The Blog

Ryan Adams: Gifted With Something Gold

This album opens with the single,The video for which features sex-symbol and actress, or 'scream queen', Elvira.

I am writing this into night, into the darkness of an early morning's overture, a morning that will then eventually dance with light. Rain claws at the window, and I sense there is some form of fury outside as I hear the pain of trees from their twisting. An Irish sage once enlightened captivatingly to me, the perception that we all have both a day voice, and that also we have a night voice. As here I type I do so in my own voice of the night. The lights that occupy this room in which I write are switched off. Darkness I find to be somewhat comforting when invited in on ones own terms. My regular ritual of barely any light produces in me a mysterious solace not to be, I would easily suspect, understood by many a frightened child during bedtime. Children rightly perceive an irrational sense of vigilance when dreaming up all sorts of crawlies and creatures of the night. When we grow up, we realize that we were the creators our own demons. Some of us, even become them.

For granted I have instinctively taken that Rock'n'Roll is a declaration of principles. For those of us each as adolescents that subscribed to such feelings of otherness, to a distance from the mainstream, to an un-ignorable hunger for something exciting and raw, for a hard-earned experience, there seems to be some truth about this. Those of us that wanted to tour the Teenage Wildlife with Bowie, walk The Cities of the Red Night with Burroughs, spend A Season in Hell with Rimbaud, go on Pilgrimage with Byron, explore the Fringes with Wyndham. We listen for our own voice to initiate itself, waiting for it to surface. As a teenager, I listened to music unlike the kind of which most of my contemporaries in school were listening to. A common activity for teenagers who feel and see things differently, is to find alternative influences both to extend their own sense of exception, and also out of an unfortunate but useful isolation. I partied and socialized constantly, have many war stories, but always knew my inspirations were different. Having seen it through, its being bore out can then become a point of prideful reflection. The artist not so much discovers as creates oneself through their cultural influences. An Artist, exclusively, builds oneself out of ones influences.

All artists make their art, live their life, and then they die. I thought I might attempt a music review, but this for me would be only but a doomed and hopeless project. Montaigne sensibly observed - as if he was feckless enough to observe in any other way - all subjects are of each other. So instead, I will use Ryan Adams' work as a starting gate into memory and thought. Ryan Adams has released a new self-produced album, his fourteenth, titled simply, "Ryan Adams". Listening to it over and over has been and is a nostalgic experience. Ryan Adams' music created a place for me somewhere when I was in teen-land. A retreat through a listening experience. The Ryan Adams shelter for adolescents. There is something about Rock'n'Roll that has to be experienced whilst a teenager, it is intricately connected to that period of life, and must one be unfortunate enough to pass it by, or has not the required taste for it at that crucial time, they may altogether fail to understand it. I think it is this peculiar understanding that allows some strangers to connect more effectively once they learn that the person with whom they are talking, also has or does indulge in Rock'n'Roll, its principles, and its lifestyle.

This album opens with the single, "Gimme Something Good". The video for which features sex-symbol and actress, or 'scream queen', Elvira. Not exactly a predictable choice amongst a modern wasteland of, with some exceptions, mainstream Pop music. It speaks of an oppressive yearning, of waiting desperately for something good to happen. A need. It is searching through a blindness. Wanting to meet someone that one can connect to. But, as a cautious HG Wells once wrote, "It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning." Music can be, as it were, a time machine. Adams' voice cuts because my hearing it re-establishes my teenage years. A glimmering, a formation of imagery, imagined or otherwise. And yes, I am aware of the potentially pathetic sentimentalism I might here commit.

"Kim" and "Shadows" are hauntings. Dangerous love. Loving someone completely and then losing whatever charm that made the relationship impervious to flaw, and then the tragedy and terror of not being able to then express the weighty loss to that person. The world becomes a smaller place when you are in love. I am mindful of that classical distinction by Plato in his Symposium, the difference between Eros and Agape. Eros is that of the flesh, the erotic, the sensual. Agape is more, say if I might, more 'Spiritual', that of the soul. A loss of love is never a waste. Despite wishing, one may never have been in love. Very few people find it, most compromise with something less, convincing themselves its more exceptional than it is, many get turned down, some cannot express it, or it doesn't work out. Very few are reciprocal. It gives an additional dimension to life that without, one would not have lived as fully. Adams' voice tends to hit a pitch that perfectly articulates frustration. He is an exorcist for us listeners. There is something primal in his voice that draws us in. Music does what writing cannot. Writing does what music cannot.

"Feels like Fire" is also about loss and love. Letting go of that person you loved, but wanting to be with them because that feeling is the best feeling in the world. "It feels like fire". "Just so you know, you will always be the hardest thing I let go". "I Just Might" is my favourite track. A tension builder. "Fearing the daylight coming up, no place to hide. Don't wanna lose control. I just might. Darkness all around." There is something primal in a voice. Something sensual. Something more.

"Trouble" belts in with a hook and booming drums. It sings about getting ready to throw in the towel. Punching mirrors and filling up the bath. "We might as well be dead and be done if we don't belong". A particular year, I remember. I remember the year of Bob Dylan's 'Lovesick', Tom Waits' 'The Piano Has Been Drinking', Nirvana, and John Lennon. Many artists I admired were older. What with them I lacked in proximity of age, I felt in closeness of spirit. Connection transcends time. I have been fortunate to have had mentors. Writers, radicals, senators, economists. However, Adams carries an eternal youth. If we have mentors we also have examples of those who we might wish to emulate somewhat, and then ourselves transcend into an example for others. You have an obligation to do for society what you think you can do. A war of impulse over community or greed.

Once I was fortunate enough to have met Adams. The rain savagely battered the pavement outside Dublin's Ambassador Theatre, monster winds charged down the roads, daring the brave to survive, to come out and face it. Yes, it may have been biblical; Homeric, even. Adams ventilated, that night, a sincere kindness, no hurry to move on, and no rush. He asked questions of me, then a teenager, and I responded, under the teenage spell of disbelief that someone whom I so hideously adored could be just so real. I mentioned this to him and he seemed really appreciative. It was dignified. I met a teenage hero of mine and he was as cool as a motherfucker. I wonder, so I do, how I might approach him now that I am in my mid-twenties and not as easily impressed. But then, I always wonder. The concept of the hero diminishes as we grow older because we know more of the world.

This is a photo taken of me with Adams, I was mid-sentence when the camera snapped which explains, as it were, the long face. I was seventeen.

Another track, "Am I Safe", has a sort of wandering quality about it. Discontent being in a relationship. "Running from myself like I was a child". Strange how music can become a sort of unintentional soundtrack to your life. I can remember walking through a local industrial estate of factories with mates, having drunk myself into the shape of a wheelbarrow. It was these factories where as a child a group of local middle-class kids used to steal wooden pallets in order to set them on fire for Halloween. Bonfires were a big tradition back then, it seemed. One really late night, me and my mates took a short cut through this industrial estate, and we smoked and drank and listened to music. I remember listening to Adams' "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home". Another night, at a house party, where people were up to all sorts of mischief, I remember his cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall" playing unimposingly, yet arrestingly, from another room. Or listening to "Ultraviolet Light" on the bus home after having a massive argument with a girl, emotional shrapnel scattered my mind over. Snapshots totally forgotten me now until listening to this new album. The reflective compulsion music wields has no timetable.

"My Wrecking Ball" starts off solemn, Adams with a whispery confessional style. "Lying in my bed at night, feeling like I'm somebody else. My thoughts inside my head get lost inside the Haunted House. Everyone I used to know, Left their dreams by the door. I accidentally kick 'em, that's how I can tell you're still not sure."

It reminds me of that Shakespeare Sonnet, number 28, many of The Sonnets I immodestly can declare to know by heart. "But day," wrote Shakespeare, "doth daily draw my sorrows longer, / And night doth nightly make grief's strength seem stronger." When people read this, do they sense a night voice? Is the darkness contagious? Tomorrow I will not write. Then I will turn on the lights.