Let’s mark the day with one of Ryan’s best songs from the vaults, 1999’s still-unreleased “Oh My Sweet Valentine” (also known as “Petal in a Rainstorm”). The first time I ever heard “Valentine” was Oct. 20 of that year, when it was one of a handful of spellbinding new songs that Ryan played solo at Local 506 in Chapel Hill — a show recounted in Chapter 11 of “Losering.”
Ryan played unaccompanied for most of the night, and Caitlin joined him for the closing stretch. “Valentine” remains among my favorite songs from that period, and I think it’s kind of tragic that it has yet to be properly released all these years later. But for those who care, at least it’s out there.
Had all gone according to my original scenario, some version of this photograph on the right would be on the cover of “Losering.” Taken by the very fine North Carolina-based photographer Daniel Coston, it would have made a fitting illustration for several reasons beyond the fact that it’s just a great picture. I love the fact that Caitlin is more visible than Ryan, whose presence is more implied than seen; and its ambience of dark mystery perfectly fits the book’s story, which reaches its apex with Whiskeytown’s black-night-of-the-soul masterpiece Strangers Almanac. It was also taken at a pivotal show described in the book: October 1999 at Chapel Hill’s Local 506, when Ryan sat down and blew a crowd away with a set of brand-new songs no one had ever heard before (see Chapter 11, pages 124-125 — or download that show from here).
Alas, UT Press had other ideas about the cover and politely put the kibosh on my plans because the marketing department wanted all the books in the American Music Series to have a consistent visual style. Having grown very attached to this picture as the “face” of the book in my mind, I was rather grumpy about the whole thing — a feeling that vanished the instant I saw the brilliant cover that UT Press book designer Lindsay Starr came up with. It makes a great visual representation of the “Losering” story, and I have to admit it’s tons better than anything I had envisioned. It sets a tone I like, equal parts funny and grandly catastrophic, especially the placement of my name on the label. I still owe Lindsay a beer for this, come to think (in an unbroken bottle, of course).
It was a helpful reminder that sometimes other people really do know better, so it’s best to keep out of their way. But I still love Daniel’s photo, too, so I made it the anchor art for this blog when it first went online. Daniel took a lot of pictures of Ryan and Whiskeytown back in the day, some of which turned up as illustrations for the American Songwriter magazine excerpt several months back. He also has a Ryan picture in a show called Visualizing American Roots Music, on display at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Folklife Collection. That’s on the second floor of UNC’s Wilson Library, and it will be up until the end of 2013.
Visualizing American Roots Music opens on Friday (January 11), in conjunction with a series of symposia and performances titled The Fiddle, happening Friday and Saturday (January 11-12) on the UNC campus. Word to the wise, all of the events are free.
Major thanks to everyone who came out for the first two “Losering” readings, this past Thursday at Quail Ridge in Raleigh and Friday at Flyleaf in Chapel Hill. They were both lovely events with attentive audiences, especially Quail Ridge, although that night got off to a somewhat unpromising start. I read a passage, which seemed to go over well enough, and then I asked for questions. The only person to raise a hand was a young man who apparently thought I was Ryan Adams.
The thought flashed through my mind that this was going to be a long night — or, worse, a very short one. Fortunately, as I tried to explain that I just wrote a book about Ryan and could take no credit for his songs, I spied a rock star in the house. Bless his heart, Mr. Kenny Roby showed up; I was surprised and touched to see him there. So I gave Kenny a shout-out and a plug for his show the next night.
After that, the next hour flew by with lots of fine and thoughtful questions about the book and Whiskeytown and Ryan, leaving just enough time for me to sign a stack of books in a flurry before closing time. My great and loyal friend Scott Huler also threw an after-party where his band the Equivocators played a few Whiskeytown songs including “Faithless Street” and “Midway Park.” It was truly, truly awesome, and a big honor — a night I’ll never forget.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Lee
Friday night at Flyleaf didn’t draw quite as big a crowd; didn’t help that the heavens opened up just before showtime. But there was still a nice nucleus of folks — including Glenn Boothe, owner of Chapel Hill’s Local 506, a club where I saw Ryan play one of his best-ever solo shows in October 1999 (recounted in chapter 11 of the book); Steve Balcom, who used to run the aforementioned Mammoth Records, where the Backsliders recorded back in the day; and noted computer guru/poet Paul Jones. My American Music Series co-editor Peter Blackstock did the introduction, and I was glad to have him there.