On Wednesday, The New York Times published an article detailing alleged abuse perpetrated on seven women by singer-songwriter Ryan Adams. While the article stops short of accusing the artist of clear criminal wrongdoing, it paints a picture of a man who uses his artistic acclaim and commercial success to manipulate young women (and one girl) into sexual situations. The article has, unsurprisingly, reverberated through the music and entertainment industry during the last few days, resulting in an avalanche of think pieces written, mostly by women, concerning how behavior like that of Adams has stifled the creative ambitions of women from the beginning of the rock and roll era. I was contacted by a number of concerned friends after the Times article was published asking about my well-being in light of one of my favorite artists being accused of wrongdoing. I was somewhat perplexed by these messages, as I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic about Adams’ public persona and mostly judged his songwriting as hampered, not helped, by his volatile behavior. Regardless of how all of this plays out, he will have been one of the most influential artists of a generation and I’m sure he will continue to make music well into old age. I hope he is found to not be as terrible as the Times article indicates, and I hope that there are not more victims with similar stories about him. That all said, there is real tragedy in this story, and it has very little to do with Ryan Adams: this kind of behavior has cut-short careers, prevented great music-making, and heartbroken so many artists, I find it difficult to even find a place to start talking about it.
In the range of reactions I’ve gathered from my friends in the music business, several of whom know Ryan Adams personally, one thing nobody has expressed is surprise. Whether this is because of what they think of Adams, or whether this is because it is a common story is unclear to me, but regardless of that, I can account in specific ways how this kind of thing has negatively affected me, as a man, working in the music business. It hasn’t hurt me nearly as much as it’s hurt the victims of abuse, mind you, but the cycle of patriarchal misogyny is not good for anyone with an interest in music- not men, not women, not artists, and not listeners. It’s bad for all of us.
I don’t think Ryan Adams is some kind of monster, but he is a product of an industry that places the sexual whims of men above the humanity of women who just want to be a part that world. While Adams is the whole package- he is a songwriter, singer, producer, savvy businessman, and plays countless instruments- most people are not- most are specialists who do one or two things very well and need to form partnerships to create and thrive in the business. Predatory behavior by powerful (or seemingly powerful) men can easily stamp out any enthusiasm of literally half of us. I find working with women in music to be exceptionally rewarding and greatly admire the women who have managed to carve out a career in the industry despite the actions of predatory men, most of whom don’t have nearly the talent or star-making power of a Ryan Adams. The blend of male and female voices and the songwriting perspectives of women are some of the things I enjoy most as a listener of music. THAT is why I am so saddened by the New York Times article about Ryan Adams. I have no idea if the allegations made against him are true, but I DO know that my attempts to collaborate with women are often met with a degree of suspicion because of stories like this. I DO know that, in one of my earliest bands, our momentum was derailed when one of my bandmates aggressively pursued a female journalist for sex- she was a great supporter of us and our music, and I can’t adequately express how much I’m saddened by the idea of her enthusiasm for music being tainted by her memory of my band. (While she did not give up writing about music after her experience with my bandmate, she did take a very long break from it).
Music is made, often, under incredibly personal circumstances- late at night, in bedrooms, when people are alone together. It is inevitable that the opportunity for romance under these conditions may, indeed, present, but it should never be thought of as a foregone conclusion- if you are calculating it, you are probably being a creep. Things are getting better- anybody paying attention will have noticed that more and more bands are made up of men and women, and Fender recently reported that more than half of their new customers are now women and girls, but we still need to do better. We, as men making music, need to understand that admiration does not equate sexual interest. Collaboration should come with no strings attached and, in the case of young artists, we should work really hard to encourage them to get better at each part of the process, not just do it for them. Romantic encounters might happen, but we need to let them happen on equal terms. Playing guitar might make you a more desirable romantic prospect, but it doesn’t make you a more important person. Be nice, be kind, be enthusiastic, and for God’s sake don’t send unsolicited pictures of your penis.