Halloween Head: Ryan Adams’ monstrous history of abuse

Ryan Adams Portrait Session, New York, USA

Just before Valentine’s Day, The New York Times published an article about Ryan Adams. Over a dozen women came forward to the newspaper with stories about the terrible treatment they’d received from the musician. The testimonies (as well as some messages Adams sent to some of them) paint a picture of a monster hiding in plain sight. Everyone from ex-wife Mandy Moore to one-time protege Phoebe Bridgers claimed he offered them some success in their musical careers, only to coax them into a sexual relationship, rescind his professional promises and lash out when those relationships didn’t work out for him.

The article is incredibly damning. The emotional abuse described by the women only gets worse as you read on. The damage Adams has allegedly done is as harrowing as it is irreversible. Several women say they gave up on music after their interactions with Adams. Bridgers’ career has a shadow cast over it that she has struggled to shake off; because of his involvement, a lot of people credit Adams for Bridgers’ success (seemingly ignoring the fact that Bridgers’ music is what got her the attention in the first place).

It’s a difficult read, but it’s important that this comes to light. As the article itself points out, even in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the music industry has done relatively little to weed out the presence of toxic and abusive men, of which there are a great many. Adams could not have gotten away with this for so long without a network of complacent coworkers and a culture that just overlooks these things for the sake of ‘great talent,’ as though that can’t be found anywhere else. Even the article can’t help but list off Adams’ career achievements and laud over his music.

Reactions to the article have been unfortunately predictable. Adams himself tweeted a response and has not been active on social media since. Given how common it has been for Adams to have meltdowns on his social platforms, this insincere and poor excuse for an apology was more than likely drafted by a lawyer. He claims he didn’t intentionally hurt people and questions the legitimacy of the article (though without explaining what about it was exaggerated or false as he claims). His statement is just an attempt to minimize his responsibility for his own actions. Several men who know Adams have come forward since the story has broken and talked about the web of lies Adams would spin to cover up his actions.

The public’s response has also been upsetting. There have been some positive moments, though: several companies have pulled their support for Adams. The distribution company that was going to ship his new album has decided not to do so. Several guitar gear companies who have collaborated with Adams have pulled the products he designed with them. Plenty of people have been quick to denounce Adams, but some fans have been vocal in their defence. There are a few things that need to be considered here. First of all, The New York Times does not publish articles like this on a whim. A lot of survivors were interviewed, message histories have been reviewed and Adams’ lawyers were also contacted. A lot of people seem to think that The New York Times hasn’t done its homework, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. A lot of people who know Adams have come forward since the article’s publication, corroborating the stories and talking about their own experiences with the web of lies that was spun around his abuse. Not only that, but the FBI has opened a case against Adams in response to explicit messages he sent to an underage girl. If a national secret service is taking The New York Times seriously, it’s safe to say that the article was published based on more than just testimonies.

There have been other reactions that are perhaps more harmful, though. Some are defending Adams’ actions by blaming the survivors. Others have also simply said aloud that they don’t care and will continue to support his music. Most bizarrely, some are arguing that because this kind of abuse is so rampant in the industry, that singling out Adams is hypocritical. Adams is not being singled out, for a start. Contrary to what middle-aged men on Facebook might tell you, women have nothing to gain and an awful lot to fear from coming forward about abuse; Bridgers, Moore and others have put their careers on the line by speaking out against the people in their industry. The Adams story doesn’t stand on its own by any means, but even when men are called out in the music business, many continue on with little impact to their careers while the women that they abused seem to disappear. Behind every abusive figure in the entertainment industry is at least a dozen other people who let it happen and helped keep it quiet. These women have come forward with their specific experiences about Adams, but their stories speak to a malignant toxicity in our culture that allows people like Adams to exist in the first place.

You have nothing to gain from defending Ryan Adams. He abused his position in the music industry to take vulnerable women under his wing, take what he wanted from them and then lash out when his vile behaviour made the relationship turn sour. I’ve been light on details here, but The New York Times article details just how controlling and manipulative he has been. For a long time Adams has been known to be cruel to his fans on social media, so he’s not going to be personally thankful to you for white-knighting him in comment threads. No matter how much you love him or his music, he doesn’t deserve your sympathy.

It makes no difference how much you love his work, by the way: no one is mad at you for enjoying his albums, either before the news broke or in the wake of it. The outrage comes when your love for that work comes before your respect for survivors and their stories. If you really must continue to listen to Adams’ music, go right ahead, that’s not what people care about. But do it quietly. No one can take away the personal value you might have attached to it, but knowing what we know now, it has no cultural value. His music shouldn’t have a place in public discourse any longer, not now that we know about the suffering Adams has caused while he was writing it.

There’s a lot of talk about separating the art from the artist, but for Adams especially, they are inseparable. His music tends to be autobiographical and the information we now have casts a dark cloud over it all. It’s hard to listen to the man croon about how lonely he is when you know about how terribly he has treated the women in his life. At least for me, the story not only kills my enthusiasm for the man but kills the magic of the music. If you feel differently, you’re more than welcome to keep his albums in your collection. But they should stop appearing on the radio and you should stop recommending him to your friends. There are so many strong, powerful women out there who are making huge strides in music, almost all of whom will have had encounters with figures like Adams. They deserve your support more than he does. Rock and roll can survive without him and we should be encouraging the music industry to leave him, his cohorts and his behaviours in the dust.


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