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Ryan Adams is holding me hostage

By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor

So the Ryan Adams kick has not worn off yet. At all. I wrote about him on April 17 and the apparant end of his Tumblr blog, DRAdamsFilms, lovingly known as “Foggy.” The blog is really over now, but in that month since, the sound of the Cardinals have not stopped permeating through my humble abode.

With few detours, it is almost all I have listened to for the past six weeks. Every album has had a turn at this point, at least twice. Some, like Cold Roses, are all-time-top-5-high-fidelity favorites getting the air time they’ve earned. Others are unreleased albums that I hadn’t gotten around to before, including The Second Pinkhearts Sessions and The Swedish Sessions. Lots of live stuff, too, with shows from 1999 to 2008 getting spins. There have been significant hours of my life recently dedicated to listening to every spit and gurgle of this man. HIs side bands, his punk leanings, his sweet country swing, they’re all antidotes to the pressures of everyday life.

And nothing else has filled the gap the way his music has in a long time. There are a select few bands that have truly and honestly pushed me to try to be a better person, or, at the very least, helped me cope with new or difficult times. Pearl Jam pushed me through the early part of high school and the later part of college. Wilco helped me move on with my life in the early part of the decade. Radiohead has always lent a symathetic ear and an energizing kick to keep me going. The Who helped me reach new heights, both personally and creatively, as my 20s started. Soon after, Sonic Youth shattered my previous notion of what music, expression and art could be. The Beatles have almost been a third parent. It may seem like a long list, but when you consider the amount of music I take in — and legitmately enjoy — on a day-to-day basis, it’s a very select group.

And though it’s not new, Ryan Adams has got to be included in that class somewhere. Since discovering him in the fall of 2001, he and his insane barrage of new music have been a true friend. His songs have picked me up and, almost effortlessly, broken my heart. When I’m stressed out, a few spins of the majestic Jacksonville City Nights can ease my worried mind. When I’m in a happy-yet-contemplative mood, a turn through Demolition is great company. However, when I’m down, the same album (especially “Tomorrow”) can send me over the deep end. Sad songs are sad songs, but his carry such weight that they really do send me to the edge on the right day.

That’s an issue that many seem to have with him, the whole “Sad Bastard” aspect to his music. But, for the most part, that’s a media-contrived persona that fit easily with many of the songs on his early records, especially the conveniently-titled Heartbreaker. But his music does go deeper than that. One listen to the punk side project the Finger and their record We Are Fuck You/Punk’s Dead Let’s Fuck will tell you that. But listen to the touches of the Grateful Dead and their ear for flourishes on his recent work. Listen to the way he recalls his life in the South on “Let it Ride.” Listen to the barely restrained plea of “My Love For You is Real,” or the rollicking fun of “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).”

There’s far more than I could ever hope or dream to list here, of course. And there always is when you find yourself writing gushing manifestos on your favorite musicians. On top of the fact that he can get me shaking, leave my jaw dropped or break me in two, what I’ve really admired about him is his work ethic. I touched on this in my previous article, but his ability to give himself over totally to his muse is what I find most inspiring about him as a person. I don’t have much, if any, insight into his personal life beyond what most already know, but the impression I get based on his massive amount of recorded work is that he’s constantly creating, following ideas, and pushing to get those projects out into the public eye.

That’s what the blog was about. That’s why he tried to release a five-disc box set in lieu of Demolition in 2002. If you count the Love is Hell EPs as one record, he has released nine proper albums in eight years as a solo artist. In addition, he also has at least 10 more full albums yet to find their way into record stores. Plus there are enough b-sides and bonus tracks to occupy a few more CDs worth. And I’m still not counting his punk/hip-hop turns as WereWolph, Sad Dracula, DJ Reggie and the Shit. Add those in, and you’re looking at another 20 albums or so worth of material.

Having an editor is handy for whittling all that down for industry-friendly releases, but the fact that he’s gone to those lengths to flesh out ideas and, subsequently, allowed their exposure goes to prove that he’s believes in what he’s doing.

And that’s what I hear every time his sound emanates from my stereo, my headphones and my car speakers. I hear the honest expression of an artist willing to try anything he can in order to push his work forward. On most of his songs, he’s an expert musician with a magnificent voice. And on his best work, he has the ability bring listeners to their knees. In the process, he’s entered the pantheon of those few, select artists who I can say have literally changed my life. Does that sound corny? Absolutely. But it’s the truth, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about folks who have never allowed themselves to be affected by a beautiful piece of art. Books, films, paintings, music, they all have the ability to change how we look at the world and ourselves. It's about letting your guard down and accepting that the power of creativity can change your outlook and help you express what you couldn't illustrate. And for me, that’s what Ryan Adams’ Cold Roses has in common with, say, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Radiohead’s the Bends, and other life-altering albums.

At some point in the next few months, I’ll slowly start listening to something else until it overtakes a full week, month, whatever. Maybe I’ll get on a Rolling Stones kick, or perhaps a new discovery will make me giddy. And it could be that I just see a band live and start listening to all of their stuff for a while.

But whatever it is, I must beware. Because lurking in the shadows, at all times, will be Ryan Adams, waiting to take my ears hostage again. And I’m cool with that.

May 27, 2008

E-mail Nick Tavares at nick@staticandfeedback.com

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