As The Guardian wryly reports, Ryan Adams, the erstwhile enfant terrible of alt.country, has split from The Cardinals and taken his ball home. Frustratingly, the link to the post in question is br0ken, and the Cardinals’ blog shows no alternative (though there is a vaguely angsty quote fron Sylvia Plath, erm). The humble follower of Ryan is thus left with secondhand reports to approach the full glory of his hissy fit. AmericanaUK has some choice quotes the Gruainda missed. We will miss Ryan’s presence in the musical firmament, and not least because of quotes like this: “i am a punch-line and a footnote in what is worse to yell at someone besides ‘free-bird’. i mean, i lost.”
Last weekend, I went to a small gig by a singer and songwriter named Ben Smith. I used to play mandolin with Ben many moons ago, and was introduced to a bunch of folk and country music during our jam sessions (which also included banjo, natch). Ben was telling me a story last week about the time he met Townes Van Zandt: Lightnin’ Hopkins was well known to demand a bottle of gin from the house prior to playing, and he explained this to Townes who explained it to Ben who explained it to me that this was because you’ve got no place playing the blues if you’re anywhere near standing up.
The folk-blues-country tradition hangs on such hand-me-downs, and it knows no elitism within its ranks, going from Lightnin’ Hopkins to a small upstairs bar in Stourbridge in a few easy steps. That tradition, like most others, nevertheless guards its doors jealously. Ryan Adams is one of the artists who has always seemed to be on the outside looking in, treated with suspicion by many of those already inside the walls. But when he complains of losing, having released a number of critically feted albums on a major record label and making what to him is not quite enough money out of it, we maybe get to see why: there’s no room for that kind of myopia in the hand-me-down tradition of Ben Smith and Townes van Zandt.
David Ryan Adams’s first book of poetry, Infinity Blues, is out in April. Ryan watchers are surely hoping for more of the mix of hubris and self-pity which has made him such a merucial musician; most people are probably just hoping he calms down.