Posts Tagged With: Van Alston

Ryan Adams, “Flying Dracula”

It’s been years since Ryan Adams has lived in (or even visited) the setting for “Losering,” his old pre-fame stomping grounds of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. A lot has changed in the years since Ryan has been gone, but a few traces of his time here linger into the present day. And below is an artifact, if you could call off-color graffiti an artifact.

This is written on a bathroom wall of The Cave, a cool subterranean nightspot on the main Franklin Street drag over in Chapel Hill whose co-owners include Van Alston (Ryan’s “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer). It is of uncertain provenance and looks like something Ryan could have written himself, based on the handwriting and how often he has used variations of “Dracula” as a pseudonym over the years — including “Sad Dracula” and, going way back, “Count Chocula.” And for a limited time, you can get this on a T-shirt, red print on black. They’re gong for $20 while they last. Email MarkConnor@mac.com to check on availability.

FlyingDracula

 

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Ryan’s Raleigh — disappearing fast…

SadlacksBefore

Sadlack’s, circa 2012.

Toward the end of “Losering,” I wrote that Ryan Adams probably wouldn’t even recognize his old hometown anymore, given how much of Raleigh has been torn down and rebuilt since Whiskeytown’s 1990s heyday. You don’t have to look any farther than the Hillsborough Street strip, Raleigh’s main drag along the northern edge of the NC State campus, to see how some of the city’s most notable Whiskeytown-era landmarks are disappearing, bulldozed to make way for fancy new real-estate projects going up.

Right across from the NC State Bell Tower is where the former Sadlack’s stood, at the corner of Hillsborough and Enterprise streets. Here it is on the right, the place where Whiskeytown first convened 20 years ago. But Sadlack’s has been gone since its last-waltz blowout this past New Year’s Eve and below is what that block looks like now, on its way to becoming a 135-room Aloft Hotel that will open sometime next summer.

SadsNov

The new Aloft Hotel rises over the grave of Sadlack’s.

 


BreweryNov

Stanhope, under construction on the block where The Brewery used to be.

About seventh-tenths of a mile west of where Sadlack’s was, The Brewery nightclub used to stand at 3009 Hillsborough Street; site of countless late and great nights with Whiskeytown, Backsliders, 6 String Drag and other cool bands from all over. After the club was torn down in 2011 (along with the Comet Lounge next door), that block stood vacant for a couple of years, home to nothing more than weeds and parked cars. Now it’s being turned into the huge student-residential complex you see going up here on the right; called Stanhope, it’s also opening next summer.

DaisyStNov

6 Daisy Street in Raleigh, home of Lazy Stars, American Rock Highway and other bands from Ryan Adams’ distant past.

Fortunately, not quite everything has vanished. Ryan’s old residence with Tom Cushman, the Daisy Street House, is still standing just off Hillsborough Street. Here it is on the left; I parked in front of it when I went by to take the picture of the old Brewery site.

Also, former Brewery co-owner (and “Come Pick Me Up” co-writer) Van Alston is still a nightlife impressario in Raleigh, picking up musicians’ bar tabs at his current downtown joint Slim’s. In recognition of his many contributions to the music community over the years, the local alt-weekly here recently bequeathed Alston with one of its annual Indies Arts Awards — for which congratulations are in order.

Alas, something else that hasn’t changed all these years later is that Ryan remains a magnet for hecklers, even when he’s playing bigger, plusher rooms than he ever played in Raleigh; and he still doesn’t hesitate to fire back. A friend of mine knows someone who caught Ryan’s show in Boston the other night and passed along the following account of the evening:

Ryan Adams is incredibly gifted, but sober or not, still a bit of a jerk on stage. Nothing like when I first saw him play at the House of Blues on Lansdowne Street, where he put his back to audience for much of the show, and/or stood in the stage wings, in darkness, out of the view of the paying attendees. He ripped into a couple of fans last night, one of whom was right next to me. “You should write a blog to speak your mind, and join this asshole in front of me, you fucking prick!” That was typical of comments throughout the night… My friend was somehow able to isolate Adams’ snarky persona from his performance and still enjoy the event, something I wasn’t quite able to do.

Oh, Ryan…

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Further souvenirs from long ago: The “On Fire” T-shirt

DRAisOnFireSo we’re greeting the new year at my house by cleaning up a bit; you know, throwing some things out, moving other things around, hanging pictures on the walls, tidying up here and there. And while sorting through a long-neglected pile of old T-shirts the other night, I rediscovered one of my favorite Ryan Adams souvenirs.

It’s a shirt dating back to Ryan’s fall 1999 solo tour (recounted in Chapter 11 of “Losering”), a time when his band was in limbo and he was “Working For A Whiskeytown Free World.” It says so right on the back of the shirt, as you can see below. I love the sentiment on the front, too:

RYAN ADAMS IS ON FIRE
SOMEBODY PUT HIS ASS OUT

Van Alston, who served as Ryan’s tour manager back then (and also co-wrote the Heartbreaker tune “Come Pick Me Up”), was the guy responsible for this little piece of DRA sartorial genius. Van made up a limited-edition run of just 48 of these shirts to sell on the road, and they went fast. But he was kind enough to give me one before they left. Not that I’d ever part with it, but I expect this would fetch a pretty penny on eBay.

DRAWFW

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Ryan’s Raleigh

More than one reader has remarked on how Raleigh is almost like another character in “Losering,” which I’m always happy to hear. I’m proud of the book as a document not just of Ryan, but of the scene and era he emerged from. To that end, I thought I’d show you around a bit with a tour of some of the places in Ryan’s old hometown where various events in the story happened. So come with me on a whirlwind journey through the past, as we wander through Raleigh down Faithless Street toward…Whiskeytown.

BerkeleyCafeBerkeley Cafe (317. W. Martin St.) — This was where my story with Ryan literally began. As recounted in the preface, it’s the first place I ever sat down to interview him way back in 1995. The Berkeley has been around since the early ’80s, and it’s a lot longer on funky charms than creature comforts. But those charms are more than enough. I still see music at the Berkeley on a regular basis, including a show by Caitlin Cary’s Tres Chicas in early November and my 17-year-old son Aaron’s new punk band’s public debut earlier this month; and I have lunch there almost every week with my pal Scott Huler. It’s still one of my favorite Raleigh dives, conveniently located just down the street from the News & Observer’s office.

DaisyStreetDaisy Street house (6 Daisy St.) — This bungalow where Ryan lived with Tom Cushman in the early ’90s served as the setting for much of Chapter three’s events, including the numerous bands they formed and the near-conflagration that yielded up the song “Burning Bed.” Daisy is just one block long, and the house in question is the first one on the right after you turn onto the street from Hillsborough and pass Cup A Joe. It’s a stone’s throw from the Brewery and walking distance from Ryan’s then-place of employment, the Rathskeller at 2412 Hillsborough (which closed years ago and is now the site of a much-plusher eatery called Porter’s Tavern).

BreweryDemolitionThe Brewery (3009 Hillsborough St.) — When I think “mid-’90s Whiskeytown show,” the Brewery is the place that comes to mind because I saw more Whiskeytown shows there than anywhere else. I’ve got plenty of personal Brewery history myself. When I interviewed for the N&O’s rock-writer job in December 1990, the Brewery was the first club in Raleigh where I saw a show; Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, and it was lots of fun. Yes, the joint was a dive, but also the best-sounding room in town (thank you Jac Cain, soundman to the stars). The Brewery was kind of the CBGB of mid-’90s alternative country, which was handy because I lived just a block away back then. Brewery lore includes a fantastic live EP that the Backsliders recorded there; some scenes in the underrated 1996 movie “Bandwagon”; and Tres Chicas citing the women’s bathroom as the place they formed.

Alas, the Brewery’s been gone since August 2011, when it was torn down to make way for a retail/residential development that will probably never be built — going on a year and a half later, it’s still a dirt parking lot. Two of the N&O’s photographers did a really cool video of the building being demolished, set to a recording of Ryan and Caitlin singing “Heart Is Broken” onstage at the Brewery in October 1999 (a show described in Chapter 11).

Comet

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

Comet Lounge (3003 Hillsborough St.) — One of Ryan’s favorite watering holes back in the day, a dark-walled joint that was made for consumption more than socializing. The Comet is enshrined in the lyrics of the Strangers Almanac song “Yesterday’s News”: “See you at the Comet.” The Brewery stood right next door to the Comet and they were connected by an adjoining breezeway, which was a big hangout during marathon events like the annual roots-rock blowout  S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest. The two buildings’ proximity made possible hilarious incidents like Ryan wandering over to the Comet for a mid-set drink while Caitlin was singing “Matrimony” onstage at the Brewery (see Chapter five). And the Comet was also the site of a memorably alcohol-fueled interview I conducted with Ryan on the eve of Strangers’ release in 1997 (see Chapter seven). Back in the day, both the Comet and Brewery were partly owned by Van Alston, co-writer of two songs on Heartbreaker including “Come Pick Me Up.” But Van sold his interest in the Comet long ago, and in recent years it’s been a bar called Katmandu.

CircusBurgerCircus Family Restaurant (1600 Wake Forest Road) — As recounted in Chapters two and three, Ryan had a long series of restaurant jobs around Raleigh in the years before he was able to make a fulltime living as a musician. One of them was at this burger joint north of downtown, where he worked long enough to quit with the flamboyant declaration, “This place is like a three-ring circus and I’m tired of working for peanuts.”

Sadlacks

Photo courtesy of John Morris, goodnightraleigh.com

Sadlack’s (2116 Hillsborough St.) — Another of Ryan’s old workplaces and one of Raleigh’s most beloved institutions, with a colorful barfly vibe. Sadlack’s was also the birthplace of Whiskeytown, which came together in the fall of 1994 as an assemblage of Sadlack’s employees and regulars — see Chapter four. Sadlack’s is still open in the shadow of NC State’s belltower, with a vintage Whiskeytown flyer hanging in a frame on a wall across from the bar. But there’s no telling how much longer it will be around. The entire block (which is also the current site of Schoolkids, one of the last independent record stores in the area) has been condemned for a huge 250-room hotel, although it’s not clear when construction will begin; probably sometime in 2013. Sadlack’s owner Rose Schwetz was trying to relocate a few blocks up Hillsborough Street — in the vicinity of the old Rathskeller space, ironically enough — but negotiations fell through. “I’m planning on just staying here for as long as I can, until the bulldozers come and make me leave,” she told me in November 2012. I hope that won’t be for a long time.

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