An often-repeated story about Ryan Adams has him playing a solo acoustic show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Someone in the audience is repeatedly shouting a request: “Play Summer of ’69!” Adams ends up storming into the audience, finds the guy, hands him two $20 bills and tells him to leave.
“Summer of ’69,” of course, is a pop hit by Bryan Adams. And a pop hit unworthy of Ryan Adams, apparently.
In the years since, the incident has been cast as a humorless rock star overreacting to a disrespectful, possibly drunk, fan. In a piece he wrote for The New York Times, Adams – Ryan, not Bryan – confessed that the incident left him so scarred that he had to go into therapy. And, perhaps in an effort to address this demon, Ryan Adams has since played “Summer of ’69” a few times at shows. Why, in one those moments of synchronicity that convinces you there is a God, and he has a sense of humor, the two men even share the same birthday, and Ryan has said he emails Bryan birthday good wishes.
I understand. One thing our artists share with the rest of humanity is they come in all flavors. Ryan Adams is one of the sensitive ones. Maybe that’s why I own a couple of his albums. I like the artists whose introspection spirals into self-flagellation.
But, I guess I won’t be buying Big Colors, the Ryan Adams album that was scheduled to be released in April. The Capitol Music Group, which was to distribute the album, will no longer do so. Adams has lost a couple of sponsors, radio stations are dropping him from their playlists. That’s in response to more than a half-dozen women having accused Ryan of manipulative behavior and harassment: Musicians that include Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Jaye and Karen Elson. Or musicians who have confirmed he’s capable of such behavior: Jenny Lewis and Liz Phair. Accusations that include dangling career-enhancing promises in front of them in exchange for train-wreck relationships that have even included him threatening suicide. The accusers include his ex-wife, Mandy Moore, herself a musician who you may recognize from the television show This is Us. And there is one woman who says she was 14 when she first began trading sexually explicit texts with Adams. The FBI is supposedly looking into that one.
Adams denies the accusations, but does admit, “I am not a perfect man.” Yes, he’s confessed he’s had drug issues. And – just guessing here, I’m not a doctor – psychological issues. Yet in sharing his sensitive side with us, through song and his New York Times confessional, it doesn’t occur to Adams that others around him may have vulnerable psyches as well.
So this news goes hand-in-withered-claw with R. Kelly, the hip-hop artist who has been accused of having sex with an underage girl. A grand jury was seated Monday to hear the charges. And there is Forever Neverland, the documentary featured at the recent Sundance Film Festival. It airs stories by men, young boys at the time, who claim they were sexually assaulted by Jackson at his fantasy-driven ranch, Neverland.
Actually, this isn’t news. We’ve been hearing unsettling stories about R. Kelly for years. Stories, even, that he kept women as prisoners. And while I haven’t seen Neverland, I’m pretty confident that I know that story. Jackson owned massive amounts of child porn. And something else I read about a few years ago, a story that didn’t get much attention: After Jackson’s death, besides the child porn, investigators also found animal-torture videos. According to experts in child abuse, that kind of thing is a device used to break down a child’s resistance against his or her victimization.
Add to these the sordid side of the film world, and accusations of sexual harassment or abuse against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen.
I suppose you could call me a hypocrite because you can no longer find the music of R. Kelly and Michael Jackson, and now Ryan Adams, in my music collection. They have been purged. Yet I have an album by the old Western swing bandleader Spade Cooley, who beat to death his estranged wife. I have records by Son House and Lead Belly, bluesmen who did time jail time for killing people. And some by Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 13-year-old cousin. Maybe it’s the passage of time that allows these crimes to fall into the category of curious history.
But maybe, I just feel differently about a guy like Ryan Adams because it’s coming from my time, a moment of which I’m in charge.
None of these supposedly modern-day men have been found guilty of anything. But there is an air of entitlement here: People of power preying on the weak, whether you’re talking movie moguls or funny uncles. Or reality television stars who somehow stumble into the White House.
How do they get away with it?
They have our permission.
“Ryan had a network too,” Bridgers wrote on her Instagram account. She dated Adams, she says, until his “obsessive and emotionally abusive behavior” brought an end to their relationship. “Friends, bands, people he worked with. None of them held him accountable. They told him, by what they said or by what they didn’t, that what he was doing was okay. They validated him. He couldn’t have done this without them.”
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