I'm aware. Everybody loves Ryan Adams, gosh, he's been around forever, everyone listens to him in college, yeah, I know. But you're going to have to indulge me here, firstly because I didn't attend college, and secondly I didn't really listen to Ryan Adams until about a year ago.
He's the soundtrack when your heart is breaking. This is kind of his whole deal: sad music for sad people.
So, last year, having not really heard much of his work other than "Dear Chicago", which Pandora very insistently kept playing on my Joe Pug station, I was given a bootleg of one of his shows from 2001 or 2002. I've looked for this online since with no luck. I'm still not sure quite where it came from. It's a beautiful recording, not professional, but pretty clear, once you get past the shrieker (every live recording has one) and the guy hollering out requests (every live recording also has one of those. Let me show you how huge of a fan I am by asking for that one song you NEVER EVER do! Tonight is my lucky night! The world is my oyster!).
I've logged countless hours listening to this recording. When it ceased to be enough, I started working backwards - newer stuff, solo stuff, his work with the Cardinals, and then Whiskeytown, finally, which I think is where most people start, and consequently why they hate what he's doing now. Whiskeytown was alt-country, like Wilco, but more sparkly, and it was delightful, and it was before its time. There are hundreds of bands making a good living doing that kind of thing now, but 15 to 20 years ago, most of the people who go to music festivals full of bands that sound like Whiskeytown were still un-ironically wearing floral overalls and bad hats and fringed boots. So, if you were attached to that kind of sound, then the whole singer-songwriter thing could be easily written off as self-indulgent whining. I don't see it like that, but maybe that's because of the way I listened to his catalog backwards, and because I wasn't exposed to his music at all during the normal time period.
There's a lot in the middle that's ragged, but he's cleaned up these days. To go from all that, to his newest album, Live At Carnegie Hall... He's got a second wind now. Not everybody gets that, particularly those who have lost their wind from abusing one substance or another.
You can stream it on Spotify, which I've been doing for weeks, you can buy it on iTunes, or if you have money, you can pick up the 6 LP set on eBay for around $200. If I can make a little extra money this summer, I'll be buying it.
It's incredible. I get it, you know: his particular odd flavor of wry self-deprecation, the introversion - this is someone who lives in his own head a lot. I speak that language. (He's a nerd, and I have a theory that you have to have a certain amount of inherent wealth/success or hotness in order for people to think your nerdery is cute. Perhaps that is a topic for another week.)
What I don't get is how you take your own sturm und drang and heartbreak and make something beautiful out of it, in a way that is meaningful to other people. I hope to figure that out in time.
The concert recording was done over two nights. At the end of the first one, he shouts into the crowd - "you're all sad now! everybody's sad!"