Tag Archives: Ryan Adams

Songs and Memories: Ryan Adams – “The Hardest Part”:

Ryan Adams – “The Hardest Part”

From about 2005 to 2006, I was under the impression that Ryan Adams could do no wrong. He was something like a contemporary Bob Dylan – brilliant, prolific, and unpredictable. I had just started Graduate School for Publication Design in the Spring of 2006. In retrospect, it was an odd move. While the program was a combination of Graphic Design and writing, I knew shit about Graphic Design.  My introductory course in Design was on Saturday Mornings (a schedule that did not fit my lifestyle at the time) and Adam’s music was almost always playing in my car during the commutes.

For me, Jacksonville City Nights was the highlight of the trio of albums that Adams released in 2005.  Adams has often been dubbed “alt-country”, but Jacksonville City Nights is the album where he hitches a ride on a boxcar and takes it through America.  It’s a real country album, filled with melancholy, girls that leaves imprints on your brain, and absence.

The album’s highlight “The Hardest Part” could be described as something of an acoustic rocker.  From opening chords, Adams pulls you along with his tale of wanting to get out and away from whatever it is that’s been bothering him. He’s paid his respects to the company store, and the company boys.  His hat has been tipped, and he’s out.  Naturally though, there’s some complications and the hardest part isn’t all the shit he’s been getting – it’s leaving the girl behind.  The bridge is where the song really takes a life of its own.   The acoustic guitars are strummed with the intensity of a punk song and Adams can barely contain himself:

I could stretch that penny like a silver line
Rolling through the pages of my life
Underneath your name where it’s underlined
I’ve been turned around
I’ve been mystified by a true love

Ever since I first heard it, I’ve grown attached to those lines.  I’m not quite certain whether its the lyrics themselves, or the way Adams sings them – desperate, out of control, and also tender.  Those lines would become the centerpiece for my final project in my Design Course.   The class was assigned to “redesign” a CD cover and booklet, and without even thinking I chose Jacksonville City Nights.  I put “The Hardest Part” on repeat while I sat and designed the booklet on my computer.  Even though I was a novice at Graphic Design, that wasn’t the hardest part.  It was cropping, spraying and mounting the finished piece that proved to be a hassle.  Without realizing it, I bought boards that were too thick for the razor-blade, and in the process I sliced my fingers open a couple of times.  After numerous attempts, I finally finished it and ended up with a lower grade mainly based upon my shoddy presentation with the mounting.

If I had any shame, I would never let this piece see the light of day.  Luckily, I did get better at both Designing and the mounting.


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“Sonic Cool”, Hard-Core, and the 80s

I just finished reading Sonic Cool: The Life and Death of Rock and Roll by Joe S. Harrington.  Overall, it was an interesting read.  Unlike a lot of other books about rock, Harrington is also a social critic.  He spends the first 30 pages discussing American-life post World War II, and how rock was a natural rebellion out of the McCarthy-era.  His basic premise of the whole book, was that in truest form rock and roll was about rebellion, and once we entered the 90s when everything became sanitized and mainstream, that part of rock and roll became dead.

I agree with Harrington to a certain extent, but that he means he into places way too much significance on hard-core music of the early 80s.  This is where he lost me – I found 75 pages of reading about Black Flag, Husker Du, and Anti-Seen extremely boring.  I suppose this style would have been interesting and significant if you were at the time.  But hard-core is not as rebellious as Harrington made it seem.  If anything, I find hard-core extremely fascist due its exclusiveness.  Because many of these bands refused to acknowledge much musical history before them, to me their attack and intent is failed from the beginning.  While The Clash may have bragged about “No Elvis, Beatles, and The Rolling Stones in 1977”, they also had sense to realize that playing three-chords loudly didn’t mean as much two years later, and they eventually branched out with London Calling.  Even the Ramones owed a huge debt to the pop-sensibilities of 1950s and early 1960s singles.

By placing this much emphasis on hard-core and Riot Grrl music for the last hundred pages, Harrington almost completely ignores groundbreaking work by Elvis Costello, The Talking Heads, R.E.M., The Smiths that was going on at the same time.  You could say that I’m biased, but I truly believe these artists are far more influential to a variety of bands than any hard-core band.  I doubt that many artists outside of the punk circle are influenced by hard-core (though I could be wrong.)  I know Ryan Adams is a big Black Flag fan, but I’ve yet to hear of Black Flag influence in his music.

On the flip-side I was impressed by Harrington’s analysis of the origins of gansta-rap.  As a white male who was only a kid when records by NWA and Public Enemy came out, it’s heard to truly comprehend and understand the impact these artists had.  Unlike hard-core, I’d say when it came out, rap was truly rebellious in every sense.  NWA and Public Enemy not only lashed out at the world as they saw it, but their sound was also groundbreaking.  Unfortunately for me, by the time I truly began to appreciate hip-hop as a teenager, MTV was blasting songs by Puff Daddy which was more pop-oriented and stale in comparison to NWA and Public Enemy.

For anyone looking for an interesting view of the history of rock and roll (and popular music) I’d suggest reading Sonic Cool.  But if you’re like me, maybe you should skip the parts about hard-core.

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Songs to Listen to in the Summer

Here in Baltimore, after days of obnoxiously cold weather in May, it’s finally beginning to feel like late spring/early summer.  As such, I decided to make a playlist on my Ipod of “summer songs”.  Not all of these songs are about summer, but I was looking more for a feel here.  The idea was to start out  with more up-tempo, and then end up with songs that conjure up feelings of 100% humidity and you’re exahusted.  Here’s what I came up with:

Walt Whitman’s Niece – Billy Bragg & Wilco

Chain Gang (Live) – Sam Cooke

Spirit in the Night – Bruce Springsteen

Everyday People – Sly & the Family Stone

Heat Wave – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas

Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes

Pressure Drop – Toots and the Maytals

Piece of My Heart – Big Brother and the Holding Company

Taper Jean Girl – Kings of Leon

Dead Flowers – The Rolling Stones

The Weight – The Band

Sweet Illusions – Ryan Adams & the Cardinals

TB Sheets – Van Morrison

What are yours?

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Various Random News – Stones, Max Weinberg, Ryan Adams

– Billboard has a nice article on The Exile on Main St.  re-issue.  “ It’s important for us to do really well with this,” [marketing director of the Universal Strategic Marketing division of Universal Music Group International] Andrew Daw says. “If this was to flop badly, then the incentive for the band to invest time into doing future ones isn’t as attractive.” For the love of God people, buy this reissue!

– Max Weinberg won’t be returning with Conan when his new show starts.  While I like the Max Weinberg 7, this can only be good for the E-street Band.

– Ryan Adams is possibly going to release a new album soon.   Via his Facebook page, Adams’ writes: “New songs in the morning at one studio and Finishing old tunes in another in the evening! Trying to get it all together. Fingers crossed. Who Knows, Maybe I’ll even have to dust off the bat signal this fall…” It’s been a year and a half since a studio release from Adams, which is an eternity for him.

That’s it for now.  Have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.

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Great Follow Ups to Debut Albums

I recently heard MGMT’s new album Congratulations and was unimpressed.  Oracular Spectacular was a fascinating debut filled with some great songs (“Kids” and “Time to Pretend”).  Sometimes it’s hard to follow up great debuts with another great record.  Here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model. Boosted by the Attractions on the follow-up to My Aim is True, the music finally matches Costello’s nastiness.

R.E.M. – Reckoning. Reckoning takes away the murkiness of Murmur resulting in an album full of Byrds fueled college rock.

The Band – The Band. Another terrific set songs on the follow-up to Music from Big Pink. Doesn’t contain the “big hit” (ie – “The Weight”) but “Rag Mama Rag” and “King Harvest Has Surely Come” are undisputed classics.

Ryan Adams – Gold.  Heartbreaker Ryan Adam tried to be a modern Gram Parsons.  (Emmylou Harris even guests on one of the tracks.)  On Gold he attempted to take on The Rolling Stones circa Exile, and despite his prolific tendency, he’s never bettered Gold.

The Pogues – Rum Sodomy & The Lash. Red Roses For Me is good rowdy fun, Rum Sodomy & The Lash proved the Pogues were more than just Irish folk music on speed.

What are your favorite follow-ups?

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