I’m not in the habit of writing open letters to famous singer-songwriters who will never read them.
But I’ve been feeling so angry, and disappointed, today. Actually, disappointed seems too weak a word for what I feel right now.
So I had to write this just to empty the feelings from my head, because I don’t know what else to do with them.
February 2003. A bedroom in my childhood home. I was just visiting, because my father was dying. You won’t remember it, but I do. You weren’t there, of course. But you were.
As my world crumbled around me, I played your second solo album, Gold, on repeat, falling asleep to it often. It enveloped my breaking heart, and cushioned me from the horror unfolding around me, albeit temporarily.
For a snatched hour here and there, it was just a pair of headphones, a duvet, and you and me, hiding from a house mired in grief and pain.
You held me, Ryan.
Your songs created a safe space where I could grieve, before he was even gone.
“Harder now that it’s over” – although ostensibly about a romantic relationship gone wrong – still brings tears to my eyes, sixteen years on (almost to the day). I watched you play it live a few years back and sobbed like an actual baby.
I didn’t discover you myself. Do we ever, really? It was my friend Ted who sent me a copied CD of Gold in a green plastic cover, back in the days when the kids copied CDs and mailed them to each other. I’ve been grateful to him ever since.
Ted messaged me today. He’s in a labour suite about to welcome his first son into the world as I write. “Oh jeez….” he said. “I don’t want to lose his music”.
That makes all of us.
Because your fans are pretty damn obsessive. You never really broke into the mainstream, and we loved you all the more for it. You inspire a devotion and following that’s rare in today’s choice-saturated world of streaming singles.
But for those in the know, it’s a nod and a wink. Oh YOU’RE a Ryan fan too? is a line that signifies more than I can ever explain. I’ve namechecked you in dating profiles, believing a love for you to be a silver thread that will eventually lead me to the prince among frogs. I’ve bonded with people over a shared love of your back catalogue (here’s looking at you Dylan, Matt, Anthony, Alex, James and Ted).
You’ve been the one constant in a life filled with music since 2003; on mixtapes I’ve made for friends and boys, in my Spotify annual ‘most played’ lists, on the car stereo, in my head. I’ve probably listened to you, by choice, more than any other recording artist.
I’ve watched your marriage and engagements disintegrate via Instagram, feeling deeply for you. Poor, tortured soul, I thought. And you kept on pouring the pain into the music, creating such beauty. Such a brave, lovely boy, I thought. You made me believe in the power of turning pain into art in a way that touches, soothes, inspires and comforts.
Laura Marling nailed it in her New Romantic:
“So we stayed up late one night to try and get our problems right
But I couldn’t get into his head just what was going through my mind
Think he knew where I was going, he put Ryan Adams on
I think he thinks it makes me weak, but it only ever makes me strong”
There are so many times when you only ever made me strong. And so many times I’ve smiled at that line, because I was that cliché.
For years I dissected each new record of yours line by line looking for clues, learning the words, using your songs as shields.
Later in 2003, I drove back from Gretna Green after getting married without telling anyone. Ah the folly of youth eh? You came with us, in my clapped-out green Peugeot. I had no doubt we’d make it.
It was Christmas Eve and my new husband and I went straight to the in laws’. We drank white wine and my father-in-law played Love Is Hell and I didn’t take it as an omen of what was to come. I just fell in love with you again.
When my marriage broke down, Heartbreaker became the soundtrack to late nights fizzing with gin and regret.
Then, when the man I should never have gone back to put Somehow, Someday on a mixtape for me, saying it articulated better than he could how he felt about us breaking up, I went back to him. You really did have that power, Ryan.
Years later, I watched you at Green Man festival, abandoning my favourite picnic blanket to get a spot at the front, alone. I had goose bumps for your entire set and left completely exhilarated.
Last week I spent three nights watching some of your live sets on YouTube, excited about getting tickets to see you in London later this year. When you covered Taylor Swift’s 1989 I queued in a record shop the day it came out, a vinyl wet dream that straddled the Venn diagram of my absolute adoration for you both.
And today I woke up and found out that you aren’t the person I thought you were. Of course, it’s all ‘alleged behaviour’. Of course, the non-apology-by-lawyer was swift, and succinct.
But, just as with Harvey Weinstein before you – and no doubt many more to come – this isn’t a lone wronged lover wreaking vengeance. It’s all of the women you’ve had serious relationships with accusing you of emotional abuse, and worse, of abusing your aforementioned power.
One of them was FOURTEEN years of age. A child. No matter how old she looked to you.
I felt sick reading the New York Times story, and had to read it a few times for it to sink in.
I’ve been in emotionally abusive relationships. You helped lift me out of them. I thought you were one of the good guys.
I tried to make excuses and remain non-judgmental. I know how the media can easily start witch hunts that destroy lives. I get all of that.
But it seems pretty black and white to me.
Underneath all that tortured, indie poet stuff, something darker was lurking all along.
I’m sad for those women, I’m sad for your fans.
I noticed this week your Instagram was pumping out your old album artwork on a daily basis, reminding your fans of the greatness you’ve been responsible for. It seemed a little strange, but then you have a new record coming out soon to promote.
In hindsight, I guess you knew what was coming. Of course you knew. The New York Times would have reached out to you for comment. A cynical pre-emptive strike to remind millions what you have meant to them?
What you meant to me was massive, to me. You were a big part of my identity, and you’ve been my go-to at the best times of my life as well as the worst. Joyously blasting New York, New York on the sun-drenched drive to Green Man. Playing Let It Ride in bed at 3am as I fell in love, hard. Singing Am I Safe in the shower at a friend’s flat after a wonderful adventure.
You’ve been there for all of it. And now you’re not.
In your own words:
“It’s complicated, I just don’t love you any more”.
I wish more than anything I still could.
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