What do we do when our idols fail us? They are after all only human and always were capable of letting us down just like humans do. In 2019 is it really possible to separate the art from the artist? I recall nearly 20 years ago, in my (very regrettable) nu-metal days, attending an Incubus gig in Canberra. I was a super-fan. Memorised the lyrics, studied the riffs. The gig was amazing. I was frothing. After the show ended and the band had left the stage I hung around at the fence out front hoping to snag a pick or setlist floating amongst the debris of sticky plastic beer cups. Whilst searching around, one of the band members returned to the stage and was conversing with one of the security guards. From those of us remaining, he was pointing out the ‘special’ fans, that he’d like to come backstage. Not one of them male – all of them barely 20. At the time I didn’t recognise this for what I now know it to be, but I can confirm, despite what was an amazing musical experience, I have never listened to a single Incubus song since.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that is vaguely familiar with me that I have always held Ryan Adams in pretty high regard. His records taking up residence at home on our shelves, his posters holding real estate on our walls. So many of the good times and memories in our life soundtracked by his songs. He is at the very root of some of those good times – his show at the Enmore Theatre in 2016 easily one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. Ryan Adams has been a ridiculously obvious influence on my own songs. I’ve personally referenced him and likewise, reviewers have drawn links of their own. Now to be perfectly honest, like a lot of his fans, these revelations didn’t really seem like such a stretch. We’ve all witnessed some fairly bizarre and not so ‘normal’ behaviour on stage, in a review and or in legend. Ryan has always been one of those heroes you might be cautious to meet for fear of disappointment, so abuse of power certainly didn’t come as any surprise. But this… Those wondering what the hell is going on here, you should probably leave us for a moment and go read this New York Times story from a few weeks ago and catch up.
So what do we do when such an influence fails us? Well, it’s hard to say exactly. In the end, we all have to make up our minds. It might seem like a tricky one, but is it really? My litmus for this type of thing is imagining the abused to be a loved one. My mother or sister or partner or friend or friend’s partner. Just because these things are distant, we shouldn’t diminish the experience of the victim. For all social media’s flaws and problematic rubbish, we can thank the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for providing a platform for women to share personal stories and find support and hope in other’s. I will never understand what it is to be a woman abused in the music industry but I think I can liken it in part to mental health issues where I have felt alone and afraid to speak up at risk of being made to feel like an outcast or a ‘weirdo’ or worse, an ‘attention seeking whinger.’ Music like Ryan’s takes up such a special place inside of us, and it’s because of this that it becomes easy for fans like me to be selfish. But it is absolutely paramount to remember that when revelations like this rock us, our first and foremost attention must be with the victim. No musical moment or memory, no matter how special, is greater than the trauma caused. Yeah, I’m pretty disappointed that someone I looked up to let me down, but it’s not about ME. And why does Ryan get crucified while many powerful rockstar men before him carry on with concession? Adams is after all just the latest in a long line and demons are cultivated by a culture that already exists. It’s just unlucky for Ryan his victims have been brave enough to hold him accountable.
Art and the artist. We hold them on high and put them in a position to take advantage. Everyone is however entitled to redemption and I hope Ryan gets the help he needs to find his. Until recent years, I reckon I could nearly count on two hands the women I’ve shared rock and roll stages with. That’s pretty sad. I shudder to think of the great music created by women that may well have been lost because their spirit was broken by the boys club. Women absolutely have a place in music and we all need to protect and hold down that space. I look around me now and see so many talented and proud women. Inspiring songwriters. Hardworking professionals. Courageous women using their platform to share stories to inspire other women. We must defend their space and call out the men that compromise it. These men can only operate as long as those around them will allow it. We must hold these men accountable. Fuck a dude that dangles his half-eaten carrot on a string. Whatever piece of the rock and roll dream he is threatening it ain’t worth it.
To the beautiful, strong and resilient women in my life, I’m sorry if I never called it out. I promise to do better.