Then there were cellphone cameras.
Despite Cameron Crowe depicting the backstage life of a rock star as a pajama party, the truth was completely the opposite. Flawed men abusing women.
You’d land in a town, play a show, and there would be groupies willing to service you. They wanted a piece of stardom, they wanted a story. And some got it.
And then the boys were gone.
I know, I know, you can’t say the girls were eager, you can’t say they were willing participants, but if you were there you know that’s the truth. You’re living in the middle of nowhere, Sweet Connie in Arkansas, going nowhere, and then a world famous band shows up in your town? This was pre-internet, pre-free long distance phone calls. When acts were much bigger than they are today. Drake…nowhere near as big as Frampton. Or even Boston! The digital age allows you to reach everybody, but everybody is not interested.
Still, messed up musicians have their desires.
Messed up. That’s the key word here. When no-talents like Jennifer Lopez succeed it makes it look like music is a business, that you can plot it all out, hire the right people, and have a hit. That’s what was wrong with music from 1990 until the mid-aughts. It was manufactured, fake…
Unless it was made by artists.
No one chooses to be an artist, just like no one chooses to be gay. Art chooses you. You sense you’re different. The usual steps don’t appeal. You find like-minded people and you create. Sure, fame looms. But most don’t make it. True artists rarely give up, they keep coming back, and you don’t read about them pivoting to tech success or becoming professionals, they can’t do that, they can only write and sing and play.
How did they get this way? Was it nature or nurture?
Usually there’s a sordid family background. Maybe as simple as not getting the love they wanted.
So they try to get it from their fans.
Classic rockers, especially those from the U.K., continually testify they did it to pull girls. Ever go backstage and hang with these true artists? Frequently they’ve got absolutely nothing to say. And are shy and reserved to boot. Maybe if you hang for eons, you can stumble upon a topic that interests them, get them talking, but the odds are low.
And then they’re gone.
But most people never get to meet their heroes, and they’ve got the fantasy and…
Give Ryan Adams credit, he figured out the paradigm had changed. You cannot go on the road and love ’em and leave ’em. Because they’ve got documentary evidence, pictures, you’re gonna get in trouble, the odds are against you. But if you reach out and touch them on the internet…
That’s right, all artists have fans. Because artists express what you feel. They make you feel understood. And if you could only meet them. And then Ryan Adams DM’s you?
You’ve got no idea what he’s looking for, how messed up he is. You’re posting selfies on Instagram and instead of sending roadies into the audience, having a brief period of time to ponder the pickings, Adams sits on his phone and takes his time, who does he want to prey on today?
And they are willing victims.
Because Adams is gonna make them a star.
The oldest trick in the book. The Hollywood casting couch. But movies aren’t like music, Ryan Adams actually wrote those songs, he’s speaking from his heart directly into yours so…
You dive in, you’re anything but reluctant. And when the behavior goes off the rails…
It’s like any relationship, only more intense. You’ll do things you normally wouldn’t for quite a while before you’ll pull the plug. You’re addicted to the connection, the sex, the comfort, and in the case of Ryan Adams, the fame and the opportunity.
And it used to be the bands were gone from the venue not long after they finished playing. In time for a blow-job, a quickie, then they were outta there. But in the internet era, you’re never gone, you can always reach out and touch somebody.
And Ryan Adams did.
And unlike backstage, he didn’t lead with sex. It seemed like he was interested in your talent…that was the bait before the switch.
And then he was incredibly needy. Seemingly all artists are. They’re so disconnected and so alone that if they get any attention, they can’t live without it. Attention is the drug. That’s what keeps them performing, they’re hooked.
Now you wouldn’t expect a music publication to reveal this truth. Most are on the payroll. “Billboard” sanitizes the stories and “Hits” won’t print anything negative unless the person isn’t paying them. So unless you’re on the inside, you’ve got no idea what’s going on. And even if you are on the inside, and young and inexperienced, you still might be vulnerable, like Mandy Moore.
So the truth has to be excavated on the outside, in this case the “New York Times.” Music is a backwater, it doesn’t get the respect of movies and TV, but it’s the only medium where you can do it yourself and gain traction, without the approval of white male middlemen who think they’re the talent.
So where does this leave us?
Of course Ryan Adams is a scumbag. Who needs help. But no one gives help in the music business, the artists are cash cows. You prop them up and take your percentage, wring them for everything they’re worth. You can’t even get an intervention if someone is killing themselves with heroin.
And Ryan Adams still wrote those heartfelt songs. Will listeners stop playing them?
Which brings us back to the case of Jackson Browne, who twenty five years ago was accused of manhandling Daryl Hannah. We’ll never know the truth, but we do know that Jackson released his best album in years, “I’m Alive,” and it had little impact because so many of his target audience wanted nothing to do with him.
But they do now.
Was it time or the music or..?
Then again, Ryan Adams is nowhere near as big as Jackson Browne. It’s a different era, like I said, no one in this century is as big as those from the last. Jackson had multiple hits. Ryan had one.
So expect a short term dent to his business.
Then again, maybe Adams will self-destruct, like Pee-wee Herman. Remove himself from the discussion, not go on the road, not release records.
But we have the case of Louis C.K., who admitted his behavior and is now working and being excoriated by some while he does good business.
Same deal with Aziz Ansari.
And none of their behavior equals the offenses of Harvey Weinstein.
It seems the media and the non-fans have one standard, and the true fans another.
And Ryan Adams kind of apologized in his tweets. Not really, but he’s not stonewalling, although his lawyer did. He seems to have realized he’s done something wrong. Unlike the movie directors who deny it.
So, what we’ve got here is the exposure of rock star behavior in the teens. It’s ugly. But the truth is it’s been ugly for a long time.
But we live in a contradictory society. Ever listen to rap lyrics? Or those of even Aerosmith? The music is infused with sex, that’s part of its attraction.
Of course that does not excuse bad behavior, but the question is…
Where is the line, what do we want?
Meanwhile, Ryan Adams is not the only one. As the rule goes, the more successful, the more screwed up. If you’re lucky, you’ve got people protecting you.
But it’s hard to be protected in the digital age, where there’s documentary evidence of your entire life.
So you gain fame and make money by opening a vein, and then you sacrifice your career and money for the same reason.
These are the real issues. It’s more complicated than just kicking offenders to the curb. How do we change the culture? How do we inject sunlight into behavior that takes place in darkness?
Ryan Adams definitely crossed a line. He should pay for it.
But what is the penalty?
We haven’t worked that out yet.
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