Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Heartbreaker and Brian Or, A Journey Towards Nashville

Last week, I wrote a piece for The Waster about Ashes and Fire, the new Ryan Adams record. If you read the article, you'll see that i am a bit hung up on Heartbreaker, the first Adams solo record*. As i briefly mention in the article, i was a Freshmen in college when i first heard it, and it was one of the first pieces of "country" music that ever spoke to me. I had no room in my piece to go back and be reminiscent about my first encounters with it, so i decided to blog about it#.

So, let's travel to the future, all the way...to the Year 2000.

Heartbreaker was released approximately three weeks into my stay as a Freshmen at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, on September 5, 2000. However, i don't think i had heard anything about the album until at least a few weeks after its release. I remember walking downtown to a now forgotten shitty record store (this is before i found Dave's Music Mine or the Record Exchange on the South Side) to buy Hearbreaker. ^

That first semester was a tough one, initially, for me. My two best friends were my roommate Matt and his girlfriend, Lisa. They broke up approximately 5 minutes after i developed friendships with both of them, and therefore, ruined my friendship circle almost as quickly as they formed it. There were other, deeper issues too, but this a blog where i talk about nerdy shit, and no one needs to read about fragile, emo Brian. Let's sum it up as such: I spent a lot of time crying, listening to sad music. Hence, i loved Heartbreaker to death.%

The 2000/2001 school year opened the doors musically for me more so than any other year in my life. I first heard Bitches Brew by Miles Davis; i bought my first Pixies record; Napster was still around and my school had insanely fast internet. But one of the biggest steps i took musically was beginning to appreciate, in some capacity, country music. In fact, if you had asked me in 1999 what kind of music i like, i would have said "Everything but country."$

Now, let's get something straight: when i say country, i don't mean Garth Brooks or Travis Tritt. That is bad 70s pop with exaggerated accents. When i say country music, i mean Hank Williams; i mean Merle Haggard; i mean Patsy Cline; i mean Johnny Cash. But you see, growing up in the 90s in New Jersey, that kind of country music was rarely, if ever, heard. So to me, country meant color blocked shirts, CMT, and hillbillies.

Ryan Adams was the gateway drug to digging into an entire genre of music that i had previously alienated myself from. I heard an honesty in Adams's songs that reminded me of punk rock - they were simply adorned, well written and nothing fancy. I could dig this. Now, granted, this music was just as influenced by rock and roll and folk music as it was country; however the twang, the harmonies, the tempo, it all bleeds country music. Even if this didn't exactly sound like Nashville of 1962, it felt like it. And, at that time, that was close enough.

Sadly, Adams as country door opener is about the only role he has played in my life (and, country music still is not my favorite genre - not even in my top 5). Much to my friend Jeff Meyer's chagrin, nothing else Adams has done has ever spoken to me in the same way. And yet, i own at least 6 Adams records and, as my article states, puts out 4-5 great songs per album. They just haven't hit me in the same way that Heartbreaker did, and so i find myself not thinking much about Adams, except when i'm thinking about how many of his songs sound the same.

*Oddly, i have never reached back to his work with Whiskeytown, although i can almost guarantee i would enjoy it. Maybe next year...

#I've been a really bad blogger. I've been a good contributor to Multiversity Comics and to The Water, but a really bad blogger.

^Only three records bought at that store (and, oddly, all at different times, even after i found good stores): Heartbreaker, Hell Below/Stars Above by the Toadies, and Just Push Play by Aerosmith. Guess which record isn't still in my regular rotation?

%Other songs that i either convinced myself were sad, or elicited a melancholy feeling and therefore were in regular rotation: "Stay Forever" by Ween, "Butterfly" by Weezer, "I Stay Away" by Alice in Chains and "Aurora" by the Foo Fighters. So, for me at 18, sad = acoustic guitars.

$A few years earlier, i would have said "Everything but rap and country." Now, i'd say "everything but polka." Still waiting for a polka artist (non-Weird Al category) to blow my mind.

For further great reading on Ryan Adams, check out this post by the AV Club.