. . .
So while I’d originally figured that when I got to Ryan Adams I would spend a lot of time discussing how in the past two decades he never topped Strangers Almanac and Pneumonia, the final two Whiskeytown albums, while still writing and recording a bunch of songs that I well and truly loved.
Instead, I want to start by acknowledging all of the various stories that have come about Ryan controlling, emotionally abusing and creeping on various women over the years, and say that I believe each and every single one. To the point where I thought about just skipping writing about him altogether.
But, of course, this is a blog that is about songs I love, and many of those songs have been created by extremely shitty people — many who have done shittier things than Ryan, not that it’s a contest, for fuck’s sake — and I couldn’t figure where to draw the line. So I figured I’d do what I’ve always done — focus on the songs and the context in which I heard the songs — after acknowledging the issues up front, as well as the white cis male privilege that allows me to separate his art from his actions.
After the 1999 dissolution of Whiskeytown after the recording and prior to the release of their amazing swan song, Pneumonia, Ryan Adams wasted absolutely no time going back into the studio and recording his solo debut, Heartbreaker, which came out in September of 2000.
I know that a lot of people loved loved loved Heartbreaker, but I kinda found it a disappointment. I think part of that was because there where a ton of Whiskeytown bootlegs floating around Napster at the time, including the still unreleased Pneumonia. — which eventually came out in May of 2001 — and the sheer audacity and variety of the music on those bootlegs utterly killed me. So I was a bit out on Heartbreaker, which was mostly low-key.
So, naturally, it starts with a misdirect: the mid-60s Dylan rip-ff “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is to Be High)” which somehow combines Bringing It All Back Home with the Sun Sessions, and featured an immortal chorus:
Oh, one day when you’re looking back
You were young, and man, you were sad
When you’re young, you get sad
When you’re young, you get sad, then you get high
And while the lyrics are — by definition — about being sad and lonely, the music was upbeat enough to more than compensate for that, and so I think I was a little bummed out that the rest of the record was slow and dirge-like. Occasionally, a song would come through, but outside of “My Winding Wheel” and “Come Pick Me Up,” it was too little, too late.
But of course, with Ryan Adams in at the turn of the century it was “don’t like these songs, here are some more,” as Heartbreaker was the beginning of a Pollard-esque run of eight records in a little over five years, and one of those albums (Demolition) was boiled down from three records, but with a couple of exceptions, they were spotty at best, as we’ll see.
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)”
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” live in 2002
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” live at Roskilde, 2015
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