When the news that Ryan Adams had sexually coerced seven women, including a minor, broke on Wednesday, I went where many in my situation go: into an echo chamber.
I was a massive fan —so much so that I belonged to a secret Facebook group dedicated to dissecting the 44-year-oldʼs career. The group was roiling, but with less indignation than Iʼd expected: most of the comments were in support of Adams. While one fan posted a stack of broken Adams CDs, another pleaded for them to sell, not shatter their rarities. Some said theyʼd hold judgement until they heard his side of the story. Others shifted fast into whataboutism, claiming there is no such thing as fair-trade rock.
It felt like a Breitbart luncheon the day after the Billy Bush tape dropped. One commenter even used Trump to simultaneously justify his continued support and scare-quote the accounts of Adams’ seven accusers: “in a country where Donald trump is still supported by half the country these ‘allegationsʼ are indefensible? really”
Ugh. Itʼs easy to rally against a problematic “other,” but what happens when itʼs someone you admire? Despite a taste in music that borders on contrarian, Adams had become one of my favorite artists over the past few years. Thereʼs nothing particularly interesting about his music -- itʼs all acoustic ballads and albums-long forays into retro rock -- but I couldnʼt resist it. I own six or seven of his albums (including a few spendy box sets), have defended him endlessly to anyone whoʼd listen and once drove 12 hours round-trip in 24 hours just to see him play Telluride Bluegrass. His songs shouldered me through depressions. Singing them was instant comfort.
But when you find out all your favorite love songs were probably inspired by some dude’s abusive behavior, those words don’t just ring empty — they become horrific invocations of abusive behavior. Incantations of assholery.
Still, while the internet wasted no time stringing Adams up, it wasnʼt automatic for me, a fan, to join in on the dog pile. I weirdly felt like I was somehow betraying him. But as a person that people have turned to for music advice -- and someone thatʼs personally turned dozens of friends on to Adams -- it didn’t feel right to stay quiet.
Especially given that hesitation. Making excuses for this kind of shit becomes easier the further you wade into thickets of fandom. When I first started listening to him, I knew Adams was an asshole -- I saw him threaten to replace his lead guitarist with an octave pedal on stage at The Fox Theatre in Boulder. But, hey, Iʼm friends with assholes. So, I turned him into a lovable asshole. Soon, I found plenty to like about him: He was goofy and self aware, peddling merch branded “Mr. Feelings” writ large in horror movie font.
By late last year, my threshold had grown: When he tweeted that he was too high on painkillers to remember marrying his ex-wife, I brushed it off. Especially when, two months later, he posted a photo of a 60-day sobriety chip. See? Heʼs been through a lot! Give him a break!
But it’s impossible to be a Ryan Adams fan after this.
Because the ping of allegiance we feel as fans to defend reprehensible behavior is actually delusion. Thatʼs doubly true in the world of emotional singer-songwriters, who are essentially kindred spirits for hire. Songs like “Come Pick Me Up” and “Anybody Wanna Take Me Home” can conjure an arm around our shoulders when we feel uniquely alone.
But whose arm? Probably the artistʼs. Thatʼs potentially harmless, until itʼs not.
So, to all his other fans: Ryan Adams doesnʼt deserve your support. Like love, it isnʼt up to you whose music you fall for. But it is on you to know when itʼs time to get the fuck out of there.