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Why Ryan Adams' Behaviour Affects Us All

While writing and performing music I've met plenty of Ryans.

Ryan Adams Clapham Common Calling Festival London 19585860736

Ryan Adams at Calling Festival, London.

Drew de F Fawkes (Wikimedia Commons)

When the news about Ryan Adams broke, I wasn't surprised. Not because I know him or his work particularly well, but because in every photo I've seen he wears his guitar like a calling card for his penis.

Surely that's all men, I hear you quip. And indeed it's a hilarious line you should feel empowered to use. But humour me a moment.

Several women spoke to the New York Times about Adams' controlling and coercive behaviour and, crucially, its effect on their careers. Among them are his ex-wife Mandy Moore, erstwhile protege Phoebe Bridgers, and an up-and-coming bassist who was still a teen when Adams followed her on Twitter and, she says, began requesting nude photos.

Unlike many of the #MeToo cases we now congratulate ourselves for being #WokeTo, this story was not about consent. This was about relationships founded on mutual artistic respect contorted into something cruel and manipulative.

It began with praise, adulation and respect. He championed their talent and wanted to nurture them, offering life-changing opportunities to record, play or tour with him. Because of his status, it was rarely a relationship of equals. But it seemed to be one between peers, of two people brought together by their love of making music.

Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped. They say he became controlling and possessive. The praise turned to derision and contempt. The opportunities were withdrawn. It wasn't, they say, a meeting of minds, but rather a contract whereby if he didn't get his way there were consequences.

While writing and performing music I've met plenty of Ryans. Often they come with sex attached, though it's not essential. There are many ways to undermine someone without shagging them first. This push and pull, not of affection so much as artistic respect, is a rubric that shows up in many forms.

Praise turns to doubt turns to disdain. You haven't changed, but their opinion has. The conversation mutates from parity into a thing of power, wielded against you. You're wrong and this is why. You're too 'X'. You're not enough of 'Y'. When this is coming from someone you trusted, whose opinion has mattered enormously, it's crushing.

It changes you. Being burned has taught me to put up barriers. I love collaboration but I approach it with caution because too often it's been double-edged. I'm incredibly proud of the debut album I put out last year, but I wonder how much quicker I could've got there if I hadn't been derailed by Ryans along the way. I wonder about all the stuff I could've made if I wasn't letting a guy dictate what I could do and how much it was worth.

When I walk into a room to rehearse, perform or record, odds are I'm outnumbered. I've never had a female producer, never given my tech specs to a female sound engineer. This isn't seen as unusual. It's just the way things are.

Being constantly outnumbered can make you feel like an impostor. You're reluctant to speak up if things go awry because you don't want to be seen as a liability. There's the feeling that, if you loved the art enough, you wouldn't be phased. After all, the boys get on with it just fine.

But the boys have always been allowed to be creatives first and foremost. Many musicians joke about starting a band to get girls, but there's a truth in there about the roles we expect men and women to play. Man as artist, woman as devotee.

The Times piece doesn't just expose Adams, but a structure that endorses his behaviour while diminishing the creative potential of women. It affects us all. A world where the main stage is reserved for men singing penis odes is not one that can ever truly get to the heart of the human condition.

I'd like a shake-up. It starts with awareness. Is the bill full of male bands? Is a man in the sound booth again? Are all your favourite albums produced by blokes? Can you name a female producer?

Wonder why that is. Question it - and ask for better.

Next article in issue 133

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