Back on Feb. 13, when the New York Times dropped its bombshell piece alleging sexual misconduct by my old book subject Ryan Adams, about a half-dozen emails with the story link appeared in my inbox within two minutes of it going online. Most of them were along the lines of OMG have you seen this?! But a few were also inquiries, from people asking what I thought or if I’d be writing about it.
One of the people asking if I was going to write about it was an editor at the paper, to whom I responded: “I’m not touching this with a 10-foot pole.” Figuring that the world could do without my hot take on the situation, I opted to leave it alone.
And yet that did not stop anyone from asking.
I was scheduled to do a few events at last month’s North Carolina Book Festival, and I figured (correctly, as it happened) that I’d get asked about Ryan. So I wrote out a statement that I read at my Feb. 23 presentation about book-writing, figuring that would be the end of it.
Weeks later, however, people are still asking — and I figure it will inevitably come up next week, when I’m at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. So what the heck, I’ll put the statement on here, too, even though I have no grand revelations. I wish I did.
I have said very little in public about the recent Ryan Adams allegations. Almost nothing, in fact, and I’ve had my reasons.
Ryan has been gone from Raleigh for a very long time, and he has not even played a show anywhere in North Carolina in nearly 14 years — since June 2005. He and I have not communicated directly in many years, either, so whatever insight I may have once had into him as a person does not seem relevant to his current circumstances. Moreover, I have not wanted to give the appearance of trying to sell books or otherwise capitalize on a terrible situation.
For whatever it’s worth, I never witnessed or heard about anything like the allegations in the New York Times story, either back in the day or while reporting on him after the fact. This should not be surprising. Ryan’s time in Raleigh was more than 20 years ago. He was just breaking into the music business and did not yet have his own recording studio, record label or standing in the industry to boost anyone else’s career.
Of course, I heard some stories because everybody in Raleigh of a certain age who was crawling clubs back then has at least one Ryan Adams story. As told to me, they were mostly humorous anecdotes in which no one took him too seriously — like the time he jumped into a hot tub full of women uninvited, or got chased out of a house and down the street in Boylan Heights with a broom.
In light of recent revelations, stories like that don’t seem nearly as funny or innocent as they once did. I think of Phoebe Bridgers, a singer/songwriter and one of the women quoted in the New York Times story. She wrote a song about her time with Ryan, “Motion Sickness,” that kind of induces shudders from the very first verse.
I hate you for what you did
And I miss you like a little kid
I faked it every time but that’s alright
I can hardly feel anything at all…
That leads to the chorus, in which Bridgers declares she has “emotional motion sickness” and croons in a shell-shocked voice, There are no words in the English language I could scream to drown you out.
At least we got to actually hear that song. Some of the other women in the New York Times story gave up music altogether, and the word “tragedy” seems somehow inadequate to describe that.
At this point, I have no idea what a right or just outcome would look like. It’s not my place to either condemn or defend Ryan. I’ve written a lot about Ryan over the years, very possibly too much. So right now, what seems appropriate for me to do is this: to listen.
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