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Harder now that it’s over: An open letter to Ryan Adams

Dear Ryan,

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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10 thoughts on “Harder now that it’s over: An open letter to Ryan Adams Leave a comment

  1. Wow. Thank you for this. My acknowledgement of the news was quite similar:
    What a confusing time for the people who have supported Ryan Adams through depression, manic behavior, the onstage rants due to his Ménière’s disease, and the ongoing substance abuse. His abuse of power feels like betrayal and heartbreak.

    I’ve been avoiding thinking about the allegations against Adams, allegations that I and almost everyone believe to be 100% true. I am angry. I am so utterly disappointed in him that I can’t even put an Adams’ lyric or album cover up.
    As a woman, a woman who has experienced assault, rape and emotional abuse, my stance is quite simple. I am mourning and I am angry, both selfish responses, but appropriate I think. I have been a fan for so long, but just that, a fan, not a friend or family member. So I am angry that he abused his power and stained my memories with the actions of his ego.
    I remember when I started listening to Whiskeytown. My friend who was in college in Johnson City, TN at ETSU, sent me two burned cds, Pneumonia and Strangers Almanac. I put them in my rotation but wasn’t hooked, didn’t consider myself a fan, until she sent me Heartbreaker.
    Fast forward to now. I’ve had to tell my mom to remove Easy Plateau as her ringtone. I still have to talk to my 16 year old son who has listened to Ryan on his own time since he was 6 (Ryan was his first concert at 6 years old as well). My entire family/extended family is so invested. There are so many memories and emotions/phases of life tied to his music.
    I’m sad looking back at all the memories, the sad times his music got me through. The love affair and subsequent marriage and divorce that his music encompassed. The long road trips working my way through his entire discography. The lyrics that mean so much. I’m mad that I feel guilty for not wanting to give it all up. It’s a bit confusing. I’ve always recognized his behavior, having experienced a bit of emotional abuse myself in the past. It’s very serious, so serious in fact that I believe he certainly should be held accountable for his actions. Yesterday I was torn by the love and adoration of the artist and absolute scorn towards the man. Today, disbelief that anyone in this day and age can be that selfish and egotistical. It is the end of an era. The man who loved to live in a constant state of self deprecation has gone too far.

    • Hi Erin, thank you so much for sharing your experiences, which echo my own in so many ways. I’ve been the same weird mixture of anger, disappointment and guilt at not wanting to lose the music and all it meant. I don’t want it to be tainted, but it undeniably is. I really do understand what he meant to you, sounds like we’ve had similar life experiences and it’s horrible to think he won’t be with me through whatever life throws at me next. It feels like a break up, only worse, because his music transcended all break ups, all heartbreaks, all depressions… there’s no excuse for abusing his power (even Phoebe Bridgers was only 19 when he was 40, which is dodgy right?). he could have had anybody. He was Ryan Adams. He chose to dangle career opportunities and take them away from girls who didn’t ‘behave’ and sext a 14 year old girl. He can fuck right off right now, but I remain sad. Sad for the girls who gave up their dreams because of him. Sad for the fans, for women like us who believed him to be one of the good ones. It’s just too horrible. I’ve learned a lesson about putting heroes on pedestals I think, at least. I listened to ‘Motion Sickness’ by Phoebe Bridgers, which she openly admits is all about him, and shuddered last night. It’s been so cathartic writing this, and finding other people that feel the same. I’m sorry you feel so low about it. Hugs xx

  2. This article absolutely destroyed me. Thank you so much I really could not have put it better myself (it’s nice to know people other than Ryan can now articulate exactly how I’m feeling and it’s nice to know I’m not alone as a distraught superfan).

    I feel most sorry for the women affected of course but he has let us all down and mostly himself.

    Thank you once again, truly. I almost left a Ryan quote but it doesn’t feel right anymore, which breaks my heart more than anything.

    Sam

    Sam

    • Hey Sam. No you’re far from being the only one. I’m devastated. I don’t believe any music I used to love of his will ever sound the same again and I’m grieving for that. It’s almost cathartic to know I’m not alone in that though. Thanks for your comment. It all sucks, right? x

  3. Dear Sara,
    Thank you for writing this. I too echo your experience. This is a difficult time for a lot of us. It’s like someone died, but worse. It’s difficult to express.

    I, in fact recently applauded Mr. Adams on a recent Instagram post of his for working with Beatriz, (sp?) stating that I had once worked in the media and it was so hard for women to break in and l truly had a difficult time hitting the glass ceiling, watching men hired after me being promoted right past me. I was shut down when I spoke up.

    I’ve also been sexually abused as a girl and experienced my own abuse. When he began to rant in public against his ex, it triggered the shit out of me. It was vile. What a fucking paradox all of this is. It’s a shitshow to the nth degree. My heart breaks

    I’m utterly disappointed with this abuse of power, but soliciting sex from an underaged girl is ultimately unacceptable. I have so much love in my heart for this person, and l don’t want to over react so I’m not burning or selling anything in haste like some of my fellow peeps are doing. We all handle this in diffetent ways and l try to meet people where they are at. I have compassion and love for everyone involved. Everyone. And no one wins. NO ONE. That being said, i appreciate your honesty and your experience.

  4. Thank you for writing this. A month on and I sat here and considered doing similar – I did a search for Ryan and I came across your letter. I could not write a better, more honest and heartfelt one if I tried.

    I haven’t listened to him since the news broke, I just can’t right now. Everything seems tainted – I don’t know if that will get better in time, whether learning to separate the art from the artist is possible when that artist has had such a big impact in your own life.

    I am grateful to have discovered Phoebe Bridgers and also Karen Elson through Ryan’s music – and I am grateful for the bravery of the women that have come forward to speak out against what he has done, and even to Todd for sharing his experiences which couldn’t have been easy. I hope the silence from Ryan means that he is finally getting help with his mental health – but my concern is more for the women who experienced this behaviour, I know myself that emotional abuse can be devastating.

    Looking back on Instagram posts (when they were still up) I think its quite obvious that he knew what was coming. It just makes it all the more sickening – like one final money and sympathy grab before he ‘retired to the farm’.

    Thank you for your post, I hope that the last few weeks have been kind to you x

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