On Admiration and Cancelation, or, I wrote another thing for the 'Man Issue' of River Valley Woman

I’m never really sure how much people want to know.

Like, when I share non-music writing—either the creative non-fiction/personal essays I’ve been writing this year under the “Today, I Wrote Nothing” banner, or the magazine writing I have been fortunate enough to have continued opportunities to do, I’m not really sure how much people (you, the reader) want to know about what all goes into it.

Not, like, my ‘process’ or anything—I am confident that nobody really wants to know how much work goes into any of this, how long it takes me to write something for this site, or elsewhere, et. al.

No, I mean like the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff with the how and why I’ve chosen to, or been asked to, write about something specific for somebody other than myself.

In February, Ryan Adams got Me Too’ed pretty hard—deservedly so—but as someone who has been a fan of his since the end of 2001, I did what a number of other music writers on the internet did: I sat down and tried to compose my thoughts on the situation that had been brought to light.

It was going to be ambitious—it was going to be called “Crossed Out Name,” and it was going to be, like so many other things I write, a long piece where a number of different narrative tracks wind up converging at some point. I got about 1,000 words in—mostly talking about what had occurred with Adams being outed as a deplorable sexual abuser, and started talking a little bit about my own history with his music—but then I hit a wall, and I found it difficult to focus on the piece. I realized that I was, more than likely, not going to contribute anything new to the conversation about him and what he had done, so I scrapped the piece entirely and moved on.

For two years, I have been the occasional contributor to the magazine River Valley Woman; the publication’s editor contacted me in the early part of 2017 when I was still writing for Southern Minnesota Scene. She really liked an essay I had written about how terrible sex is, and invited me to contribute something to their ‘Man Issue,’ which is annual produced in June.

The ‘Man Issue’ is upon us again, and with a reminder of the deadline on a sticky note on my computer, I found that I was really struggling to come up with a conceit that I was happy with. The first time around, I wrote something about ‘mansplaining;’ last year, even with a family emergency swirling around me, I was able to put something together about the idea of being a ‘real man.’

After speaking with my wife, she encouraged me to revisit my still to be processed thoughts about what happened to Ryan Adams, and use this ‘Man Issue’ opportunity to get them out.

What I wrote, also called “Crossed Out Name,” was obviously much less ambitious (length wise, anyway) since it’s for a magazine, and I tried my best to truncate my history with Adams’ music, Adams’ history with abusing women, and how difficult it was for me to reconcile it all.

More or less happy with what I had put together, and well before the impending deadline, I sent it off to my editor at the magazine, who quickly got back to me, informing me that it was entirely too long, and needed to be re-worked so that it didn’t include so many details about Adams’ music—there was concern it was going to alienate readers of the magazine who simply don’t care about music the way I do, or hadn’t heard of Adams.

I explained, as best I could, that it had been important for me to get these feelings about Adams’ situation out, and I was using this opportunity to do that—but I was encouraged, instead, to make the piece much more broader in terms of the pitfalls of admiring someone—e.g. a celebrity of sorts—when they have done something you struggle to agree with.

I, more or less, had to start over—watching to ensure I wasn’t using too many words, and shoehorning as much as I could about Adams into the piece before reaching what I guess I could call a flimsy conclusion.

My editor at the magazine loved it; I, however, am not super happy with it. I think that it comes off as rushed—breezy and underdeveloped in a way that makes it easy, or quick, to read, but it’s not really what I wanted to say, or even how I wanted to say it.

But maybe that’s what magazine writing is supposed to be?

It reminds me, in a way, of things I used to write a number of years ago before I had fully developed my 'literary voice.' Maybe not all of my non-music writing has to be verbose and weighed down by heavy handed metaphors and parallel narratives or arcs that I demand converge at some point in the final third. Maybe something rushed and breezy is okay.

I don't know.  

The June issue—the ‘Man Issue’—is out now in various places throughout Southern Minnesota, and it’s also online. My piece is on page 35, but, as always, the piece in question is below for your reading enjoyment.

On Admiration and Cancelation

Throughout our lives, we find individuals—usually famous—to admire, look up to, or idolize.

For young men, it is frequently some kind of marquee name athletic figure; as you age, it could be a well-regarded writer, musician, or film director.

Following the Me Too movement, a lot of people (men) who were once well regarded turned out to be pieces of trash. And even if a public figure who had earned your admiration wasn’t outed as a sexual deviant (or worse) and was subsequently ‘canceled’ by society at large, it can be a challenge to continue said admiration if you discover something that disagrees with your scruples.

Should you really hold someone up with high regard—only to be disappointed later? Is it really possible to separate the art from the artist? These are questions that have no easy answer, and no right or wrong answer; these are also questions I’ve had to ask myself recently.

I was an early fan of comedian Jordan Peele’s work when he and Keegan Michael Key hosted their eponymous sketch comedy show, and I was surprised once he turned his attention to writing and directing acclaimed horror films. I had been looking forward to seeing his recently released second film, Us—that is, until I had watched the first trailer for the film. In it, there is a horrific shot of a wall of wire cages, with a rabbit in each one.

As a vegan, as someone who had lived with companion rabbits for eight years, and as someone who cares about the welfare of animals more than my own well being, that shot alone was enough for me give a ‘hard pass’ on the movie. Not helping the situation were Peele’s increasingly tone-deaf comments in myriad interviews—one of which found him saying he was wasn’t fond of rabbits, and was afraid of their ‘glazed over dumbness.’

Jordan Peele isn’t canceled in a larger sense, but for me, his comments are appalling—it may be a knee jerk reaction, but my instinct is to no longer support his endeavors, and to place my “Key and Peele” DVD set into the pile headed for a second hand shop.

David Lynch is a polarizing filmmaker. Some would call him a ‘visionary auteur’; others would simply scratch their heads and say they don’t ‘get it.’ Known for Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, it was his foray into network television in 1990, with “Twin Peaks,” that made him a literal household name overnight.

The more you analyze Lynch’s work, and the more you learn about his personal life, the harder it becomes to defend his treatment of women, both on and off screen. Nearly every one of his films, as well as the entire conceit of “Twin Peaks,” involves the theme of ‘a woman in trouble.’

The further along you get into his canon, the way that ‘troubled woman’ is depicted—or any woman in a Lynch film—becomes worse and worse, and seeing that on screen doesn’t leave you with a great feeling. Having any knowledge of his reputation as a lothario—more or less loving ‘em then leaving ‘em—throughout his life, doesn’t prevent my wife and I from watching “Twin Peaks”; but it makes us proceed with caution.

Lynch isn’t canceled, though I don’t know how he made it out of the Me Too movement unscathed. His behavior makes the task of separating the art from the artist an arduous one.

It’s hard enough being an apologist for someone you admire the work of when they are still living—I’ve found that it’s even more of a challenge to do the same for somebody who is deceased.

There are a number of people who write off tales of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery from the 1970s simply by saying, “it was a different time.” David Bowie, during his early-70s ascent to fame, is said to have bedded an underage groupie. A somewhat well known story during his lifetime, it gained additional traction in the days following his death. You can say that it was a ‘different time,’ but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. It doesn’t make the large collection of Bowie CDs on top of our bookshelf any more enticing to listen to.

It doesn’t make the large Bowie poster, taken from the “Heroes” album art, which has hung in our living room for over a decade, any more pleasant to see.

Out of all the people who have been canceled, or have become problematic, the most troubling and hardest for me to process is Ryan Adams—an alternative-country singer and songwriter whose career I’ve followed closely for roughly half of my life.

At the start of this year, as Adams was beginning the promotion for a forthcoming new record due out in April, The New York Times ran a lengthy, damning piece about his history of emotionally and sexually abusing the women in his life.

The story included interviews with his ex-wife, singer and actress Mandy Moore—who said Adams, through his behavior, held her career hostage during their marriage—as well as with an number of up and coming singers and songwriters (always young, always female) with whom Adams dangled the promise of success in front of them, then quickly becoming domineering and pursuing often unwanted sexual advances.

Following the Times story, Adams’ forthcoming record was canceled and shelved indefinitely, along with the two other albums he had planned on releasing this year; his tour of the UK was called off completely, with tickets refunded to angry fans; and outside of a handful of non-apologetic remarks via his Twitter account the day the story was published, he has gone into seclusion—or exile, you could say.

A mercurial personality, Adams’ career was long fueled by substance abuse, and his erratic, volatile behavior on and off stage was well document. At no point had I ever believed Ryan Adams was a good person at heart—however, I was unaware of just how awful of a person he actually was.

These revelations left me shook.

This where it becomes nearly impossible to separate the art from the artist, because I am uncertain how to reconcile the gravity of his conduct with the music that has been so important to me for so long.

Should you really hold someone up with high regard—only to be disappointed later?

Is Ryan Adams as easily canceled as the now shelved record he intended to release? What do my wife and I do with the t-shirts we bought when we saw him perform live less than two years ago—shirts that are now buried in the darkest corners of our closes. What do I do with the large stack of Ryan Adams records I have not felt comfortable listening to for the last three months?

Can you ever really separate the art from the artist?

These are questions that have no easy answer, and no right or wrong answer.

These are questions that might not have an answer at all.