Another View: On Ryan Adams

Preface: Earlier Last this month we ran a piece by PuR contributor Andy Moreno about the recent Ryan Adams allegations and got some compelling feedback. While some people were empathetic to her argument, others took issue with it. Kathryn Musilek and Andrew Gerhan of Nevada Nevada have written a response to that initial editorial.

Here it is.

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In her recent essay , entitled” Touch, Feel, Lose and Cry…”, Andy Moreno writes that art is not the guilty party. In the case of Ryan Adam’s recently publicized abuse allegations we would tend to agree, it wasn’t the art that made Adams do what he did. Likewise we do not think Ozzy’s Suicide Solution made John Daniel McCollum shoot himself, nor do we think Rammstein and video games made Klebold and Harris shoot up their school. However we diverge from Moreno when she then mourns for the loss of audience Ryan Adams’ work is sure to suffer and the loss of his various music industry deals his wallet has suffered. Although she rightly empathises and voices regret for Adam’s human victims, she argues that the art itself should not be made a victim as well.

We would counter that the art is already a victim of Adam’s actions, and (the collective) we have no say in the matter. Art does not exist in a vacuum, it was created by someone, someplace and at some point in time. This gives it a context, and that context has everything to do with how a work is considered and appreciated. In 1913 Listeners rioted when they first heard Stravinsky’s The Rites of Spring. Now that we’re accustomed to the cacophony of an industrialized world and screamo bands, The Rites of Spring sounds like beautiful, if incredibly spooky, classical music. Punk rock was shocking in 1977. Blink 182 and The Vans Warped Tour less so in the 2000s. Ryan Adams’ songs used to exist in a context where he was an alt country icon. Now they exist in a world where he, the creator, is understood to be a serial abuser. The context has changed and therefore the meaning of the work has changed, and it was changed by Adams’ own hand. Although it is far from the biggest atrocity he has committed, he has desecrated his own artistic legacy. He has soiled his own songs for anyone with true empathy for both the numerous women he abused, and the art they stopped making because of that abuse.

We should mourn for these women, but we should not waste time mourning Adams’ work for several reasons: firstly people are far more important than songs. Art is made by people. Some art has “soul”. Some is sad, happy, angry, sexy, etc. However a piece of art isn’t a person. It doesn’t have a soul, nor does it feel any emotion and cannot be emotionally abused. Art doesn’t need our protection, people do. In this case these people are the women who were victimized by Adams’ sexual and emotional abuse, and this is the most important part of all of this by far.

Secondly, if we are going to mourn for songs in the wake of Adams’ actions, we should really mourn for the work that wasn’t and won’t be made by his victims. Take the 20 year old the New York Times refers to as Ava, who “…had been a gifted bassist by the age of 9”, and who, after Adams has not played another show and is now “put off” by the idea of being a musician. Or the 35 year old Courtney Jaye who said that after Adams abuse “something changed in me…it made me just not want to make music”. Ryan Adams music has been heard (and purchased) by millions. His victims had this opportunity taken from them by Adams. Abusers who violently and harmfully occupy artistic space, keeping women out of that space, should not be collecting huge checks for their streaming and radio royalties.

Thirdly we have a new context and this demands new art from people who deserve our attention and admiration. This is actually a moment of hope and possibility within the larger shadow cast by Adams abuse. As the #metoo movement shines a light into the dark corners of the rock club, the recording studio, and the offices of the music industry in general, rock should be liberated from its legacy of taint caused by (some of) it’s creators. This is an opportunity to create and to champion new art that is free from the burden of this baggage. In this new context we find ourselves in, this will be better art than what we were clinging to because we, ourselves have been changed.

Our final point is that of Adams business ties which were severed after the news of the allegations broke. His record label, touring partners, and several companies who had given Adams equipment endorsements all put collaborations on hold or parted ways with him. Moreno acknowledges that this makes good business sense for the companies involved but predicts that society will suffer because this art has value to it and it will now be withheld. We agree that this is good business sense. The various deals were penned with an understanding of Ryan Adams’ identity, and this was irrevocably altered by Adams’ actions. It is these actions that have already robbed society of the value of this art. Even if the labels still put out the records and the bookers and promoters still organized the tours, the benefits of this artwork have been erased by Adams’ actions. All of these entities have a limited bandwidth for collaborating with and supporting artists and they should free up the space for art that is not tainted. Plus Adams owns a recording studio and can continue to create and distribute his work on his own to whatever audience remains, unless the FBI investigation being conducted yields indictment(s) for which he is found guilty and he loses his assets and/or his freedom. It is a safe bet some, if not all of his victims don’t have facilities such as PAX-AM at their disposal.

We just hope that when we hear his music, rather than feeling sad that we may not enjoy it to its fullest extent, we can feel sad for the victims of Adams and of all the abusers in the world of art-making, and that our sympathies lie more with the victims than with the inanimate albums we used to enjoy, guilt-free. We hope that his songs sound different, weaker, less admirable or even skeevy in this new context of his abuse, or that even if they sound the same that they feel different. If they don’t sound any different to you, we encourage you to read more about what he’s done, and imagine how his music might sound or feel if you were one of those women, or if your sisters, friends, or mothers were abused by him. Would you still feel that the art is the thing that needs protection?

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