Gold (2001) :: Ryan Adams
One of the most prolific songwriters and musicians of my generation, Ryan Adams still seems to fly too far under the radar for enough people to know and love his music. He is one of the most underrated artists out there, one whose music I love dearly, as do many of my nearest and dearest friends and music obsessive co-conspirators. Subsequently, trying to narrow down a “favorite” album of his was a tough one for me, but I finally landed on the album that includes my most favorite Ryan song, La Cienega Just Smiled, to be featured on “My Favorite Albums” this week.
Editor’s note: stay tuned, I am quite sure one, or more, other albums of Ryan Adams’ will come around again on another week in the future. In the meantime, go listen to his entire discography (no, really).
So, without further hesitation, let’s get to listening to the album song-by-song, with a three-sentence self-reflection/reaction/summary for each. Here we go:
New York, New York
Definitely on my list (and future playlist, stay tuned) of best first songs on an album, New York, New York is just one more reason added to my list of why I want to visit New York next year. So many songs written about and inspired by the city (another keen playlist theme) that my musical soul has got to stand in that city soon. There is a sense of freedom and reinvention in this song, that feeling of breaking up with someone and leaving an old life behind, but not leaving behind where that life resided in, just reinventing it, making it your own (again).
I feel like from the opening song to this one we have been transported from the East Coast to the South. This song reminds me of long Summer nights, new crushes, sunburned skin and first, tentative kisses. This also feels like an ode to one-night stands and vacation flings filled with quick bursts of explosive passion which are often extinguished as quickly as they are lit up.
Hours spent with a phone nearby, back when there were answering machines and busy signals, not smart phones that were carried around with you everywhere, no, these were the days where you literally sat by the phone, waiting. There was always that moment when deep down you knew it was not going to ring, but you were not yet willing to give up the ghost, or admit defeat. This song reminds me of what that kind of waiting by the phone felt like (and also, oh my stars, both Ryan and Adam Duritz in one song? Be still my musical heart).
La Cienega Just Smiled
My favorite Ryan Adams song, without a doubt, this song calls to mind very vivid memories of my life, of moments of change, of growing-up, of freedom, and of my own perceptions and histories as a girl growing-up in Los Angeles. La Cienega was the street that led up to Tower Records, to a friend’s apartment, to an ex-lover’s place, to a favorite spot for coffee, and also a parking spot where kisses and promises (later broken) were once exchanged; it was also the street I took, and nearly let overtake me, the first time I drove my first car into Hollywood. In my version of Los Angeles, the one I have written about and the one I relate to the most, has this song as part of its forever soundtrack.
The Rescue Blues
This song was a grower for me, it was a slow burner in the background until one day it drew a musical arrow back and slayed me. I so often feel like I am ever and forever trying to be everything to everyone, exhausting myself as I run in circles trying to make everyone happy, and then when I fall down there are very few willing to help catch me. Trying and trying to be the best and to help, and help, and help, and often the returned thanks is pain and loneliness.
We sat up all night talking about our past stories and of wistful dreams of the future, choosing our words carefully as to not scare off the other in the possible intersecting future plans, but somehow we ended up talking names and places as a together kind of thing. You were the first to say something about a garden and a gazebo big enough to dance in, you smililing crookedly and saying “you would dance with me there, wouldn’t you?”. That endless feeling night of making plans, some days it is awfully hard to let go of.
When the Stars Go Blue
My first time seeing Ryan Adams play live we arrived late and as we walked into the venue this song was playing. The sudden rush of music took me immediately, chills running races across my skin, and my breath catching in the back of my throat. As we walked in the stage lights were reflecting shades of blue and the music was so impactful tears fell from my eyes; it was an unforgettable live music moment.
Things had busted apart, shards still floating in the air around me like my heart had become some kind of dust bowl, everything inside of me felt cracked open and raw. It was easier to sit in the dark at the end of the bar and pretend to be someone I was nothing like. He would patch me up for a moment with kisses and lies, and we would both forget to remember each other the next day, just fade away into nothing.
The second song I ever heard from Ryan Adams, I could not get enough of this song, playing and re-playing, over and over again. My Sylvia Plath would play old French records and make drinks with gin, take my hand and lead me to the fire escape overlooking the city, light my cigarette, touch my lips softly, and talk about trips to Spain and empty rooms with a place to write in the corner, for me. I let go before I drowned in all of it, and I swam to shore, quickly and quietly, never looking back.
I love the power of this song, and the inclusion of Gillian Welch’s vocals that mix so very well with Ryan’s. This song hints (and then some) at Ryan’s personal love of heavy metal and hard rock music, something he very rarely reveals in his own music. This song reminds me of many of the bands I listened to in the 90’s, that Seattle grunge kind of sound.
Gonna Make You Love Me
The turn me up as loud as I can stand in the car sing-a-long song, to me, this song gets my blood pumping and my soul shaking. For me, this is a song for the one you try not to want, but who gets under your skin anyway, the one no one thinks you should give the time of day to, but they turn your head, make your heart race and get you going, so how can you not acknowledge that kind of desire. They are those ones we encounter that do teach us how to shake, and shiver.
Summertime heat, sticky skin stuck to clinging a spaghetti strapped dress polka-dotted with tiny daisies, smelling of sunscreen and desire, she leans into you for a kiss. Her kisses taste of strawberries, of memories yet to be made, of fields of poppies like on the way to a fictional Oz, and of secrets kept between two as of yet strangers. She would call him sailor, sing to him while he slept and write tear stained letters cursing the distance when the Summertime was over, and she had to go back home.
Harder Now That Its Over
This was the first Ryan Adams song I ever heard, and from the first listen it had a hold of me, bringing tears to my eyes as I recalled a relationship of mine that had just ended. We had run into each other unexpectedly days before and that strained conversation, eyes trying to look anywhere but at each other, pain so obviously staining every word, it all came rushing back while this song unfolded. The line “you’re free with a history” always gets to me, as it is so true, every heartbreak and break-up may gift us freedom, but with the shadows and chains dragging behind of our histories and past, the pain of loss heaviest of all.
Touch, Feel and Lose
This is such a sexy and soulful song that make my skin tingle and my heart soar. I love absolutely everything about this song, the build-up, the exclamations, the lyrics, the truths, the plea for love, the desperation, the vulnerability, and the raw, bluesy, sensuality of it all. This is the kind of song that makes me glad to be alive, and damn glad to love music the way I do.
Tina Toledo’s Street Walkin’ Blues
This song brings to mind trains on a track, going from city to city, strangers faces and unknown streets and neighborhoods, flying by and smiling back at us. This song would make a good mash-up with Ryan’s Shakedown on 9th Street (from the album Heartbreaker). This song also reminds me of music that Tina Turner would have done in the 80’s, especially live.
Goodnight Hollywood Blvd.
A perfect bookend to the start of the album which sang praises and wake-up calls to New York City, and here at the end we have an ode and a lullby to Hollywood. This song fits quite nicely on my last songs on an album playlist, as well as on mixes I play when the insomnia makes sleep near impossible, hoping that the lullaby will work on me, as well (yeah, right). I would love to slow dance to this song in the back of a dive bar, this song coming out of a jukebox in the corner that still takes quarters and has full albums to choose from, and not just digital “best of” selections.