EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: Goodbye to Ryan Adams and Robert E. Lee
Equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress)
On Feb. 13, 2019, The New York Times published an article titled “Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.” It began with a three-paragraph overview of the then-44-year-old artist’s 20-year career, citing his 16 albums, seven Grammy nominations, and collaborations with Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, and John Mayer.
And then the hammer hit the nail.
“Seven women and more than a dozen associates described a pattern of manipulative behavior in which Adams dangled career opportunities while simultaneously pursuing female artists for sex. In some cases, they said, he would turn domineering and vengeful, jerking away his offers of support when spurned, and subjecting women to emotional and verbal abuse, and harassment in texts and on social media.”
Not to go over all the tawdry details, but among the many tales that stood out was the one from a young musician who was contacted by Adams through Twitter when she was 15. They chatted off and on, with him often speaking about how he might help her career. Over time, the subject matter shifted. Now just clear your head and think about this for a second: Over a nine-month period Adams texted the young woman 3,217 times with the content often becoming sexual. When she agreed to a Skype call, Adams thought it best to show up on the screen naked.
When the Times asked for a comment, the suits swooped in and said the words you always hear in such cases. “Mr. Adams unequivocally denies that he ever engaged in inappropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage,” said his attorney Andrew B. Bettler. That evening Adams took to Twitter and sent out three messages that seemed to both deny and apologize.
The following day, Valentine’s Day to be exact, the Times ran a follow-up story that reported that sources had told them the New York FBI office was launching a criminal investigation. In quick succession Adams’ label, Pax-Am, put his album scheduled to be released in 2019 on indefinite hold, he lost numerous endorsement deals from musical instrument companies, and radio stations dropped him from their playlists. In Los Angeles, radio station KCSN pulled his latest single, “F– The Rain,” as well as his entire catalog. Assistant Program Director Jeff Penfield told Variety that what prompted the station’s response was “the emotional damage he is alleged to have done to a number of his female peers, including Phoebe Bridgers and ex-wife Mandy Moore, by creating havoc with their musical creativity and ambitions.”
There’s not much to report after that, other than a rambling tweet from Adams in July 2019 that might have been poetry or simply the ramblings of a broken man. It started out with “I have a lot to say. I am going to. Soon. Because the truth matters. It’s what matters most. I know who I am. What I am. It’s time people know. Past time.” And it dissolved from there into words that may have made sense only to him.
Ten days after the first Times article ran, I wrote a Broadside column addressing my own feelings about what might be an appropriate outcome. Not in the legal sense, but I pondered the concept of separating an artist from their art. Would I — or we — be able to listen to Ryan Adams’ music again with the same pleasure we may have once had? Or will those songs be shunned forever, getting locked up in a safe with Bill Cosby and Louis CK sitcoms, and films by Woody Allen and Roman Polanski?
This week as I was working at my desk, with my music playlist randomly shuffling along, a familiar song I hadn’t heard for some time came out of the speakers and I looked up at the screen to see who it was. When I saw it was Ryan Adams, I automatically lifted a finger to skip to the next track but paused for a moment. I watched the seconds roll by until it reached the one-minute mark, and then I just couldn’t keep listening. All I could think of was a text that Adams sent to that young musician that said “If people knew they would say I was like R Kelley lol.” Yeah, that was really funny, dude.
After disappearing off of his social media accounts almost a year ago, Adams in late March —as the pandemic shut the country down — began posting lo-fi videos of cover songs on Facebook. He asked for requests, and they have come in by the hundreds, and now he’s picked up steam, getting thousands of likes and tagging each with a request for donations for the CDC Foundation. Is this his re-entry back into music, his moment of redemption and acceptance? I really hope not. At the moment, I think of Adams like I think about the statue of Robert E. Lee that needs to come down, get dragged through the streets and dumped into the river. I’m over him.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here and at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.