When first I was introduced to this album I had never heard of Ryan Adams, in fact I thought the guy had said Bryan Adams. Yeah, you know, that Canadian guy who was in Hope Floats. (Or was that Harry Connick Jr.?) And I can't even remember exactly which song he played, whether it was 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' or 'In My Time of Need', or whether it was 'Alive' which isn't even on this album. Anyway, I thought that one of those songs was pretty enough to give this album a listen. And I did, on Amazon's Music Player (I think that's what it's called) which, in case you didn't know, only allowed you to listen to 15 seconds of each song. But in those 15 seconds I was smitten. It was country music, without all the trucks and how the ownership of a tractor by rights then made someone 'sexy'. Seriously, that's a real song. And I know it because I grew up and still currently live in po-dunk Ohio, wherein my ear canals were littered throughout childhood with the likes of Garth Brooks and other country types.
Listening to Ryan Adams' Heartbreaker was like discovering that everything that was familiar to you, and that you'd grown to hate (because I was an awkward country-boy who didn't really like lift kits and TRUUCKS!!!) actually had something important and wonderful to say. If, and only if, you looked in the right place. And maybe, just maybe, because this guy, this Ryan Adams guy was kind of similar and found himself growing up in a similar situation.
I can safely say that after I bought this album I then became obsessed with the man, buying all of his albums and considering him among my absolute favorite musicians. Yeah, he's a little inconsistent and has a penchant for utter ridiculousness, but I can relate, really. Have you read this thing thus far, have I finished a sentence without using eight commas, have I ran all of these sentences together like some sort of madman to prove a point?
But seriously, this album gets to the heart of something I love very, very much and simultaneously have a weird love/hate relationship with. That being the open spaces and all that comes with it. In short, the "country". But more importantly all of the bad luck heartbreak that goes along with it. All the country girls I've dated, all the drunken nights I've spent in the back of trucks, yes TRUUUCCKKKS!!!, and all the estrangement I've felt from all of that. I am currently 28, and never have I lived anywhere but where I grew up. Yes, I hate it, yes I think it sucks, but it holds onto me. And I love it and hate it for that very reason.
The album is filled with songs about heartbreak, and songs about finding your place and finding something that makes sense. Written in the wake of his band's breakup, with David Rawlings, the album is like his love letter, at least to me, and attempt to find something. The second to last song on this album, 'In My Time of Need', which probably should of been the last song in my opinion, is his fictional, yet not so fictional lament to find a love, somewhere out there in the world who will lick his wounds and who will, quote, "comfort me in my time of need". And that's only a few songs after he writes about a girl who he wants so bad he'll put up with her destroying him just to see her. I could relate to that when I was 18 when I listened to this album for the first time, and though I've grown up considerably, I can still understand why I related to it so deeply then.
There's a story, possibly fictional, but knowing Ryan Adams is probably truth. Wherein he picked the name of the album because he was on the phone with somebody who worked at the label, who was pressing him to get a title for the album. Then he looked at a Mariah Carey poster and decided to call it 'Heartbreaker'. Whether it's true or not, the album title is fitting. And as I grow up older and older I find myself relating more and more to the music and the songs he puts out. The lovelorn laments of a weirdo country boy just trying to find his place. I know that's corny, but come on man, you knew that shit was coming. I warned you.
Chad Foltz is a musician and filmmaker living in Ohio. You can read his stuff right here on TMS and over at The Projection List. He's a good egg.