Jason Isbell, Lucinda Williams Address Ryan Adams Situation

Lucinda Williams just released a new record called Good Souls Better Angels, and Jason Isbell is about to release a new one called Reunions on May 15th. And in lengthy interviews with both artists published recently, the subject of their (once) mutual friend Ryan Adams came up in pretty in-depth manners.

Jason Isbell was running buddies with Ryan Adams for quite a few years earlier in his career, and he attributes Ryan to helping him get sober in 2012. Many also overlook that Adams was Jason Isbell’s initial pick to produce his landmark, breakout album Southeastern, but a last minute scheduling conflict put Dave Cobb in the producer’s chair.

Lucinda Williams has also been close to Adams over the years, and wrote a song about him called “Little Rock Star” from her 2008 album Little Honey that speaks to Ryan’s insatiable desire to be cutting edge, controversial, and as a by-product, self-destructive. It’s revealed in Lucinda’s recent interview with The Guardian that her new song “Shadows & Doubts” is about Adams as well. “Now the press has found you out, and one can only guess what this is about…” the song goes, though Lucinda qualifies that she hopes the audience leaves the song’s themes open for interpretation.

The career of Ryan Adams of course has been on hiatus after an scathing exposition in The New York Times during the height of the #MeToo movement in February of 2019. The story revealed numerous allegations by former love interests and associates. Adams was accused of offering to help certain women with their musical careers, only then to turn around and pursue them sexually. He was also accused of sending a sexually-explicit image to a 15-year-old—a charge that has been investigated by the FBI, but no charges have been brought.

Ryan Adams wasn’t accused of rape or other major offenses, and some have referred to the attitude The New York Times and the public brought to the story as one of the excessive cases of cancel culture. The Times took the accusations of former jilted lovers and used it to destroy Ryan’s life and livelihood. Undoubtedly, if the accusations are true, Ryan Adams acted inappropriately. For his part, he denies all the charges and accuses The New York Times of embellishment. But regardless of what side of the story you believe, some believe Adams should have an opportunity of rehabilitation. One of those people is Lucinda Williams.

“Look, I know Ryan, and I know he’s fucked up a lot of things,” she says. “He’s one of those people who you can love but he can also piss you off. God knows he’s made enough mistakes. This is looking at somebody who basically fucked things up and trying to deal with seeing that person in that place but still being concerned about them. I still love Ryan. Do I agree with what he did? No. I’m not trying to say: ‘Oh, poor Ryan, he was all misunderstood.’ I’m just taking the situation and turning it into a song, but I think you can apply it to different things. I don’t want this to seem like I’m completely defending his actions.”

The Guardian writer, Laura Snapes, used the case as an example of how the social urge to shame can be rooted in fear of our own worst instincts, and how justice requires rehabilitation—something that is commonly advocated for when it comes to common criminals, but seemed to be lost at times during the #MeToo fervor.

“Well, I agree,” Lucinda Williams said. “And the other thing is, it’s an illness. It’s very taboo but it’s another form of mental illness, and they need help. My father used to describe it, like when a real close friend of the family committed suicide, as: we’re all standing around the edge of this deep, dark well and some people jump or fall and others don’t. We’re all faced with the same temptations.”

Jason Isbell, in an interview with GQ, explained how he used the situation with Ryan Adams to re-evaluate his friendships and to be more aware of the people he’s around.

“I was disappointed in myself for not realizing that those kinds of things were happening,” Isbell said. “And the situation with Ryan and with the Times story made me rethink my friendships with other men and how much we’re actually sharing with each other. And I think it really helped me redefine, you know, what kind of a friend I want to be to somebody.”

“There were a lot of things that I thought about Ryan’s situation, foremost being that I felt sorry for the people who had had to deal with it, for the women who had had to deal with it. But one thing that I thought was I need to actually care more about what somebody is doing on a day-to-day basis, because, first of all, I don’t want to be close to somebody who is doing these kinds of things again. And also, if you’re gonna be somebody’s friend, you need to know ’em better. I wasn’t being a very good friend. You know? Whether he deserved a good friend or not, I should have known that those things were going on.”

Ryan Adams took the country and alt-country world by storm with his original band Whiskeytown and his early career efforts before becoming one of the biggest rock stars of the era. But his attitude and demeanor was well-documented, with the press often using it to praise him as opposed to a cause for alarm. Saving Country Music once criticized Adams for lashing out at country, saying he only performed the music ironically, and was one of the few outlets to question his efforts covering Taylor Swift’s 1989 album while much of the press lauded the effort.

But as Lucinda Williams points out, it’s fair to question if the Ryan Adams punishment fit the crime, and if he shouldn’t be offered the opportunity at rehabilitation and to make amends, while we now have a deeper understanding of the motivations of some in the media to post salacious stories, with the feeding frenzy sparked by social media exacerbating the disconnect with important edicts of Western society such as innocent until proven guilty, and the opportunity to return to society once punishment has been fulfilled.

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