Some time ago, after a long day of moving him into a new apartment, a friend put on some records of a musician I’d never heard of. We chewed on cheap delivery pizza and drank Heinekens and Sam Adams lagers late into the night, moving through his discography. The more shit-faced we got the more often he’d reset the needle on lyrics he needed me to listen to just one more time. He even owned special B side albums printed only in Japan. His passion and admiration for this drunken rock star was so infectious that I too fell sick in love with him: Ryan Adams.
I’d come to buy every album, learn every lyric, and drink heavily while doing so. Adams was a fuck up with a sordid past who’d been kicked out of bands, gotten into fights with journalists, and played in honky tonk bars with broken beer bottles on the floor. An outlaw in his boots, punk band shirts, and rock and roll jean jackets. I idolized him.
Ryan Adams ached. His lyrics were filled with sadness and his voice was thick with regret. You could feel the hangover in his head and smell the whiskey on his breath through the speakers. He became my confidant and role model. A disaster that played in the dark and drank alone in bars. Someone that could write my heartache and bear it at the same time so I wouldn’t have to. An artist with an addiction as his muse that excused my lifestyle soaked in booze. His albums were the theme songs to my life, one for each period: the craft years, the zin years, the bourbon years, the gin years.
In 2007 Adams got sober from cocaine, heroin and drinking after his Ménière’s disease began to get worse. There were a few albums after with the Cardinals that were okay, but when he met Mandy Moore and put out Ashes & Fire I gave up my hopes for anything else relatable. My drinking buddy was gone and I was so spiteful I didn’t even want to hear what he had to say. I was so bitter that he married a good girl that I never gave him a chance. If he was happy and moving forward in life I didn’t want anything to do with him. I discounted him as disingenuous to his true nature.
Tonight I’m grieving over not being invited to my old company’s Christmas party. There’s a dishonesty in the stories I’m telling myself as to why I’m sitting here alone. If I face the truth, the shitty things I did drunk explain why I’m not in the same room with all those familiar faces. There’s nothing I can do about them now but ensure they’re on my personal inventory for Step 4. Even knowing that, rearing its head is an excuse to fuck everything up, to make all these feelings go away. Maybe being there would’ve been an even easier excuse to do so. What better place to slip up than at a holiday office party where I would’ve only been reminded of my regret? Maybe it’s best I’m not there. Or maybe that’s just comforting to say.
I ended up walking out to the harbor to watch the local parade of boats. Better than staying inside and moping, and a blessed reprieve from the self pity. Vessels dressed in lights, filled with people adorning Santa hats and sleigh bells, puttered up and down the marina. The bridges and docks were lined with couples, families, friends, most sipping hot chocolate from styrofoam cups, just fifty cents from the tables set up along the sidewalks. Kids ran back and forth between groups along the railings, dressed in coats and mittens. Adults huddled together and pointed out over the water at the spectacle. The holidays were here and everyone was actually filled with cheer, just like the songs say.
Surrounded by happiness, my loneliness only reminded me of where I wasn’t instead of where I was. To drown out the excuses to buy a bottle on the way home to keep me company, I slipped in my headphones and put on some Adams. That always accompanied my heartbreak in the past, and I didn’t have much else to turn to anyways, everyone I knew was at the party. I decided to try something I’d never listened to before, now that I was sober.
Last time I was here, it was rainin’
It ain’t raining anymore
The streets were drowned, and the water’s waning
All the runes washed to shore
Now I’m here lookin’ through the rubble
Tryin’ to find out who we were
Last time I was here, it was rainin’
Ain’t rainin’ anymore
And so opened the album I’d been avoiding for seven years.
Leaning against a tree behind the crowds, keeping to myself as usual, I put on my best smile while the album played, the Christmas music from the boats bleeding in between songs. And the ships went by as I pushed down what feelings the album was doing its best to stir up.
Soon enough the all too familiar moment came when I knew I no longer belonged, and I walked back home against the flow of the last-minute stragglers rushing to catch the final boats go by.
The album wrapped up on a lyric that broke my resolve to keep it together, just as I walked back into the apartment
And the lights will draw you in
And the dark will take you down
The night will break your heart
But only if you’re lucky now
Ashes & Fire is great, by the way. Even through the pain, at least it’s not raining.