Ryan Adams (Jacksonville, North Carolina, 1974) already knows how to conjugate the verb fail. Between 2001 and 2018, his was a story of formidable irruption in the world of music and sustained success, of Gold, the album that raised him, to Prisoner, his commercial and artistic swan song, at least for the moment. In those 18 years, he suffered occasional ups and downs, but almost always remained less than a rung of the absolute elite, accumulating successes and collecting Grammy nominations.
2019 marked a cruel turning point in his career and life. That year began a gradual and, for the moment, irreversible fall from grace that has destroyed his reputation and left his work fallow. The Jacksonville musician released an album a couple of months ago, Wednesdays, little less than clandestine. It was his attempt to rebel against adversity and stop the bleeding. Fed up with his label, Capitol, delaying its release since spring 2019, Adams has released the album digitally at his own risk in an attempt to prove he is still alive as an artist. The bulk of the specialized press has not even bothered to review it. Criticisms have appeared in related media, but not enough for pages like Metacritic to include it in their databases. It is the virtually invisible work of an artist who has been great, but today seems doomed to discredit, obscurity and irrelevance.
The American is taking its toll for the couple of years that he has already parked in the gutter, without projects or incentives, also enlisting in a stubborn silence that has isolated him even more from the world. In March 2019 he gave his last couple of concerts to date at the Olympia club in Dublin. He has not played in cities like Los Angeles or New York, previously surrendered to his talent, since the end of his 2017 tour. The abrupt hiatus occurred precisely in the year that Adams planned to take the world for granted. For 2019 he had planned three novelties: a folk album, Wednesdays, another classic rock, Big Colors, and a third, more experimental, which was to be released at the end of the year, as the icing on the cake. All three releases would end up being canceled.
The article that ended it all
In February of that year, two months before the date he was to appear Wednesdays, Ryan Adams received the direct to the jaw that left him knocked out. The New York Times public an exhaustive article in which seven women, starting with his ex-wife, actress and singer Mandy Moore, and one of his ex-girlfriends, fellow artist Phoebe Bridgers, accused him of sexual misconduct, abuse of power and mistreatment. The New York newspaper had specifically proposed to investigate the accusations of an anonymous follower, Ava, who claimed to have been sexually harassed by the musician when she was still a minor, between 14 and 16 years old. The complainant provided evidence of more than 3,000 private messages containing, apparently, inappropriate images and comments and innuendo of a sexual nature.
The matter had already had a certain journey in previous days on social networks and would end up giving rise to an investigation by the FBI, which was closed months later for lack of conclusive evidence. However, Joe Coscarelli and Melena Ryzik, the authors of the article, did not limit themselves to giving Ava a voice and telling her story for the first time in a mass media. They also delved into the pattern of sexual and sentimental behavior exhibited by Adams in his more than 20 years of public career, interviewing, among other people around the musician, the seven women who had something substantial to reproach him for.
In the piece, Mandy Moore claimed to have been subjected to almost continuous psychological abuse and cruel and inconsiderate attitudes in the seven years that their relationship lasted, between 2008 and 2015. Phoebe Bridgers, who met Adams, in 2014, when he She was 40 years old and she had just turned 20, claiming that the Jacksonville artist had tried from the beginning as a kind of “interested and toxic mentor”, offering support in her career in exchange for sexual and sentimental favors. After a short courtship, sabotaged, according to Bridgers, by Adams’ obsessive and controlling behavior, there was a breakup to which the musician reacted by withdrawing his artistic support and with a persistent telephone harassment in which he threatened to commit suicide.
The singer-songwriter Courtney Jaye in turn, he denounced that Adams’ collaboration proposals quickly turned into a “disgusting sexual blackmail” in which he tried to take an illegitimate advantage of his power and influence in the record industry. And Megan Butterworth, one of the musician’s first partners, described him as a possessive man, who systematically undermined her self-confidence and self-esteem and did everything possible to alienate her from her family and friends. Thus, up to seven testimonies, to which one more eloquent.
From the article of The New York Times a devastating portrait emerges, the robot portrait of toxic masculinity. The image of a compulsive manipulator, prone to abuse of power, and a serial monogamist whose behavior leaves deep emotional scars on his partners. What came next is a manual example of how you should not react to such a scandal in the #MeToo era. Ryan Adams first chose to respond to the article with clumsy arrogance. He focused on simply denying the only one of the accusations that could constitute a crime, the sexual harassment of a minor, and treating the rest of the testimonies with disdain.
Silence, no music
At 44, after a couple of decades on the crest of the wave and cultivating a strong image of irreverent and cursed, Adams was not in 2019 willing to pay attention to what he considered belated and unsubstantiated reproaches from his former partners. His line of defense in the FBI investigation into Ava’s allegations was also quite fragile: He insisted that he never knew that the woman he was interacting with via social media and phone conversations was a minor, which he was convinced, according to one of his press agents published that he was “at least 20 years old.” The truth, as it has transpired, is that he had serious doubts about the age of his interlocutor and came to tell her on several occasions that he needed “proof” that he was over 18 years old. However, those well-founded doubts did not stop her from sending her messages of sexual content to which she responded with increasingly evident discomfort.
In addition to a certain disdain, Adams also chose not to make statements and stay out of social networks, leaving the matter in the hands of lawyers and agents. The authors of the article to which he decided not to reply considered his silence to be “very eloquent.” According to BBC reporter Mark Savage, “Ryan reacted like a man of his generation who doesn’t quite understand the world he lives in. His popularity and cult status, he believed, shielded him against what in his opinion were nothing more than the unsubstantiated complaints of a handful of resentful ones, that he could retreat into aristocratic silence and let his songs speak for him. It is evident that he was wrong ”.
The reality bath came very shortly after, when Adams was forced to cancel his March 2019 British tour after those couple of gigs in Dublin. In them, the musician felt for the first time rejected by his own public and the object of a negative press campaign. His past scandals had nothing to do with this one. The Adams of the first decade of the 21st century could afford to kick out of one of his concerts to a joker fan who asked him to play Summer of ’69, a song by Bryan Adams. Also leave an aggressive message on the voicemail of a journalist who had made a negative review of one of his concerts or play in a state of obvious drunkenness, interspersing between song and song incongruous monologues of several minutes.
Even the lack of courtesy with which he treated the folk legend Janis Ian and the New Zealand musician Neil Finn (yes, the one from Crowded House) during a recording in which they coincided in 2011 or the merciless and gratuitous criticism that he dedicated to fellow professionals like The Strokes or Father John Misty were naturally tolerated at the time. It was Ryan’s stuff. The most gulf, irreverent and punk of the American rock scene. A guy who had made arrogance and Olympian contempt for political correctness part of his character. Adams seemed to consider himself capable of riding the wave of any scandal with dignity and staying cool, unscathed. But the garden he had entered this time turned out to be very different.
An untimely apology
After a year of purgatory, already losing the trust of his label, his most ambitious projects postponed without a date and his image dragged through the mud, Ryan surrendered to the evidence and was willing to offer something like the act of public contrition that they all asked him. It was published in July 2020 in the Daily Mail. It was terse and perhaps reticent, but it included phrases that, perhaps in another context and with a different background, might sound sincere: “I want to apologize for the enormous amount of suffering I have inflicted.” “I know that the wounds I have caused will never fully heal. I hope that the people I have hurt can find a way to forgive me. “
“I am willing to bear the consequences of my actions and I understand that it is very likely that my apologies will not be accepted.” The singer-songwriter was even willing to “seek help” and to make an effort to stay “sober” (the statement implied that at least part of his behavior was attributable to alcohol abuse, a constant in his biography) and to preserve “mental health ”. Above all, he assumed the facts and explicitly renounced the most helpful of alibis: showing himself as an innocent victim of the moral inquisition and the culture of cancellation.
One of the main stakeholders, Mandy Moore greeted the apology with obvious skepticism. Declared that he found it “curious” that Adams had chosen to apologize in public before doing it in private: “I have not heard from him for years. It’s not that I need you to apologize at this point, but if you really feel the need to do so, you know where to find me. “
The path of redemption is tortuous. Ryan Adams now knows how to conjugate the verb fail and is also learning to ask for forgiveness, albeit in a somewhat equivocal way. No one could be as interested as he is in settling an issue that is weighing on his career and that has ostracized a notable record, such as Wednesdays. There are 17 songs that take the singer-songwriter back to what is perhaps his best register, introspective folk a la Bob Dylan, but no one seems to care anymore. Among the few criticisms that the album has deserved, it is common to try to find hidden keys in the lyrics of songs such as I’m sorry and I love you (“I’m sorry and I love you”) or When you cross over (“When you cross”), perhaps the ones that most lend themselves to being interpreted as symptoms of the vital moment that Adams is going through and his (supposed) will to redeem himself and learn from the experience.
In parallel, one of his victims, Phoebe Bridgers, triumphs with a completely invisible album, Punisher, considered by many critics as one of the best of 2020. Even Mandy Moore, who Ryan Adams said on several occasions, as she has explained herself, was a mediocre actress and a singer without talent, published a few months ago Silver landings, his first album in 11 years and the highest rated of his career. Adams languishes as two women triumph, whom he apparently treated inconsiderately and petty. They say that the best revenge consists in being happy.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.