Ryan Adams, I Will Not Marry You: Rescinding My Proposal in the Wake of Female Musicians’ Allegations
Photo by David Marx, Bonner County (Idaho) Daily Bee
I proposed to Ryan Adams in 2005. That offer is officially rescinded.
News broke in The New York Times just shy of Valentine’s Day of the allegations from several women that Ryan Adams offered career opportunities alongside sexual overtures, in addition to claims of manipulation and emotional abuse. The women who came forward were aspiring musicians, songwriters, performers, much like myself in this 2005 photo. Much like myself today. A female musician.
It took me years past this proposal to understand the aggregate weight of my experiences as a female musician. So often, at critical crossroads as much as at regular gigs, those experiences had little to do with my work, my work ethic, or my artistry.
Being a female musician: The concert you’re asked to play, with a promised compensation that would cover your rent that month, evaporates once you reject unwelcome sexual advances. Just like you rejected the liquor.
Being a female musician: A man promises to send your next album to some famous male musician, but only after he attempts — and, thank the cosmos/your own strength, fails — to exert control over your circumstances and your dignity.
Being a female musician: Recording a duet with a male songwriter and later discovering he’s given no credit anywhere for your half of the song. Your voice, your work is unnamed.
Being a female musician: Countless nights stepping down from the stage to have some male musician, without even saying hello, ask you to sing backup vocals for his solo project, with no acknowledgement whatsoever of your own creative work, of the songs you just performed. As if you didn’t have your own projects and priorities.
Being a female musician: Hearing another female musician disclose that someone in the scene is a predator. Asking her privately who he is so you can be sure you never collaborate with him. Stomaching the heartbreak of her response: She’s too afraid, in a scene so small, to name him.
Being a female musician: Getting booked on bills with male songwriters whose lyrics can’t seem to consider that women are people.
Being a female musician: Finishing your set to learn there are men who interpret your lyrics to be an invitation to touch your body.
Being a female musician (it starts early): As a teen, attending rock shows where fellow concertgoers felt that it was cool to wear T-shirts that read “Girls with guitars don’t make rock stars.”
And worse, and more, and worse, and more.
Being a female musician: Taking time away from the work to figure this all out. What’s lost in that negative space? Plenty more than songs, concerts, albums, years.
I loved — loved — Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams’ early albums, the formative songwriting of my teenage years when I began this career. But when I read the news last night, it all sounded so deeply, endlessly familiar.
As for the photo, it was in Sandpoint, Idaho. The local paper took the picture. After the show, the sound guy went backstage to give the poster to Ryan Adams, at the time my musical idol. Strange, now, to remember how I vacillated about writing my phone number on it. Yikes. (And yeah, an edit from my future self, no one has to change their last names, or get married.) But today, abundant shame on you, Ryan Adams.
To any male musicians reading this who either don’t know or don’t want to: Step up. The work — and personhood — of female musicians isn’t in service of your wants or needs.
And to everybody: Listen to female musicians — their work, and their truths. Girls with guitars do make rock stars. Their girlhood was never the issue.
Singer-songwriter Ellen Adams (ellenadams.net) works in folk and country traditions. Splitting her time between Seattle and Western Canada, she’s currently recording her next album and putting together a US and Canadian tour while artist-in-residence at University of Lethbridge’s Gushul Studio. Outside of music, she’s a published writer of fiction and essays.
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