Ryan Adams Is Right On Track
I was living in Raleigh, NC in 1996. I had followed some loser guy up there from Charlotte. I hated almost everything about Raleigh & Chapel Hill, except the basketball & music scene. I was hopping around between the two college towns, taking classes here & there (to please the parents), but mostly seeing live shows. Live music is my therapy and where I am my happiest.
Ryan Adams grew up in the Marine-base town of Jacksonville, NC and is the middle of three children. His childhood is described as dysfunctional, as most kids of divorce are. His parents divorce left he and his siblings and Mother homeless. Eventually, they moved in with his Grandparents and Ryan has stated "I became who I am now because of my Grandparents."
Ryan was a high school drop out, who had a love of cult fiction. He was said to type short stories on his Grandmother's typewriter as a child. He learned to play the guitar at the age of 14 and soon joined a band named Blank Label in the early 90's. He later got his GED. Blank Label didn't last and soon he moved to the college town of Raleigh, where he joined a band called The Patty Duke Syndrome.
"I got to Raleigh and didn't know a soul, except the loser I was with."
In 1996, I was fresh out of high school and had zero plans to go to college. School wasn't my thing. Music was. I saw my 1st Dead show in the 6th grade and when Phish came along, I was a slave to the live shows. I had dropped out of high school at Myers Park about 2 weeks into my sophomore year and had been out West traveling around and seeing bands. When I came home and graduated, it was only to please my Mother. When I moved to Raleigh, it was mostly to escape Charlotte. Everyone knew me and my family, and I hated it. I wanted to go somewhere I didn't know a soul. Raleigh sounded like just the town.
I got to Raleigh and didn't know anyone, except the loser I was with. About a month after I got to town, we split and I was homeless. I was too proud to call my parents, so I couch surfed for awhile. I landed a job working in a coffee shop named Starbucks; you may have heard of it? This was 1996 and Starbucks was new on the scene. All I knew was it was on campus and I could eat and drink for free, so I was like "sign me up!"
"Ryan Adams hates country music and always has. He says he only “references” it when he makes erm… country music, and cannot stand the stuff unless the Grateful Dead are messing around with it." - Clash Music
The Brewery on Hillsborough Street quickly became my home away from home. I could walk from work and would go see local bands there weekly, like The Blue Rags out of Statesville, NC. I was still in the Grateful Dead mode when Ryan's band Whiskeytown came on the scene and I wasn’t 100% sold on the garage meets country sound. Whiskeytown changed that real fast.
Whiskeytown was formed in 1994 after the break up of The Patty Duke Syndrome. The group consisted of Ryan, Caitlin Cary, Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, Steve Grothmann and Phil Wandscher. It's said that Ryan took a more country-alt route to the vocals because punk rock was too hard to sing. Their debut album, Faithless Street is said to be heavily influenced by rhythm and blues and country rock pioneer Graham Parsons of The Byrds. Ryan and his band played The Brewery (that has since closed) in 2000. Check out the set list here.
I made friends fast in Raleigh and bumped into a few kids I knew from Charlotte, and I soon found a place to lay my head at night. I had this old '76 Bronco and we would pile into it and go to shows. We were all heavily into music and what was new. Raleigh and Chapel Hill were the place to be. One day I got ahold of a copy of Strangers Almanac & I was instantly hooked. I always say 'if it's got a beat, I'll take a listen." It was one of those albums I could listen to from beginning to end, each song better than the last. It was on repeat for months. I still listen to that entire album and have that same feeling I did 20+ years ago. I want to roll the windows down in my car and turn it all the way up and sing at the top of my lungs.
Last Fall I was out on the Pacific Coast Highway, making the drive from San Francisco to LA. It was the day of the Las Vegas shootings and Tom Petty had just died. I had to pull over on the side of the road and pull myself together. I was an emotional wreck and felt so disconnected from the world. This song came on my playlist and I have never felt so homesick for North Carolina. Ryan and Emmylou singing about my home. It's a moment in my life that I will never forget.
I recall telling my friends about Ryan, & they’d say “you mean Brian Adams?” Umm no.... RYAN Adams. I was sure he'd make it one day. He was good. He was punk rock, scruffy and kinda shy and not the typical boy-band looking guy to make it at that time. He reminded me of that Sonic Youth/early Nirvana - Bleach sound and look. This was the late 90s during the Britney/NSYNC/Backstreet Boys era of over produced studio pop music that I was not a huge fan of. I always kept an eye on Ryan, following his career, waiting for his moment to shine. When he married Mandy Moore, (yes the Mandy Moore of the now famous This Is Us) I was a little shocked. She was marketed as a bubblegum singer and well...he was anything but bubblegum. Their marriage lasted six years, and I have to credit that relationship for some of the best music he has ever put out.
“That was such bullshit! That was my shred moment, and it got fucked up! Fuck it, I’m doing it anyway” he exclaimed, cuing up his crew and then stepping out onto the stagefront speakers to strike his best glam-rock pose for the solo’s reprise."
It's so crazy to see him now, selling out venues like Carnegie Hall. I saw him last year at the Shaky Knees Festival in Atlanta, & even though it was day three of the festival & I was dog tired, it was everything I had imagined. Ryan's on-stage banter is hilarious, so any thoughts I had of him being heartbroken and depressed went out the window immediately. The Shins were playing on the main-stage and as soon as they were done, you could see the fans running towards the Piedmont Stage where we were just getting started with Ryan, to catch the second half of his show. In a snarky tone, Ryan announced that his band was "the new-material Shins" and the rest of the set would be all Rush covers, which got a huge laugh from the crowd.
He played some of my favorite songs, but I have to say my most memorable part of the concert was during "Magnolia Mountain", a Steely Dan sounding tune, when a string on his guitar snapped mid-solo. He finished the song, and then he yelled "That was such bullshit! That was my shred moment, and it got fucked up! Fuck it, I’m doing it again" motioning to his band and then stepping out onto the stage to strike his best glam-rock pose for the solo’s reprise. The shred 'take 2' was amazing (see picture below). His personality shined through.
Let it be known, I would have gone to the Shaky Knees Festival JUST to see him.
It's crazy to me that 20 years has gone by since that CD was put in my hands. I recently saw that the tour manager for Whiskeytown, Thomas O'Keefe, another North Carolina guy, is releasing a book this Summer. The book is described as a recant of what he witnessed in those years he was with the band. Waiting To Derail - Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown - Alt-Country's Brilliant Wreck is a first hand account, written "by the person who was actually sober enough to recall what happened". For three long years, Thomas was at Ryan's drunk and druggy bratty side. Thomas discovered that "young Ryan was equal parts songwriting prodigy and drunken buffoon." Most of the time, Thomas could talk Ryan into doing the right thing. But there were those times he couldn't, and he ended up having to cover up whatever stupid thing Ryan had done.
Ahh to be young and talented, semi-famous and dumb.
Waiting To Derail is the ninth track on Strangers Almanac and these are the lyrics:
They say that all the time And mean it only sometimes Are you out in all that sunshine Waiting to derail Wanting, needing, fighting, feeling Waiting to derail Needing, wanting, feeling, fighting Waiting to derail Yeah you say that only sometimes But you mean it all the same Are you out in all that sunshine Just waiting to derail Wanting, needing, feeling, wanting Waiting to derail Wanting, changing Do you feel it, do you feel it Are you waiting to derail To derail Waiting to derail, waiting to derail Waiting to derail, waiting to derail Are you waiting Yeah you say that all the time But you mean it only sometimes Are you out in all that sunshine Are you feeling better now That you're waiting to derail
I love seeing a local guy make it; someone who is considered to be the underdog. Ryan is now sober with a little bit more experience under his belt. I admire that he has never changed. Ryan's voice has been the soundtrack to numerous road trips and gotten me through numerous rough patches in my life. He has always been right there with me. He's been by me in happy times, making me feel like this life isn't that bad. He's always been true to who he is. He didn’t brush his hair then & he sure as hell doesn’t brush it now. “The guy that looks like he rubbed a balloon on his hair before he goes on stage?” ha - yeah that guy. Do your thing Ryan. And if it matters, I think you are right on track.
The release date of the book is June 5th, but you can pre-order it now on Amazon. If you have never listened to him, do it. His sound is punk rock romantic heartbreak alternative country, if that is a sound.