ glitched it as “Brian Adams” (and also misspelled both the Lumineers and Elliott Smith). But the great thing about the web is you can correct flubs like this, which GQ did several hours after this went online — except they compounded their mistake by changing it to not to Ryan, but his birthday doppleganger Bryan Adams. Noooooooooooooo!

GQglitch

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