Ryan Adams likes Barneys, Doesn't Have a Problem With It Either
(Note: I wrote this about a year ago in a Facebook post, but liked it enough to re-run it again on this blog. I can never get enough of Ryan Adams. I edited down the intro for brevity, and featured the video more prominently, as it is probably one of my favorite things on the internet)
Today I was walking through SoHo and came across Morrison Hotel, which is a gallery that sells overpriced photos of classic rock figures to bourgeois-bohemians with nothing better to spend their money on (in other words, me in 15 years). In this gallery were some terrific shots of Keith and Mick and the Stones, along with prints of Janis Joplin and Hendrix. Interestingly, there was a picture of a disheveled Ryan Adams, head resting against his palm, conveying to the audience the incredible weight of being so amazingly talented, which therefore manifests itself in physical pain (specifically migraines, apparently). Ryan cuts a pretty large swath, because even in the context of such rock heavyweights at the Morrison Hotel gallery, he held his own completely and naturally.
(Not the Image from Morrison Hotel, but pretty close. From his Easy Tiger album)
So I started thinking more about Ryan, and more specifically how he can be inducted into this pantheon so quickly, and paradoxically why rock critics and the intelligentsia are so hard on the guy.
Ultimately I think that if it were up to rock critics/fanboys to create their rock ‘n roll star of today, the end result would look a lot like Ryan. He has the right sound, a great sense of rock history (collaboration with Emmylou Harris connects him to Gram Parsons, however unintentionally), and antics and a personality off the stage that surrounds him almost as much as the music (substance abuse, dating Parker Posey, among others). Considering he mastered these tools so quickly and innately, it’s appropriate he’s placed on the same level as certain rock giants. As an erudite student of rock himself, I suppose Ryan is completely aware of rock journalists’ tendency to project their hopes onto someone with promising talent, which explains the joy he seems to find in messing with people via his website and blogs. If people want him to be the enfant terrible of rock music, then by God he’s gonna give what the people want. If Ryan wants to go shopping at Barney's, man, he's gonna shop at Barney's!
So if “Ryan Adams” is a composite of both an incredibly talented musician and the vessel into which we put our hopes and dreams, etc, it’s a lot easier to see how the criticism against him has developed. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that Ryan isn’t an archetype but rather a fallible human being – and therefore anytime he produces a piece of art that deviates from the expectations set by our blueprint he’ll be severely punished (witness Rock ‘N Roll – his third album.). It’s as if we treat Ryan like a child, because we’ve become invested like parents in his development. Criticism is lobbied on him like mortar fire because we’re mad he doesn’t live up to our unrealistic expectations, and also because we secretly hope this corrective measure will be the one that breaks his fragile genius and ultimately provokes him to channel something more beautiful then ever imagined (for our benefit, of course).
In that way, we become active participants in the rock ‘n roll drama, directing the tide of music we were never meant to play ourselves. And however unfair it may seem, we just can’t let Ryan go because of that.
And Ryan, if you read ever read this: It’s cool, I like Barney’s too.