Dude’s a Mystery
by Molly Lambert
Honestly, I don’t know why Ryan Adams isn’t making that VH1 money. He’s kind of like the Robbie Williams of America, except it’s even more embarrassing because he can’t break in in his own fucking country. And it’s not like he doesn’t pander, he duets with people like Sheryl Crow and Adam Duritz.
I mean can dude write an Oscar nominated song or something? I could see him becoming the new Randy Newman. The formerly acidic now cuddly songsmith writing songs for the Pixar movies of the future. Or at least John Mellencamp. Or is he doomed to be Warren Zevon, unable to sell any records and eventually getting going on late night with cancer to complain about how nobody cares he is dying. Does the heartland really just not give a fuck about Ryan Adams? Is this still about Gram Parsons having pot leaves embroidered on his Nudie suit?
And why doesn’t he have a huge gay following? His songwriting is as gay or gayer than Rufus Wainwright’s, and Wainwright has the excuse of actually fucking men. Can’t this dude do a duet with Toby Keith? Willie Nelson did a duet with Toby Keith, and Ryan Adams knows he’s not better than Willie Nelson. Bon Jovi just sold a ton of records by pandering to the mainstream country audience.
Ryan Adams must be a real tool to work with or something because he is a song factory and I don’t understand how he is not a huge success with the sort of people who listen to The Fray and John Mayer, who I guess are sorority girls. He writes music like Robin Williams tells jokes, and at about the same success rate. But you have to sort of admire him for not editing his output more.
A lot of artists get so wrapped up in their album to album sound and aesthetics reinventions the audience gets bored and goes elsewhere inbetween. There was a good New York Magazine article about Interpol, who have to peddle their Joy Division sound and third reich fashion to tweens who have already moved on to Fall Out Boy and whatever the fuck else the kids like now, Hannah Montana. Actually, I like Hannah Montana. She’s definitely more alt-country than Ryan Adams.
But that’s the other thing about Ryan Adams. He can’t really disappoint you because he is always disappointing you. You are so used to his being a fuck up and your expectations have become so low that when he manages not to be a fuck up and writes an actually good song you are so surprised you stop being mad at him for a few seconds and remember why you liked him in the first place.
He’s pretty much the world’s worst boyfriend, and I feel like I’ve dated him. But maybe that’s because he’s dating Jessica Joffe and I totally feel her with the whole high-profile redhead attatched to a talented rocker dude (see also: Jack White and Karen Elson, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa).
Joffe and Adams apparently kicked heroin together, which is chapter seven or something of any Behind The Music. I don’t know that it’s improved or damaged his songwriting. He’s as ADD as ever. Most of the songs are dross but then a few are total AM radio bangers.
I never cared much for Whiskeytown. They were always “that other alt-country band that is nowhere near as good as Uncle Tupelo.” But Heartbreaker, his first solo effort, is a fantastic album. There are some great songs on Gold, but it’s mostly terrible and should never have been released as a double (plus a bonus disc!) album. All the albums between Gold and Easy Tiger have been totally scattershot, with lots of songs that should have been outtakes. But again with the internet, B-sides appear instantly so maybe he’s just way ahead of us.
Another thing that’s a problem for him is how much he jumps around stylistically. Half the songs are sung in a beautiful raspy tone, and then a few in a weird froggy Ron Sexsmith-like falsetto, and a few more in a strained Alex Chilton/Paul Westerberg type voice. But this diversity should work for and not against him. I mean Of Montreal are doing Outback Steakhouse commercials for fuck’s sake. Can Ryan Adams please sell out to Applebee’s or Chili’s or some other horrible restaurant that donates all their profits to the GOP?
I guess I had a lot to say about Ryan Adams. Maybe someone can link this to Gawker and he can read it. He wrote into them once when they called Jessica Joffe a “socialite” because she is actually a very serious lady journalist who gets to sit in the front row of fashion shows. I hope it lasts even though I’m sure he is a whiny pain in the ass to take care of and wants to play new songs for you all the time and that has to get annoying, even if all the songs are about you. Maybe especially if they are.
This reminds me to link you to this page about mod model and sixties muse Pattie Boyd. She married George Harrison and later left him for Eric Clapton. They both cheated on her a ton (ugh, musicians) and she and Clapton divorced in the eighties. The songs “Something” by Harrison and “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” by Clapton are about her. She’s dating some dodgy looking real estate guy now and looks like any patrician Englishwoman.
Molly Lambert is the senior contributor at this recording. She lives in Echo Park, California.