Posts Tagged With: Patty Duke Syndrome

Patty Duke Syndrome’s namesake passes on

PattyDukeWay back in the long-ago days before Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams had a great little punk band called Patty Duke Syndrome — named after the television star and Oscar-winning actress Anna Marie “Patty” Duke, who had played “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show” in the ’60s (and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Patty Duke Syndrome was around in the early 1990s, and I remember being surprised at the time to learn that the real-life Patty Duke was actually still alive.

But she was. It’s probably just as well that the trio of Ryan, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean didn’t get a record deal, which would have caused a lot of awkwardness and possibly litigation. Patty Duke Syndrome came to a bad end in 1994, with a breakup ugly enough that Ryan was still writing songs about it with Whiskeytown a year later (more on that is in chapter three of “Losering”). As for Patty Duke herself, she finally passed on today, at age 69.

Rest in peace, Ms. Duke. You were never forgotten, then or now.

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Pure gold: Corrosion of Conformity

DRACOCRyan Adams may not play in his native state of North Carolina anymore (as we’ve covered), but he definitely remembers and represents where he came from. For example, there’s this Instagram photo he posted a few days ago, in which he’s wearing a T-shirt bearing the classic spiked-skull logo for Raleigh hardcore legends Corrosion of Conformity.

COC has been around since the early 1980s, becoming enough of a thrash-metal trademark to inspire a 2010 “Saturday Night Live” sketch starring a middleaged band called “Crisis of Conformity.” They were one of the main reasons that Ryan’s Patty Duke Syndrome bandmate Brian Walsby was inspired to move to Raleigh in the mid-’80s and still pretty much ruled the town at the time Ryan himself arrived from Jacksonville in the early ’90s. And COC is still at it all these years later, with a tour opening for Lamb of God on this year’s schedule.

Despite never having anything like a mainstream “hit,” COC stands as a great example of how staying power is what really counts over the long haul. The band’s best-selling album, Deliverance, peaked at just No. 155 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart after it was released in the fall of 1994. And yet Deliverance has never stopped selling, to the point that it’s very close to reaching a very significant milestone.

I recently checked in on Deliverance‘s U.S. sales figures via Nielsen Soundscan, and it now stands at 499,000 copies — within just 1,000 copies of earning a gold record for half-a-million copies sold. So sometime in 2016, it should become official.

Somehow, COC earning a gold record before Ryan seems right and just. I expect Ryan himself would agree.

ADDENDUM (10/15/2016): A piece of long-ago COC history from 1984.

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A working-class hero is something to be: “Bastards I Used to Know”

“Bastards I Used to Know” was one of the earliest Whiskeytown songs, and it still lingers even though it was never released on a record. Also variously known as “Lucky Me” and “This Old City,” “Bastards” kind of stumbles along on the demo-ish recording of it that survives, with Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary still working out their vocal-harmony dynamic. It’s ragged but wonderful in a shambolic sort of way, like a drunken younger cousin of the old Jerry Jeff Walker warhorse “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” But where that song was pointedly tongue-in-cheek, this one is bitter to the core.

Ryan wrote “Bastards” as a poison-pen kiss-off to his former Patty Duke Syndrome bandmates, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean, with whom he’d had what he called “an evil breakup” the first time I interviewed him (more about that is in Chapter Three of “Losering”). Although it isn’t really about jobs or labor, I’ve always thought of “Bastards” as a Labor Day song, steeped as it is in working-class dayjob blues. Picture Ryan slaving away in the Rathskeller kitchen while muttering this under his breath:

This old city where I live is poor and dirty
Work I do, it barely pays the bills
This old city, it is home to stupid bastards I used to know
Lucky me, I’m too drunk to remember their names…

Should your Labor Day cookout today take a turn toward the inebriated, you could do a lot worse than this for group-sing-along fodder. So fire it up.

ADDENDUM — When I posted this on Facebook, I heard from Danny Kurtz, bassist in late-period Whiskeytown (and also the Backsliders):

That’s crazy. I took that photo of Ryan in Wyoming while driving to Seattle. We all stopped to take a break and there were all these pretty daisies growing on the side of the road. I sent it in years ago to a contest for best ryan photo.

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Inflation takes its toll

ARHASSLast June, a decades-old artifact from Ryan Adams’ past turned up on eBay: a cassette tape of late-night recordings he made with two of his pre-Whiskeytown bands, American Rock Highway and Ass, with a hand-drawn cover done by Ryan’s roommate/co-conspirator Tom Cushman. While it’s not the new Wu-Tang Clan album or anything, the ARH/Ass tape is a one-of-a-kind item — historically significant for those of us who care, even though Cushman describes the music as “godawful” (and I’d have to say I concur).

The tape didn’t draw any nibbles above the $3,000 starting-bid price while it was listed on eBay last year, but the seller claimed to have sold it. Wherever it wound up, 10 months later it’s back on eBay with a significantly higher asking price of $5,000. One of these days, you figure that Ryan himself might buy this since he can definitely afford it.

Last year’s seller claimed to need the money for medical expenses. This time around, it’s supposedly being sold to help fund a house purchase. Below is the seller’s description (with a first paragraph lifted from the blog post I did about last year’s sale). I’d be very curious to see the cartoon strip referenced at the end.

As detailed in Chapter Three of “Losering,” Ryan Adams formed a string of short-lived bands with his roommate Tom Cushman in the early 1990s, before Patty Duke Syndrome and Whiskeytown. Ryan recorded virtually all of his musical endeavors back then (even the ones that didn’t exactly deserve preservation), and some of the recordings survive to the present day — including a Maxell cassette tape featuring two of their Daisy Street bands, Ass and American Rock Highway.

So what is it? The only known recording of ASS, one of Ryan’s earliest Raleigh bands. There are no dubs of it, this is it. Ryan Adams voc/gtr, Tom Cushman bass, John Rea drums. It’s 6 songs, some in a Patty Duke Syndrome mode, others in a wilder improv infused style. Hints of things to come all over the place. The flip side of the tape is AMERICAN ROCK HIGHWAY, highly experimental noise rock with Tom on guitar, Ryan on drums, has 10 songs. A chance to hear some of his pounding drums. I’m only parting with this gem because I am getting married in September and am going to be buying a house. It comes in the original tape case and the insert will be in a separate sleeve. The insert was hand drawn and it has the first reference to Ryan’s current label, Paxam, on the cover. When I got this I was also given a comic strip, not the one from Brian Walsby, featuring Ryan in it and I will also include that as well.

UPDATE (7/24/14): Well, the tape does not seem to have sold in the prior auction, so now the starting bid is $1,100.

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Further artifacts from Ryan Adams’ distant past: the Ass/American Rock Highway recordings

EBayAssARHAs detailed in Chapter Three of “Losering,” Ryan Adams formed a string of short-lived bands with his roommate Tom Cushman in the early 1990s, before Patty Duke Syndrome and Whiskeytown. Ryan recorded virtually all of his musical endeavors back then (even the ones that didn’t exactly deserve preservation), and some of the recordings survive to the present day — including a Maxell cassette tape featuring two of their Daisy Street bands, Ass and American Rock Highway.

Lo and behold, that very tape is for sale on eBay, albeit at a steep price: bids starting at $3,000 with a buy-it-now price of $4,000. Cushman made the tape (which wound up in the hands of a friend in Raleigh), and he confirms that it’s authentic and being sold with his blessing. Bidding closes next Saturday, June 22. For particulars, below is how the listing reads:

So what is it?  The only known recording of ASS, one of Ryan’s earliest Raleigh bands.  There are no dubs of it, this is it.  Ryan Adams voc/gtr, Tom Cushman bass, John Rea drums.  It’s 6 songs, some in a Patty Duke Syndrome mode, others in a wilder improv infused style.  Hints of things to come all over the place.  As a bonus, the flip side of the tape is AMERICAN ROCK HIGHWAY, highly experimental noise rock with Tom on guitar, Ryan on drums.  A chance to hear some of his pounding drums.  I’m only parting with this gem because I’ve had a health crisis and need the money.  A rare find, the only one in existence, written about in the Menconi book Losering.

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Ed Bumgardner bears witness

EdBumgardnerWhen I was reporting “Losering,” I didn’t interview too many other critics because I already had plenty of opinions about Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Between my own spiel and other reviews quoted throughout, the book certainly doesn’t lack for critical voices — con as well as pro. But one fellow critic I sought out was Ed Bumgardner, formerly of the Winston-Salem Journal and among the very few journalists who has covered rock music in North Carolina for even more years than I have.

While Ed parted ways with the Journal some years back, a casualty of the newspaper industry’s ongoing freefall, he still writes. And he remains a fount of wisdom and great backstory about a ton of acts from this part of the world, including Whiskeytown. He saw one of their more infamous onstage train wrecks in 1998, which is recounted in Chapter 10. Because Ed had more interesting things to say than I had room for in his quote in the book, below is the expanded version. This stands as most of what I took down when I interviewed him over the phone in early 2011:

The first time we met was with Patty Duke Syndrome. He was having a really hard time trying to decide whether or not to be the shithead drunk punk kid, or play the rock-star card. He had it all down, but it was sort of clear that something wasn’t quite ringing true about it all. Best band name ever, but the band didn’t back it up.

He was a mess, but he had that thing — that vibe of I’m important and you’re not. I was supposed to interview him, went to do it and he blew it off with me standing right there. It was at a club where they were playing, we’d set it up, he was gonna talk. There was some buzz and I thought they were sort of interesting. Then their road manager or whoever their keeper was said he didn’t have time to do it. It had been set up ahead of time, there was nothing going on at the time, so that was obviously bullshit. “Is he not around?” I asked, and then I realized he was standing there laughing. I looked at him and said, “Well?” And he did not say a word, just grinned, laughed and walked off.

“The second time around was Whiskeytown, coming to play Ziggy’s. Things were serious by then, lots of national ink about the bad-boy antics of Ryan Adams. There was the usual thing of would he talk or wouldn’t he. Then I get him on the phone and he was just as nice as could be — completely professional, chatty, smart, the whole nine yards. “Ryan,” I said, “you seem so unlike yourself.” He sort of laughed. “Well,” he said, “I quit drinking. I just had to. My health was going downhill, I didn’t like who I was becoming. It was just getting in the way. So I’ve had nothing to drink for 10 days and the shows have been going great.”

So I go to the show and he is drunk. Not just a little, but weaving, slurring, ROARING drunk. There were maybe 150 people there. The band came out and started the first song. Ryan turns around, walks over to the amp, turns his guitar up and lets it feed back. The band tries to soldier on, then stops. They talk a minute, Ryan’s walking around, they start another song. Ryan goes and does the same thing, but turns it up even louder. This time the amp is just screaming and he doesn’t stop, just stands there feeding back. People start to boo, he turns it up even louder. People start to leave, he turns it up louder. Finally the band walks off, disgusted, and he keeps standing there doing that and drinking a beer. At this point there are maybe 10 people left, mostly me and a few musicians from town. After a while Ryan comes back out alone, picks up a guitar and plays one of the most beautiful 40-minute sets I’ve ever heard. No band, just him. That was my big Ryan moment. I’ve not seen him since.

It’s such a hard thing to balance. You can absolutely see where these songs come from, all the influences contrived and some to the point where you feel like he should be sued. But he manages to catch the essence of what he cops from and put it down in a way that’s fucking brilliant. Then the other half, when it’s just him, it comes straight out of his heart. He’s so good at what he does. How else could you churn out 142 records? And none of them suck, either. Some are better than others, but I’ve never heard a bad one.

 People like that have the light on ’em. It’s gonna happen for them and you can just tell.


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Artifacts from long ago: The “Suck” contract

RossGradyRoss Grady’s name comes up a couple of times throughout “Losering,” which is fitting. He’s been an important presence in Triangle music for more than two decades, as a writer, deejay, obsessive chronicler, devoted fan, gadfly and all-around bon vivant. Ross was friends with various members of Whiskeytown as the group was forming in 1994 and he’d known of Ryan before that, when Ryan would call up trying to talk himself onto the WKNC local-music radio show Ross did. Ross discussed that when I interviewed him for the book in 2011:

I remember I was living on Cutler in Boylan Heights in about 1993, circa Patty Duke Syndrome. My phone was ringing, I answered and it was this Ryan Adams guy who wanted to tell me things about what he was doing. There was this adorable assumption that I’d give a shit, even though I’m pretty sure I had no idea at the time who he was. You know, jerks call all the time telling you crap you don’t want to hear about their awesome band. But at some level, Ryan was qualitatively different. It was funny as opposed to disturbing, which calls like that usually are. What was sort of endearing about Ryan was he had absolutely zero self-consciousness at all about it. He just had this assumption that you needed to know what he was doing, but not in an obnoxious way like 50 other people you could name. I can’t put my finger on why. I almost feel like it was because I’d never heard of anything he was talking about. Usually when people call they’ve already mailed their stupid tape, I’ve seen their stickers in every bathroom around town and they have a reputation as being irritatingly self-promotional. Ryan was the same, but somehow I’d never heard of him.

Ross wrote the earliest story on Whiskeytown that I could find — January 1995 in The Independent, an alternative country-themed piece about Whiskeytown (then “Whiskey Town”) and Pine State in which 20-year-old Ryan declared, “I don’t have time to be unclear — I’m going to die someday.” A bit more than three years after that, Ross had an entertaining interaction with Ryan at a show in the spring of 1998. It was a well-oiled conversation that concluded with Ryan drawing up a “contract” promising the following:

I hearby give Ross Fucking Grady the rights to anything I did that sucked.

You can read more about this in Chapter 10. The document in question is archived for posterity online here  — or you can check it out below. In October 2001, not long after the big Guitatown dustup, Ross posted a picture of this to the online newsgroup under the heading “The ‘Suck’ Trial.” That triggered several days of lively commentary, including Ross’ own observation that he “should start seeing checks from Gold any fucking day now.”


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Tom Cushman, lazy star

When I was doing interviews for “Losering,” I caught a break when Thomas Cushman surfaced as one of Ryan’s early confidantes who was willing to talk — and he had some great memories of the old days. Tom and Ryan were roommates and Rathskeller co-workers in the early 1990s, and they played together in a series of short-lived groups. Then Ryan went on to Patty Duke Syndrome and Whiskeytown, while Tom went on to play in the punk band The Chickens. Two decades on, he still remembers Ryan with great fondness.

“I think Ryan stepped on a few toes around here, but I’m proud of him,” Tom said in a 2011 interview. “I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. He was a young kid who knew what he wanted, and he did it. He’s done well for himself. I can’t believe the goofy space-boy I used to hang out with is where he is now. We never did anything seriously bad, though. Drank like fish, of course. Smoked gallons of pot, did a lot of speed.”

They also recorded incessantly. God be praised, Tom still had a lot of those old tapes, and he was willing to share. It was great fun to sit in Tom’s apartment and listen as he provided commentary about long-ago bands like American Rock Highway, Ass and Knife. But my favorite memory was Tom reacting to a spoken exchange he and Ryan had while recording as Lazy Stars. During a pause between songs, Ryan asked Tom if his lyrics were understandable. “Not really,” Tom said. Unfazed, Ryan pushed on and asked his next question with charming eagerness:

“Do I sound like I mean it?”

Hearing this again nearly 20 years later, Tom burst out laughing. “Man,” he said, “is that Ryan or what?”

No doubt. You’ll find more about this period in chapter three of the book. Meanwhile, Tom no longer lives in Raleigh, having moved away this past September to Portland, Ore. But I am honored to report that his final act as a Raleigh resident was to stop by my Quail Ridge reading on his way out of town. The copy I gave him was the first one I signed that night.

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More from the supporting cast: Brian Walsby

While I was reporting “Losering,” I wanted to talk to a bandmate of Ryan’s from his last and best pre-Whiskeytown group, Patty Duke Syndrome. That meant drummer Brian Walsby because the third member of the trio is no longer with us. Bassist Jere McIlwean died in a 1996 drug overdose, which inspired the 1997 Whiskeytown single “Theme For a Trucker” (named for McIlwean’s post-PDS band Trucker).

So I asked Brian if he’d talk about the old days and we had the same pre-interview conversation about Ryan that we always do, in which he expressed hesitancy about reopening that can of worms. But then we talked and it was fine, and he had many interesting things to say about his old bandmate; most of them fond, some not so much. Both kind of quotes are in the book. Still, nothing Brian told me on or off the record was as harsh as a graphic essay he composed in 2003, which is nicely summarized by the headline:

A twisted tale of almost obsession

Even leaving Ryan aside, Brian has an interesting history. He’s a fine drummer who has played in a dozen Triangle bands since the mid-’80s (highlighted by Polvo and Double Negative, who had some discussions with Ryan about signing to his label Pax-Am Records a year or two ago), and he’s also  an excellent cartoonist of semi-legendary repute in underground metal circles. I’ve written about some of that history in a couple of features for the paper, one in 2004 and another in 2011. Honestly, though, Walsby is his own best chronicler, as set down in countless cartoons and compiled in his “Manchild” series of books. Volume Six is the latest and it’s subtitled “Bye Bye Punk Rock..Hello Adulthood!!”

Some of the inspiration for that mindset comes from Walsby’s young daughter, Willow, who has Down Syndrome — which he and I have bonded over a bit, since I have a daughter with Down Syndrome myself; that’s Claudia, age 13, and she rocks just as hard as her twin brother Edward and big brother Aaron (a budding rock star in his own right, dig his work on bass in the Raleigh teenage hardcore band Pure Scum).

Nevertheless, Walsby still gets out to rock a good bit. He’s been on the road a lot with Seattle proto-grunge band the Melvins in recent years, handling merch sales as well as drawing what he sees and selling his own wares. Get his attention when the Melvins play Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Wednesday night, and maybe he’ll draw you.

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