Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams


Bill Smith was a teacher at one of the schools I taught at. He was charming and very popular with most students and most females on the staff. Some of the male teachers were put off by his camp voice but I always found him gracious and very kind. I can remember one lunchtime when a group of Year 11 students were playing football and the ball went onto the gym roof. They asked Mr. Smith if he would get the ball back for them. He got a ladder from the caretakers office and climbed onto the roof. I can clearly see him holding the ball aloft to the cheering of about 20 boys before throwing it down. Of course, if this had been the boys’ grammar school that I went to in the Sixties, someone, probably Colin Pell, would have taken the ladder away but, fortunately, this didn’t happen to Bill Smith.

One day, a Year 9 boy called Charlie arrived late to Bill Smith’s lesson. He apologised and Bill playfully chucked his cheek, calling him a naughty boy. Charlie had a very similar voice to Bill Smith. He was also intellectually under developed. At the end of the school day, Charlie didn’t go home. Instead, he went to the Police station and reported Bill Smith for assault. The Police came to the school and spoke to the Headteacher who immediately suspended Bill Smith who never worked at the school again. The rest of the staff were instructed not to get in touch with him. His case went to court and he was found not guilty but by this time the damage was done. The last I heard of him, he was working at an independent boys school.

I taught Charlie when he got into Year 11. He sat with seven other girls round a large table. They were friendly, not badly behaved, but they weren’t hard working. They didn’t like studying Maths although they always enjoyed the game of Bingo at the end of the lesson. There were not many other students in the class; four gruff, lazy lads and a couple of very quiet girls, one of whom was called Lucy who tried really really hard to understand basic Maths. I worked really hard with Lucy, trying to encourage her and getting her to speak up when she didn’t understand something. One day, Charlie said, very loudly, that he didn’t really know why Lucy was in the class as she never said anything and he wondered why she didn’t just leave the group. I was appalled and angry. I took Charlie outside and set him some work to do in isolation; I arranged for him to work with another teacher for the rest of the week. I spoke to Lucy and phoned her Mum to explain what had happened.

Now for the judgement part. Should Bill Smith have touched a boy on the cheek? (No, in my opinion). Should he have been suspended? (No, in my opinion). Should Charlie have reported him? (He was a child so it’s wrong to judge, in my opinion). Should the Headteacher have been more supportive? (Yes, in my opinion). Was Charlie right to have said what he did about Lucy? (No, in my opinion). Was my anger at Charlie anything to do with my feelings about his prior behaviour? (Don’t know).

I listened to the “Today” programme this morning and the widow of former Home Secretary Leon Brittan was in the news about claims made by a man called Carl Beech that he had been sexually abused by Leon Brittan. The claims were false and Carl Beech was later sentenced to 18 years in prison for multiple accounts of lying and one of fraud. Leon Brittan died in January 2015 whilst Metropolitan police officers were investigating the claim. It’s a very sad story. The Police have to investigate claims of abuse but, in my opinion, the accused should not be named until or unless they have been found guilty.

Ryan Adams started his musical career in a great group called Whiskeytown who released 3 very good albums. Since they split up in 2000, Ryan Adams has released 17 solo albums and I have 12 of them. He has a great voice and writes hugely interesting and deeply emotional songs. He is probably best classified by the ubiquitous term “Americana”. His first two solo albums define the range of his work. “Heartbreaker” is a downbeat alternative country album which he followed up with the pop/rock album “Gold”. Peter and I went to see him perform at The Dome a few years ago and, apart from not dealing with a heckler very well, he was sensational.

On February 13th 2019, The New York Times printed an article titled “Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.” The sub heading is “Several women say Adams offered to jumpstart their music careers, then pursued them sexually and in some cases retaliated when they spurned him. He denies the claims.” Here are some extracts from the article:

When Adams began corresponding online with a fan, Ava, in 2013, she was a 14-year-old bass player already forging a career. But their correspondence about music turned into graphic texting. Eventually, Ava said, they conducted video calls on Skype, where Adams exposed himself during phone sex. Andrew B. Brettler, Adams’s lawyer, said that the singer did not recall these exchanges. “Mr. Adams unequivocally denies that he ever engaged in inappropriate online sexual communications with someone he knew was underage,” Brettler said.

“The musician Phoebe Bridgers was 20 when Adams invited her to the Pax-Am studio one night in fall 2014. Adams had her perform a song and said he was blown away, comparing her to Bob Dylan, Bridgers recalled. Adams gave her a pricey vintage guitar, she said, and told her to return to record with him the next day. Beguiled by Adams’s energy and enthusiasm, Bridgers brought her best songs. Adams proposed putting them out as a 7-inch vinyl single on his label, setting her on a professional path. But as they discussed the record, Adams started sending Bridgers flirty texts, she said, and a whirlwind romance commenced. Bridgers said the singer began discussing marriage less than a week into their relationship, and insisted that she open for him on his European tour in a few weeks. In the weeks that followed, Adams’s attention turned obsessive and emotionally abusive, Bridgers said. He began barraging her with texts, insisting that she prove her whereabouts, or leave social situations to have phone sex, and threatening suicide if she didn’t reply immediately. When she broke off the relationship, Bridgers said, Adams became evasive about releasing the music they had recorded together and rescinded the offer to open his upcoming concerts. Through his lawyer, Adams contested how Bridgers described their relationship, calling it “a brief, consensual fling,” though he did not recall any flirty texts. He never told Bridgers he would withhold her songs, he said.”

Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price. – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

On January 14th 2021, it was reported that “The FBI found no evidence that would support charging Ryan with a crime, and closed its investigation, without charges, in the fall of 2019.” Ryan Adams has said “I am not a perfect man and I have made many mistakes. To anyone I have ever hurt, however unintentionally, I apologise deeply and unreservedly.”

The facts are clear. 1) Several women have claimed that Ryan Adams offered career advancement in return for sexual favours. 2) Ryan Adams denies doing anything inappropriate. 3) The FBI has not found any evidence that would warrant prosecution.

What does this mean about my collection of Ryan Adams’ CDs? Should I still play them? He hasn’t been prosecuted so should we assume guilt? Leon Brittan had done nothing wrong. What about Bill Smith’s offence? Reading the article in The New York Times, it’s not possible to come to any conclusion. Why would so many women fabricate stories about Ryan Adams? Did Ryan Adams consider himself to be the latest in a long line of rock stars whose attitudes to women were to treat them as sexual objects? That certainly wouldn’t excuse any poor behaviour. For example, Led Zeppelin had a terrible reputation. Here’s an extract from an article in The Independent from December 2007. “The American journalist Ellen Sander describes how on the last night of Zep’s second America tour, band members, led by Bonham, ripped her clothes off, “shrieking and grabbing”. She goes on: “They were in a frenzy. I was absolutely terrified that I was going to be raped…” Zep’s former-nightclub-bouncer manager, Peter Grant, bodily pulled Bonham off her. “

Led Zeppelin: There was a whole lotta love on tour | The Independent | The Independent

I find it impossible to come to a conclusion.

“Heartbreaker” has some beautiful songs on it. “Come Pick Me Up” addresses an ex lover who he wants to get back with. In the light of recent allegations, it could be construed that he is unreasonably angry about being rejected and is irrationally accusing her of her bad behaviour. Or it could be that these are words sung by someone who is desperately unhappy. It’s a brilliant song.

One of the theories about Ryan Adams’ songs is that he substitutes city names for girl’s names. That wouldn’t be a great defence if he was trying to convince someone that he doesn’t objectify women. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” starts with “I went down to Houston and I stopped in San Antone”. The chorus is “Oh my sweet Carolina. What compels me to go. Oh my sweet disposition. May you one day carry me home.” It’s another sad, slow beautiful song.

More poppy is “My Winding Wheel” with lyrics like “So buy a pretty dress. Wear it out tonight. For anyone you think could outdo me or better still be my winding wheel.” The more I look at these lyrics, the more disturbing they seem in the context of the allegations made against him. Is it okay to just enjoy the songs and not think too deeply about the man?

I have 12 CDs for sale. Offers please.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

2 thoughts on “Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams

  1. It’s a dilemma, for sure. If we stopped listening to any artist accused or convicted of immoral behaviour, we’d be throwing out a good chunk of our collection. There’s also the moral dichotomy of what is immoral and that often comes down to personal values. If it’s an accusation of a sexual nature, is that worse than non-sexual physical violence? Is shop lifting worse than tax evasion? If one is a Smiths or Morrissey fan, do they stop listening to the music because he’s revealed himself to be a far right bigot? Like Adams, do we ditch the Marilyn Manson CDs because of the recent allegations. Do we ostracise The Beatles or Lennon because of his treatment of Cynthia? Do we ignore anything that Phil Spector was involved in? I suspect that we mostly enjoy the music whilst not defending the artist. Some offences are so far over the line that it becomes impossible to enjoy the music – Ian Watkins and The Lost Prophets. All this is, of course, IMHO.

    Liked by 1 person

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