Ever since his band Whiskeytown reared its twangy head in 1994, Ryan Adams, the short, mouthy, Edward-Scissorhands-haired “alt-country” wunderkind has been attracting a wide array of hate from all angles. Like Liam Gallagher with more pedal steel, Mr. Adams has slung his own fair share of barbs over the years, but it often seems as if he’s a lone man flailing at an ever-expanding vicious mob out to stomp him down. Every time he lands a good hit, like his simply immortal Julian Casablancas lasagna dis, there are 19 more musicians or actresses in line to start swinging. There has been more beef in Ry Ry’s 20-plus year career than your average Soundcloud rapper, so many feuds they could make up one hell of an entertaining Wiki page, but a new trend has been emerging over the past several years that takes the Adams bashing off social media and music blogs and into what passes as “da street” in Americana circles: actual songs.
It’s a trend that’s been a long time coming. So many prominent and not-so-prominent entertainment professionals have come out swinging on this dude over the years, sometimes warranted and sometimes not, that dissing Ryan Adams officially went out of style sometime in 2006 or so. This isn’t to say that these non-song disses have slowed down over the past decade-plus. If anything they have intensified, which is most likely what has led to the recent dis tracks. Much like in the rap game, if a social media beef goes on too long it eventually ends with guns drawn. The same goes for singer-songwriters, although in these cases it’s acoustic gee-tars coming out instead of the Dracos.
First lets visit some of the better RA disses over the past two beef-strewn decades:
Paul Westerberg: “I’d like to kick his fucking teeth in.”
Elijah Wood: “I love his songs. But sometimes I wish he wouldn’t talk so much.”
Liam Gallagher: “Fake troubadour”
Steve Earle: “If you start responding to the critics, one day you find you’re Ryan Adams.”
Britt Daniel: “It’s Ryan Adams, isn’t it? Yeah it sounds so like, ‘I wanna be a star!’ This new Ryan Adams record is not something I would ever listen to.”
Jeff Tweedy: “I’m happy to let other people make that kind of Wilco record now, and there’s plenty of them doing it, like Ryan Adams.”
Leona Ness: We have to hand it to Leona, who once dated Adams, for originality. She actually created a t-shirt that read “My Ex Boyfriend Is A Wanker” and sold it on tour.
Janis Ian: “I expect a certain amount of narcissism in performers. I don’t expect complete and total self-absorption to the detriment of all those around you. Ryan is going to have to figure that out for himself, and I don’t envy the fall.”
Robbie Fulks: “I like Ryan. Of course, I like all drunk little pricks with warmed-over Seventies folk-rock acts.” Also, Robbie once offered his fans money for going to Ryan’s shows and heckling him, very much a rap beef move.
Leave it to the divine Courtney Love to really take Ryan Adams dissing to that next level: “Christ ugh ugh ugh Mandy Moore ick the thought of her sticking her tongue down that filthy hatch…I might as well go watch “Hostile” I’ll feel better, ick, dirty sheets, ick no toothbrush, smelly ass, ick I LOATHE that guy”
This isn’t to say Mr. Adams hasn’t fought back, in some cases pretty admirably.
On Father John Misty: “The most self-important asshole on Earth”
The Strokes As A Whole: “The Last Impressions of Real Songs”
The Strokes As Individuals:
Julian: “Who got you hooked on lasagna tho?”
Fab: “An even worse songwriter than his father”
Jack White: “Dude got paid 40 grand to be in Cold Mountain. I get that for one show”
John Mayer: “I don’t care what anyone says to me, I’m still not gonna’ listen to a John Mayer CD.” (Editor’s Note: They seem to have made up)
Interestingly, the only recorded musical dis Mr. Adams has laid down over the years is a seemingly unprompted, and incredibly hilarious, outtake takedown of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
This may soon change, as recently a number of songs have been popping up by prominent artists aimed right at Ryan Adams. These songs tend to get the most press on the artist in questions’ record, assuring digital ink in S. Gum and P. Fork and all the rest. For this reason I’m sure we can expect further Ryan Adams disses in the coming months and years, barring a full-tilt societal breakdown. If you listen real hard right now you can hear some dude in a pearl-button plaid shirt or a cute young LA singer/songwriter who Ryan has “produced” hard at work on their own disses of this alt–country terror.
Until those songs emerge, we are left with these first several forays into what is promising to become its own cottage industry.
Jason Isbell, “Chaos and Clothes”
Did you know that journeyman AltCo bro Jason Isbell had a new album out last year? We wouldn’t have known either if this Ryan Adams bashing ballad had not been included. This speaks well for the potential longevity of this emerging genre. You want tons of internet chatter around your latest mediocre release that isn’t anywhere near as good as your old records? Then write a lacerating track about Ryan Adams’ divorce!
It also happens to be by far the best song on the record. Isbell has a fine eye for detail, and he uses it here to land some psychological blows that had to smart when his fellow Americanarama troubadour was first hit with them. The Iz has since tried to back pedal a bit, claiming in a couple of interviews that he was just looking to help a friend through his divorce, but man some of these lines are tough love personified:
Black metal t-shirts your shield
You’ve got your past on your breath, my friend
Dude might as well just be saying, “Man, you’re 40-something. What is that Mayhem shirt hiding at this point?”
One of the trickiest things to pull off in this new genre is dropping definite hints that the song is indeed about Ryan Adams without explicitly stating the name “Ryan Adams” in the song. On this track Izzy cleverly invokes the name of an Adams song called “I See Monsters” in one of those “Aha, I see what he did there!” kind of moments that separate the proverbial men from the proverbial boys in the land of Ryan Adams dissing.
Now name all the monsters you’ve killed
In other words, Ry Ry hasn’t slayed the old demons and is living firmly in the past.
After setting this “helpful” tone for his “friend” in the first half of the track, Jay Hova saves his most stinging lines for the last couple verses, coming on like a therapist finally snapping at a self-absorbed patient who’s been blathering on for hours, blaming everyone but themselves for their perceived abandonment.
The man she chose to take your place
Turns his collar up to better frame his face
How you’d love to hate her
But you just can’t hate somebody you don’t know
Oh snap he’s not only bringing up the other man here, but he seems to be implying that this other man (who we know from our research to be one of the guys from ultra-bland backup band Dawes) is a good-looking guy. We don’t get paid enough to look up pictures of Dawes to confirm, but telling someone that their ex is with a new dude who’s far better looking than them is some tough roots rock medicine.
In the history of dis tracks, has anyone ever effectively used a dead garden metaphor before Jason Isbell in the last line of this song?
Did she leave a trail of crumbs
So you could find her when you’re what you could become
Or did she know you well enough
To realize that garden just won’t grow?
I don’t know, man. Isbell may claim that this thing wasn’t written with malice, but isn’t telling someone that they haven’t developed much past adolescence, and that there’s no hope that they ever will, far worse than any of the pissy musician disses thrown Adams’ way in interviews and on social media? At least when someone says they want to kick your teeth in, you know where you stand. With Isbell Ry Ry has a far more complex and formidable foe, an alleged friend going right for his core faults in the glaring green light of 1.5 million monthly Spotify streams.
“Chaos And Clothes” is a stark and harrowingly personal songwriting exercise, and it’s the most effective song on the album by far. Years from now, this will be cited as a watershed track in the Ryan Adams dis track genre.
Phoebe Bridgers, “Motion Sickness”
Every bit as biting but with a much catchier chorus, the wonderful LA folkie/New Dylan Phoebe Bridgers conceals her daggers within layers of shrug-off humor in her entry into the Ryan Adams dissing genre. As a matter of fact, if you don’t know her then this is the perfect entry point with its breezy pop feel undercutting the busted romance gloom of the lyrics. In a perfect world, this song would be ALL OVER the radio. Before we get into the Adams-tastic specifics of the track, lets take a look at how it may have come to be.
Fact One: Phoebe’s first EP was produced by the tousle-headed terror himself at his Pax Am Studios on Wilshire Boulevard.
Fact Two: Phoebe is absolutely radiating with talent. Scary talent. The kind of talent that is almost too much to even deal with. We’re talking Joni level here.
Fact Three: Yes, Phoebe is young and blond and could be SAG.
Why do these three facts matter? Well, for starters, Fact #1 ties her directly to The Beast. As for Fact #2, it can be assumed that an aging former New Dylan who may or may not recognize that his most inspired years are behind him might become a little jealous and/or intimidated by the young burning chasm of inspiration before him. It can therefore be assumed that perhaps these sessions were a bit, I don’t know, rocky? And what of Fact #3? Let’s just say that Ry Ry has a long history of becoming tantalized by blond actresses, including Mandy Moore who happens to be the subject of the divorce that inspired Jason Isbell to pick up his sharp pen and destroy a friendship.
Which brings us to the track. There are so many good Adams burns here that it’s tough to know where to wade in, so we’ll just start with my favorite:
You were in a band when I was born
Let’s see, Bridgers was born in 1994. And guess which band started in 1994? Whiskeytown! It doesn’t take an alt-country private investigator to figure this one out, and it’s a delicious kiss-off to all the old men musos out there chasing around their could-be daughters.
And then there’s the one that no dude wants to ever hear, especially when packaged along with what many claimed was the best record of 2017. This is no obscure Soundcloud artist we’re dealing with here. This is an NPR-minted, late-night-TV-troubadour with thousands of listeners. So how does it make an ex-fling feel to cue up her hotly anticipated debut album to hear:
I faked it every time
I have to say, Phoebe, this one was a little out of line. But then again, in the Ryan Adams dissing genre, it seems that anything goes.
Then Phoebe gets down to the dirty business of petty larceny:
You gave me fifteen hundred
To see your hypnotherapist
I only went one time
I would love to think that somewhere in the Hollywood Hills one night, as Ryan Adams larked around with his cats while blasting black metal and hitting the vape pen, this song cranked out from his Spotify playlist. When it got to this line he stood stark still. “Goddamn thief,” he cried out. “She owes me 1200 dollars if she only went once! And I will be contacting her management!”
Phoebe next leads us into one of the house of mirrors verses that has made her name. While on the surface this tangled narrative may not seem to be Adams-related, when read in the context of the song and with the knowledge we possess of who produced her EP, it can be read as an insider’s tale of a recording session and/or short relationship gone wrong:
I’m on the outside looking through
You’re throwing rocks around your room
And while you’re bleeding on your back in the glass
I’ll be glad that I made it out
And sorry that it all went down like it did
Sounds like a win for Phoebe in that round!
Speaking of wins, P. Bridge lands a hilarious blow late in the fight that will no-doubt serve as a pillar in the Ryan Adams dissing genre thus far:
And why do you sing with an English accent
I guess it’s too late to change it now
Those on the inside of the impressively large Adams cult are fully aware of the “motion sickness” the dude uses as an eternal excuse for everything from missed gigs to unshipped merch to social media flameouts (interesting for someone who now drives a Porsche). This makes the lyrics undercutting the chorus’s breezy hook all the more interesting:
I have emotional motion sickness
Somebody roll the windows down
Already flat on his back on the alt-country mat, Adams takes another kick to the face. And before the refs finally pull her away and call the fight, the winner lands one more on the notoriously loud-mouthed troubadour:
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out
Easily the best song on an album packed with great songs, Phoebe Bridgers has baptized her ethereal toes into the waters of this emerging genre and obviously came away inspired.
Old 97’s, “Crash on the Barrelhead”
We may not be too into ye olde 97’s at Niche Appeal, but we have to give credit where credit is due: The 97’s had the very first official entry into the Ryan Adams bashing cannon on their Fight Songs album back in the day. Like with the other tracks covered here, it is easily the best song on the record. Hey songwriters, do you see an emerging pattern here? Is being annoyed by Ryan Adams a conduit for vivid songwriting? Think about it. Note it. See what you can come up with.
You’re gonna die the way you live
And the way you drink you’re like a river
Bound for falls and not much fun
You’re gonna crash on the barrelhead son.
Rhett Miller tosses out another Whiskeytown reference here, subliminally shackling this song to Adams for life. You can envision the foreheads of Americana nerds worldwide crinkling hard at the “like a river” line, thinking back to Whiskeytown’s raging “Drank Like A River” from their debut album.
You’ll hate your face when the morning shines
On the mirror frame and your guilty mind
We know there were some minor squabbles between Rhett and Ryan at the time Whiskeytown and the 97s were being touted as “the alt-country Nirvana” or whatever, but drawing attention to a man’s bad-carb-and-whiskey-bloated face? Now that’s cold.
Of these three songs, this is where the potential cracks and fails of the Ryan Adams bashing genre show through. Songwriters take note. It’s all in good fun to bash on Ry Ry and sneak in-jokes and references into verses, but if you’re going to go at the man hard then make sure your hit lands well. Try not to come off all preachy and high horse riding like Rhett does here:
You’ll regret the things that you done
One of these days you’re gonna’ rue
All the messed up things you do
We all do messed up shit, Rhetty my boy. If you really want to be a contender in this genre, talk to Phoebe and Izzy. They’ll tell you to be specific. NAME the things that he’s done and DETAIL the regret and its effect. Head back to the workshop. We look forward to seeing what you come up with next.
Thus far the Dissing Ryan Adams genre has spawned at least three truly great songs and potentially more from more obscure artists that we’ve never heard since they don’t generate enough clicks for the established music sites. There are a handful of other tracks, all of which are great, vaguely rumored to be about the Americana enfant terrible, but we won’t include them here since their subjects haven’t been officially confirmed by the artists.
Here is to this colorful and highly entertaining genre producing enough content to make some killer playlists with titles like “Heartbreaker II” and “Cuts Like A Knife (feels so right)”.