Today’s Tormented, Drug-addled Singer-Songwriter

Ryan Adams

A great breakup album is rare.

I first heard Ryan Adams’ breakup composition, Heartbreaker, a few years back at a relatively important time in my life. I won’t get into that.

You’d generally have low expectations for a breakup album called “Heartbreaker.” The first thing I thought of after I listened to the album was a Hemingway quote… “There is nothing to writing,” the quote goes. “All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And man, this guy was bleeding. Profusely. And I couldn’t get enough. It was some of the most honest writing I had every heard; broken but healing, hopeless yet hopeful; paradox blaring through my headphones. Everything about the songs scream “I’m so fucking mad and broken and desperate but that’s okay because I can write these songs about it and somehow, that makes me feel okay.”

It’s fairly well known that during his writing of this album, Adams was in a rough state. That’s pretty clear in this video. Heartbreak and drugs seem to go hand in hand for many artists. But out of these low times generally comes the greatest works of art. I’ve always felt that contentment isn’t a good recipe for creation. Heartbreaker embodies “low-point” more than anything I’ve ever heard. A few years after the album was released, Ryan Adams got clean. His more recent music reflects this change in lifestyle, clean-cut, optimistic and clear. Adam’s voice has less tremble and is stronger in his more recent albums. But I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

I’ve listened to his more recent stuff and, as much as Adams’ talent is apparent, it just doesn’t resonate as much with me. Here is a more modern live version of one of the more haunting songs on Heartbreaker. Adams is clean here, but if you listen closely, you can just barely hear him regressing back to when he first wrote this song; back to that heartbreaker.

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