It’s Not About These Girls (Or How Ryan Adams Taught Me To Love Myself)

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Annie Theby / Unsplash

I fell in love with the woman before I fell in love with Ryan Adams. I was traveling from Texas to Indonesia at the time (a connecting flight) and was listening to his 2007 record Easy Tiger on my airplane headphones. It was almost-free music streaming from the seat in front of me somewhere close to 35,000 feet.

This particular woman was not familiar with the guy, but then again she wasn’t all that familiar with me either and that’s why I was going to visit her. I had planned to give her a mixed CD which included one of the tracks from the album, a song called “These Girls,” which, upon repeated listen, was not the best choice for my particular situation. It painted a portrait of weary resignation toward the fairer sex, the kind of thing you might listen to six months after a relationship ended, but definitely not while it was still in its infancy.

The truth was, I just thought the song was cool. It was different: soft, but painful and I thought she might like it. I thought she might like it in the way that I liked it, and in doing so, perhaps like me.

Afterward, there were other girls that I hoped would like it, too. Some were from Austin, some were from Houston. Some were Oregonians who had by chance ended up in the great Midwest along with me, unfazed by the boyishness I would eventually settle into and willing to sit alongside me in sidewalk cafes or in the passenger seat of my grandmother’s car while I drove across state lines and inevitably returned to Ryan Adams as someone who could offer us both solace in a melody.

It was curious, this pattern that I advertised in the storefront of my late twenties, the days and weeks of getting to know someone and at some point popping the question, “Ever listen to this dude?” It was as if I needed them to like him in order for me to proceed with the relationship. He was a bridge they needed to cross. He was a conduit and I had attached the other end of a wire to my chest if only they could find the time to listen to Heartbreaker.

But an interesting thing happened during those years. Something I felt was a mistake and that once it happened, would surely never happen again.

One by one, without much fanfare and without much of a counter-argument on my end, each of them revealed that she didn’t really care for him that much. That’s not to say they did not enjoy a few of his songs (“Two” was easy to sing along to, “Come Pick Me Up” had seen some them through a previous breakup), but they didn’t really keep up with him as they might a mainstream musician.

They weren’t curious about his back catalog. They didn’t want to find out more about him and in doing so, unearth another gem or two that just might change the trajectory of their musical path.

They didn’t really want to take the time to understand him. They also, I wrote to myself one night, didn’t want to understand me.

During the time spent trying to figure out if I was right or not, I began to listen to even more Ryan Adams. He accompanied me on runs and late night walks while I dodged opossums in the Kansas City suburbs. He was with me when I dated a woman much younger than me whose mom confused him with Bryan Adams. He was most prominent on my “California 2012” playlist as I traveled across the country to put a little distance between myself and a certain raven-haired beauty (Note: It was a solid break-up, but Ashes and Fire has just been released and the temptation to strap myself in and be sad for a few thousand miles was calling to me like black coffee on a rainy, Sunday afternoon).

Ten months later, after I had settled in Los Angeles and traded in opossums for the occasional Echo Park coyote, I listened to “These Girls” again. I was standing out on my porch enveloped in an insomnia-induced haze, but it was still the same song I remembered from all those years ago. The gentle plucking of twin guitars, the homemade static that came from being recorded in a basement studio. As I leaned out onto the railing, I was instantly transported back to that hotel in Indonesia in 2007. The hotel with a room next to mine that contained a woman that made the earth spin.

A funny thing happens when you embrace your earthen loneliness for a moment. It’s not unlike ingesting an edible: you’re frightened at first until you begin to relax and laugh your face off.

The girls would always be there, late night or otherwise, but I would never have this moment to myself again. I was glad to be sharing it with a dude who meant equally as much to me, if not more than they did. I was glad to be sharing it with someone who, like me, had so much love to give these women that he couldn’t help but write it down.

I was just so happy to still be listening. TC mark

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