Love is hell

Letting go of that wanker Ryan Adams in the wake of his #MeToo reckoning

It was fall 2001 and my cousin, Jeff, had recently moved back to Chico from Manhattan and introduced me to Ryan Adams by way of his new album, Gold. Released two weeks after the Twin Towers fell, its single—“New York, New York”—propelled the singer-songwriter/indie-rocker/alt-country troubadour to some recognition.

The aforementioned song was timely, but others on the album resonated more with me. Jeff gave me a copy, and I hit repeat on “La Cienega Just Smiled” and “Harder Now That It’s Over.” That last one seems apropos these days.

I’m referring to a story in The New York Times last week alleging that Adams subjected his ex-wife, the singer and actress Mandy Moore, to psychological abuse that stunted her professionally. He also reportedly manipulated other women he’d pulled into his orbit—ostensibly to lure them into bed—with promises of helping their music careers.

My heart sank as soon as I read the headline: “Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.” Ugh. Before diving into the story, having received an alert to my phone, I posted a link to Facebook. I did that to stanch an onslaught of messages. People who know me well—even some strangers who read this space—know I’m a fan.

My friends are especially aware. They’ll recall a near-obsessiveness—how I bought every album, set up a Google Alert, and read everything I could about Adams (including his blogs and blogs about him). Some joined me at concerts—like one at UC Berkeley in 2008, where I refused to budge despite having the flu. Through a fevered haze and chills, I sat motionless as Adams and his bandmates in the Cardinals, amazing musicians in their own right, played the last song of the evening: an a capella version of the country-tinged “Pearls on a String.” I practically held my breath through the harmonies. They brought me to tears.

I was enough of a fan to know that Adams was temperamental and a bit of a ladies’ man. It pained me, however, to read about a much more serious allegation: that he’d pursued an underage musician.

According to the Times, he and a 15-year-old girl exchanged sexually explicit messages, and he exposed himself to her during video calls. Through his lawyer, Adams denied having had inappropriate interactions with anyone “he knew was underage.” There are indications the girl at points misrepresented herself as older. However, it also appears Adams didn’t buy it. “[I] would get in trouble if someone knew we talked like this,” one of his texts reportedly reads.

That’s a bridge too far, irrespective of whether she claimed to be older. I’m done with Ryan Adams. I’ll never spend another dime on that wanker. My devotion now: supporting the female artists he hurt. There are many. The Times story is thoroughly reported and establishes a pattern of behavior. I believe it’s accurate, and I’m sickened by his apologists.

Still, 18-plus years deep, I’ve had a hell of a time processing. That’s because there’s more to it than the music alone. I fell in love with my now-husband shortly after the release of Cold Roses. That album is basically the soundtrack to our courtship—one of its tracks is among the two Adams songs played at our wedding. Two songs.

A friend of mine urged me to not let Adams rob me of the joy I’d found in his work over the years, especially the wedding recessional song. “It doesn’t matter that he wrote and recorded it. Because it’s your song. So you own it. It’s yours,” he told me. He’s right, but the lesson remains: I will never get this invested in an artist ever again.