Posts Tagged With: N&O

Further artifacts from long ago: The 1995 “Star Watch”

WtownEarlyWhen I was researching and reporting “Losering,” I went looking for every word I’d ever written about Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown over the previous decade and a half, and I thought I’d found everything — until now. While looking up Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance in the newspaper’s archives the other day, I happened across a little blurb I’d forgotten all about. It was in a Sunday feature called “Star Watch” from April 1995, in which the News & Observer’s seven arts critics (oh, those were the days) spotlighted up-and-coming local artists and performers we thought were worth watching.

The list included a few folks who would go on to legitimate national careers, including tap dancer Dorrance, who will be receiving a major award next month; Ben Folds Five, then a couple of months away from releasing their first album; singer/actress Lauren Kennedy, who has had a very successful Broadway career; and, four months before the first time I met and interviewed Ryan, “Whiskey Town” (which is how the band’s name appeared in the credits of that spring’s Who The Hell compilation). Here’s how it read:

Whiskey Town

The Band: Ryan Adams, guitar and vocals; Skillet Gilmore, drums; Phil Wandscher, guitar; Caitlin Cary, violin; Steve Grothmann, bass

The big deal: Why did these ex-punks start playing country music? As Adams puts it in one Whiskey Town song, “So I started this damn country band/’Cause punk rock was too hard to sing.” For a demonstration, check out their brilliant deconstruction of “Blank Generation” on the new Richard Hell tribute album “Who the Hell.”

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Who is the “real” Ryan Adams?

PatrickCooperI happened onto an interesting essay inspired by “Losering” the other day, in a blog called Greetings From Evanston, Ill. It was a post with a beguiling title: “Every biography is a Strangers Almanac.” I could tell right away that this blogger and I would get along just fine, because there are two kids of people in this world: Those who get Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almamac, and those who don’t. “Losering” was written for those of us who get Strangers, an assemblage that is somewhere between cult and flock. Greetings, all. How you?

Anyway, the post began with author Patrick Cooper wondering if he had “just read the biography of a horrible person,” then ruminating at length about the impossibility of capturing a truly accurate representation of anyone in a biography. I think that’s about right. In my case, all I know of Ryan is what I’ve seen, heard and read over the years. A lot of that comes down to what he chose to reveal. Yes, Ryan has certainly had horrible moments over the years (as has everyone, your humble correspondent included), some of which are recounted in “Losering.” It would have been easy enough to write this book as the “Ryan Is A Douchebag” biography; there are plenty of folks out there who subscribe to that point of view, just as there are plenty of folks who believe he can do no wrong.

But I wasn’t interested in writing either a hatchet job or a hagiography, so I tried to chart a middle course that would be (in the parlance of Fox News) fair and balanced. While Ryan’s less-than-stellar side is certainly in there, the book also depicts him as someone with an immense amount of charm and personality. I feel a lot of empathy toward him and I hope that comes through. Whether or not it does, well, that’s not for me to say. But one early reader told me that I showed an “almost fatherly compassion” for Ryan, and most of the reviews so far bear that out. I expect Ryan would have a different opinion, of course. That’s okay because I wasn’t writing the book for him. So it’s all good.

Patrick followed his original post with another titled, “The time Ryan Adams wrote a cover letter to a newspaper,” about one of my favorite passages in the book — when Ryan applied for a job at the News & Observer with a rather astonishing cover letter that might be the closest he’s ever come to writing an autobiography. I originally wanted to reprint his entire resume in the book, but circumstances dictated that I settle for choosing a couple of paragraphs, which you’ll find in chapter two (pages 16-17). If you’d like to see the whole thing, go here.

It’s somewhat confusing in that a number of different writings are lumped together on the same page. The “resume” part that he submitted to the N&O is everything below the header “WORK EXPERIENCE.”

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