Losering: Ryan Adams’ long tale of waiting to derail

Until last week, Ryan Adams was easily within my top 10 favorite artists. Seeing him live was on my bucket list. I own almost every one of his solo albums — which says something given how many he’s released — and everything from his previous band Whiskeytown. He announced plans to release three albums in 2019, and I was planning to get them all.

“Was” is the key word.

I knew he was not a good bandmate. I knew he could be moody and angry. In these more enlightened times, when we try to make allowances for mental health and addiction, it was easy to see him as the tortured artist. He was an unabashed nerd, seemingly the bard of lovable losers everywhere.

Then the often-manic Adams started tweeting about lies and media and trust, like a fly caught in a web, and it all made sense when The New York Times published “Ryan Adams dangled success. Women said they paid the price.” — a devastating account of his ongoing manipulation of female musicians, attempting to use his influence and ability to record them to attain various levels of desired admiration.

From graphic text messages to an underage bassist (whom he kept asking about her age, hoping she was older) to withdrawing offers that could help women’s careers when they didn’t reciprocate his advances to lots of things related to showing off his nudity, the story depicts him as a creep whose behavior ranged from manipulative to emotionally abusive. While he has denied the characterization, the exhaustively researched article includes his own texts and interviews with many female musicians that depict a pattern.

More recently, Rolling Stone has noted that Adams’ problems were “hiding in plain sight” through his lyrics, often commanding, manipulative and vaguely menacing. To a degree, this feels like psychoanalysis with the benefit of hindsight, the way many people suddenly scrutinized Kurt Cobain’s lyrics (which were far from atypical of bands of the era) to say they should have seen his suicide coming. That said, Rolling Stone does make an interesting observation on his song titles:

In Adams’ songs — so many of them structured in the command form, as begging pleas — he established control by projecting his needs and vulnerability onto his subjects: “Come Pick Me Up;” “Call Me on Your Way Back Home;” “Stay With Me;” “Come Home;” “Save Me;” “Please Do Not Let Me Go;” “Gonna Make You Love Me;” “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight.”

Fair enough, even with the voluminous output of Adams’ catalogue and allowing for sample size. But that the wide nature of his actions went so undetected for so long speaks to both the emotional manipulation that kept them from telling their stories and the prevalent nature of abuse in the “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” archetype of the music industry.

Additionally sad is that the women who endured this behavior had one more thing in common: They lost interest in music after going through the emotional wringer. On top of his behavior, Adams robbed them of a gift that brought them joy as he made the idea of making music no longer appealing to them. This feels perhaps the unkindest cut of all.

The thought that Adams isn’t putting out any new albums is much less of a loss than the many outstanding records his targets will never release because he destroyed their musical dreams. I count 18 albums of Adams and/or Whiskeytown in my collection that I don’t think I can listen to. From an artistic standpoint, they are as beautiful as ever, but everything about them now seems ugly. To borrow a song title from “Gold,” one of his most acclaimed albums: It’s harder now that it’s over.

Guess I have room for a new musical bucket list item now. May it be seeing an act that respects women as much as it does music, and that unabashedly and honestly brings love and joy.

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Super Bowl ads and 3 trends to watch

inclusion

For the umpteenth (technical term) year in a row, I asked the students in my BRC328: Media Copywriting class to watch the Super Bowl ads and tweet about them. It’s a great foundational exercise this early in the class. And while I felt I had to apologize to my students for how awful the game itself was, and how many ads proved lackluster, some gems and at least three trends emerged.

Inclusion

The best ad — to me and, seemingly the class — was the excellent Microsoft commercial on inclusive technology for gaming. Take some adorable kids, adaptive technology designed and distributed by Microsoft and more than a little emotion and you had a winner. As some students noted, it really does show that gaming is for everybody (and that, once upon a time, gaming was seen as more of a niche market than it really is). Google scored well with their ad supporting job searches for veterans, a deservedly feel-good, solutions-seeking concept. These were prime examples of moving beyond the generic “let’s all get along” sentiment to showing how creativity and technology really make inclusion achievable.

Takeaway: I think the Microsoft ad especially is going to show that good deeds can indeed equate with good business, and will likely (hopefully?) spawn similar campaigns. Ones that show how their product has a concrete impact on inclusiveness should continue to win.

Crossovers

Budweiser and “Game of Thrones” was the most notable (and gruesome) ad that employed crossover of brands, with quite a twist. (Is this canon, meaning the Bud Knight is no more?) We saw T-Mobile and Taco Bell plus T-Mobile and Lyft merging brands in simpler, funny ways. You also had loads of pop-culture references and cameos from the likes of Pepsi and Stella Artois with varying levels of success, with Walmart putting a lot of money into licensing everybody from KITT from “Knight Rider” to the Scooby Doo gang. And can we expect a Chance the Rapper/Backstreet Boys tour this summer?

Takeaway: It makes sense for brands to work together where the big audiences are. And while no bigger audience exists than the Super Bowl, expect more creative partnerships to come.

Technological dystopia

It was not a good year to be a robot. A creepy baby found out it can’t work as an advisor for TurboTax in what was probably the worst ad on Sunday night (there were a million better ways to get to that point). A smart speaker realized it will never get to enjoy Pringles. A robot learned it can never drink the semi-beer that is Michelob Ultra. And we learned that Alexa is a bad match for a number of situations, albeit played pretty well for laughs. Is this a reflection of how we, as a society, are becoming wary of electronic assistants (who may or may not be eavesdropping on us) and actively resisting transhumanism out of a fear that, expressed in the debut SimpliSafe ad, robots are going to take over the world from us?

Takeaway: Technological backlash is real. Co-worker Jim Kearns astutely shared the New Yorker article “The 2019 Super Bowl ads are a case study in technological dread.” Expect the black mirror reflecting our tech anxieties to show its face more and more.

While the ads weren’t as bad as the game itself or the halftime show, only a few were even worth remembering. Maybe with that $5 million placement fee, companies could have also budgeted hiring some good writers. Unless, of course, the technological dystopia is here and they had already hired robot copywriters.

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‘You need to get out more’

“You need to get out more.”

It sounds like a mild put-down, doesn’t it? Inferring somebody leading a closed, hermetic or even lonely life? It’s kind of my mantra of self-talk lately. I really do need to get out more.

Author stands next to high waves and misty Lake OntarioReal talk: While I’m blessed to work in a creative field that involves strategic thinking, it can be mentally draining. In downtime it can be so easy to give in to sitting on the comfy couch, turning on the TV to absorb some sports or pseudosports on the dozen or so themed cable channels or surfing a never-ending YouTube library. It’s winter, a time for cocooning and hibernation in the natural world.

Going out and about is the opposite. You have to put on pants, and sometimes a coat, hat and gloves too. It sometimes even involves (shudder) interacting with other humans. The easy path is the path that leads nowhere. But, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we do not do these things because they are easy but because they are hard.

This is the kind of thinking that finds one hiking in Sterling Nature Center, standing on a beach while snowflakes fly and a stiff wind off Lake Ontario howls into my face. But it’s a smiling face.

In the cold mist of Lake Ontario, birds fly near McIntyre BluffThis place feels soothing, energizing, amazing. It’s not just that Lake Ontario is in my blood. Many a summer evening, the sound of the waves was my lullaby falling asleep. Before I discovered coffee, it was the liquid that got me going in the morning. But the lake is an exemplar of nature itself, and the reality that the world is always changing. The lake is high today. Whitecaps roll crashing in. An icy fog encompasses the lakeshore. Off toward McIntyre Bluff, I see large birds trying to stay aloft. You can sympathize with their struggle.

It’s easy to come here on a summer day. It’s hard — but just as much, if not more, refreshing — to come here in the solitude of a January day. The lake, the wind and the snow paint a palette of harsh beauty but also of a stirring reality. We live here, we get winters … so why not also embrace the tolerable parts? Heck, I even extended the metaphor by falling in my face and getting muddy by not looking where I was going.

Spicy chicken panini with coffee on a diner tableAfter, I went to the Hardware Cafe and General Store and tried something new: the spicy chicken panini (it was delicious). It would have been easier to go home and inhale junk food. This involves wearing pants and interacting with people. And getting over the concept of dining alone, with muddy pants as well, even in a place I visit often.

But ultimately, it was all good. I do need to get out more.

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Days of past and future: Small-town dreaming for a happy 2019.

Meat sandwich of eggs, cheese and bacon

It’s the last day of 2018 and I’m sitting in the Hardware Cafe and General Store on the main street of Fair Haven for lunch. A surprisingly popular idea, it turns out, as the solo server has almost a full house to accommodate. But nobody seems to mind, as we all instead compliment her as she does her best. This was a year where so many of us found ourselves working hard and doing so many things that this seems like an appropriate metaphor … especially as the patrons generally leave satisfied.

I’m not the type to make any grand proclamations or recommendations or resolutions as we leave 2018 in the rearview as we head toward 2019. But I do like to take time at the end of the year to remember and, whenever possible, support things I enjoyed for the year. The village of Fair Haven, which has turned into a sort of adopted other hometown this year more than ever, is a great reason to be thankful.

A little free library in Fair HavenAs I enjoy a plainly titled yet delicious Meat Sandwich (eggs, cheese, bacon between two large slices of bread), I feel blessed that this diner/seller of curios is a place my son and I have enjoyed plenty. Arius is elsewhere today, so he’s not around to charm the population nor make me guess what foods he currently likes, but plenty of other warmth and community abounds. People come in and hug their neighbors or long-lost friends. A woman brought in cookies for the owners, wherever they may be. And nobody’s really in any hurry and never is heard a discouraging word.

After the meal, I will pop across the street to say a quick hello to my friend Bobby in the bank. He and his wife Amy, a teacher in the local school district, opened the Sterling Cidery, purveyor of delicious hard ciders and a convivial atmosphere — it and the cafe are my anchors in a year that saw me visit this village more and more.

Small-town sweetness

Arius looks at a snowman we builtThe latest census counts Fair Haven’s citizenry at 727 souls, although the lakeside community swells in the summer as snowbirds and people in other communities come back north to both modest cottages and homes resembling mansions along the West Bay. When we would spend summers at our camp a few miles down Lake Ontario or the Sterling Renaissance Festival, this is often where we’d come for groceries and modest entertainment. Back then the Fair Haven Register newspaper and my future employer the Oswego Palladium-Times would run stories about the small town’s aspirations to become a year-round tourist destination. Those dreams, like the Register itself, seem to be defunct, but nobody seems to mind that much. Fair Haven’s a gem they are not necessarily in a hurry to share.

While many families have been here for generations, Bobby and Amy are among the new blood. Bobby went to SUNY Oswego, and his history degree eventually found him on the other side of the country working in a museum where he met Amy. She was making hard cider under her sink as a hobby, and their love and an interest in doing more with it blossomed. So when they decided to leave Seattle for a better place to raise a family, Bobby remembered the area and they ended up in Fair Haven, where they have since added two children to the population. Bobby’s parents even moved upstate to join them.

The new year will bring a transition at my favorite cidery, as having day jobs and small children have kept Bobby and Amy plenty busy. They’re in the process of selling to two local couples who have more time and grand plans. Their final weekend of 2018 a few weeks ago saw many members of the community come in as the cidery served its last stock under this ownership — first the blueberry ran out, then the cassis, then standard, then oaken (only the hopped remained when I called it a night). But the inventory and the tidy building will refill in 2019, bringing the populace and their growlers back through its friendly doors.

All around town

Arius in a pirate outfitThis village has served up plenty of food, drink and adventures for us in 2018. Arius and I walked in the parade at Pirate Fest, built (sort of) a snowman during Winter Fest and checked out some music during Porchfest. The latter community-wide musical celebration is in just its second year but has already become an annual highlight. The biggest celebration of the year remains its Independence Day celebration, and I was here this year to catch its Mile-Long Parade from the porch of the cidery with a number of people who were strangers just a year or two ago but are now friends.

If you look east from the cidery or north from the cafe, your gaze would take you to Brandon’s Pub + Grille, known as O’Connor’s until fairly recently, where I’ve enjoyed food, beverages and acoustic music this year. Just west along the main drag of Route 104A is Bayside Grocery, where I’ve secured sustenance to accompany my appreciation of fine cider. Bayside shares a parking lot with Big Bo’s ice cream, where Arius will consistently ask for a chocolate/vanilla twist cone. Down the street a few blocks east sits a re-opened Guisseppe’s Sub and Pizza Shop, which has also provided necessary carbs this year.

Posing with seven salmonAlso on the east side of town, you’ll find a playground that Arius enjoyed a few times this year, and down the hill is a small park along the creek that splits the village, where a few months ago I took my kid fishing for the first time. Across that inlet in a West Bay marina is Whitecap Charters, which took Bobby, his father Bob and I on a much more serious fishing trip, where the two enormous salmon I caught were among a large seven-fish haul for the day. A stone’s throw away sits Turtle Cove Marina and Restaurant, where my brother and I plus our families took our mother for her birthday dinner this year.

My 2018 adventures also included Bobby and I checking out the cider and scene at Colloca’s Winery on the West Bay and some non-cider at Little Sodus Inn north of the playground. I also watched the Fair Haven Tree Lighting Ceremony in the town’s Central Park, which at other times hosted everything from the Winter Fest snow-building activities to a live mermaid during Pirate Fest.

Getting out and getting inArius goes fishing

I’m the product of a small town — although at nearly 2,000 people, Weedsport is almost a city compared to Fair Haven. Many of us wanted nothing more than to get out of town when we could. Not everybody did; some have never moved out of town. Others left and never looked back. Others, like me, come back to visit family but don’t necessarily harbor a heap of affection or nostalgia from a place that seemed so small.

So in a way, my continued love of Fair Haven, here at the northern end of my native Cayuga County, is strange. I guess I’ve always loved small-town living but was looking for the right small town for my affection. Housing prices are cheap (tempting), as is the cost of living in general unless you want to drop $200K or decidedly more on a palace on the West Bay.

Calendar of Fair Haven sights and sceneryAnd if Fair Haven never found that year-round tourist activity, things are decidedly on the upswing. Up until a few years ago, Bayside Grocery about the only place downtown you could expect to find open year-round. Then the Hardware Cafe and General Store — which, as its name demonstrates, has been quite a few things over the years — decided to stay open year round and succeeded. Guisseppe’s is giving it a go this year as well. Under new ownership, maybe Sterling Cidery will join them in 2019 or beyond?

We’re on the cusp of 2019, so why not be optimistic? Before leaving the cafe, I bought a copy of a calendar put together by the talented Kyle Meddaugh, who operates his photography business OnePhoto and a gallery across the street from the cafe. A new calendar for what we hope will be a brighter 2019. Thus even if I’m not in Fair Haven, views of the small town and its lakeside vistas hang on a wall for me to enjoy throughout the year.

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How the media bungled ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’

Man with large old-fashioned megaphone

(Image courtesy of Vancouver Public Library Historical Photographs)

Pop (music) quiz.

Do you know how many radio stations there are in the U.S.?

15,330

OK, tough one. Maybe this is easy.

Do you know how many radio stations in the U.S. announced they would stop playing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” this year?

What do you think? A dozen? Dozens? A hundred? Hundreds?

Try this number:

Four.

Yes, four — at least as far as all the media accounts I scoured.

  • WDOK in Cleveland
  • KOSI in Denver
  • KOIT in San Francisco
  • WHIT in Madison

Those are all I could find under multiple articles with overreaching headlines like “More radio stations ban ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside amid #MeToo controversy,” “Even more radio stations have banned ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside,’ but listeners are fighting back,” and “Backlash as more radio stations ban ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside over lyrics.”

Oh yeah, at least two of those stations have put the song back in rotation. But let’s not let facts get in the way.

Facts sure didn’t get in the way of so-called regular media and the social media machine as articles and commenters shouted about “several radio stations” (four is “several”?), “radio stations across the country” (geographically correct, but disingenuous) and the whopper “radio stations everywhere” banning the seemingly creepy (yet slightly less so in the context of the times it was written) holiday standard.

I don’t really have a horse in the race of whether or not to play it — Do I like it? Not really. Would I tell others not to listen to it? Not my thing, but whatever. — but the bigger problem here is the hype and the lack of context spread, or how a few became several that became radio stations everywhere.

These are political times, and the idea — real, inflated or imagined — of “politically correct” types banning the song plays toward interests and agendas that want to a) feed culture wars and b) distract you from things that are actually going wrong that might impact actual human lives, to keep you from knowing or caring.

Yet it’s really sad how easily so many media outlets bought something impacting 0.00026 percent of U.S. radio stations (yes, I know, Canadian stations did, but USians don’t generally care) and turned it into a huge, nefarious network of an imagined anti-fun movement of cultural policing. (And hey, if somebody finds that dozens or hundreds of stations banned it in the U.S., I’m happy to update and correct this post.)

“The hardest thing to kill is an idea,” one of my history professors liked to say, and it now extends to narratives that take over social media. He imparted that wisdom before Facebook could easily be manipulated into apparent truth and launch a thousand memes. So of course those oversimplified narratives fully fed the Facebook Outrage Machine, which is perhaps the most fuel-efficient construct ever, able to run long distances on very little substance.

Then came the memes making fun of the “bans” (by four U.S. radio stations), and making fun of those making fun of the “bans” (by four U.S. radio stations) and on and on until the truth, the scope of the actual news, became irrelevant.

Think about whether you shared one of those links or, if not, how many of your friends (or “friends”) shared them, and whether you liked or commented on them.

Now think about that, and think about how easy it is for the news and alleged trends to be manipulated.

Baby, it’s cold outside the walls of media literacy.

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I want to help, but: Giving Tuesday is hard to take.

I ran across our provost in the supermarket on Sunday in the cereal aisle. I probably looked tired and mildly overwhelmed.
 
“So many options,” he said perceptively, as I scanned the shelves with my face likely sporting a touch of bewilderment. I replied that I’m sure there’s research to this effect, not thinking fast enough to cite Hick’s Law on how the increasing number of choices can reduce one’s likelihood of making a decision.
 
And in a way, that’s the formula that has made Giving Tuesday almost more than I can take.
 
The idea behind Giving Tuesday is wonderful. I want to feel into it. But instead I feel overwhelmed.


Day after day

I suspect it seemed like a natural progression when it started: You had Black Friday where people stampeded poor associates and other shoppers for bargains. Then they could go online and act tech-savvy and dignified with Cyber Monday. After all that, helping a good cause on Giving Tuesday could assuage any guilt for conspicuous consumption.

But even in the “good old days,” there was an economic construct that could deter Giving Tuesday success: Money is a finite resource. Yes, you might have “saved” $10 or $20 or whatever on Black Friday deals, but if you spent $100 or $200, that’s the only concrete figure on the balance sheet. Although most of that went on credit cards, so one could say paying later can enable doing some good while feeling good about one’s savings.

But this year I just feel like I’ve been overrun without walking into a shopping center on Friday. I feel digitally displaced without even clicking a Buy button on Monday. Black Friday and Cyber Monday have taken over the month of November, and it’s not cool.

Too much

I don’t even remember when the first pre-pre-pre-Black Friday marketing email descended upon my inbox, and I’ve lost track of how many retailers have “generously” expanded Cyber Monday into Cyber Week (the emails feel more like an army of Cybermen deleting my sanity). To say that I received hundreds of emails from marketers in the past week related to shopping would not be an exaggeration, and that’s despite unsubscribing from several.

And don’t even get me started on retailers using “Giving Tuesday” as a pitch line, because that stuff’s in bad taste.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen so many great causes promoted by friends and colleagues and various institutions of higher learning. Part of me wants to support all of them. But …

… they are indeed all worthy. So I’m finding it difficult to find the time, let alone have the money, to support all the ones I want. A lot of fundraising happens in November anyway: In the past few weeks, I’ve already donated to multiple causes and am coordinating our building’s SEFA/United Way food drive. And that’s not counting all the stories, social media posts and other content worked on to help a range of charities.

I say this not to congratulate myself but to try to convince myself I’m not an awful person for not getting into the spirit of Giving Tuesday. If you have and supported causes important to you, that’s wonderful. If you’re a fundraiser and your efforts have influenced others to make a difference, fantastic!

I don’t want to give up on Giving Tuesday, but please forgive me if my will gives out until I can regain the holiday spirit.

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‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is a kind of magic

Queen on stage as portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody

(Twenty-First Century Fox promotional photo)

Going into “Bohemian Rhapsody,” I knew to expect great music — Queen is one of the best bands ever, after all — but ultimately the story and the performances make this a movie that will rock you.

In retrospect, the ascension of a bunch of musical misfits who created norms-defying songs and led by a strange-looking frontman really is an underdog story. So many of us either caught Queen’s ascension at the time or afterwards that going back to the beginning and realizing/remembering just how unusual this band and its music was becomes instructive.

The talk of Rami Malik deserving an Oscar nomination as Freddie Mercury is legit. Since I don’t pay much attention to entertainment news, it really did take me half the movie to realize it was the same guy from “Mr. Robot.” Malik is asked to show us a Freddie who is at turns confident and lonely, hot and cold, and coming to grasp with his sexuality and its place in a more constrained society, and he delivers magnificently.

But I was additionally pleased the movie didn’t make this all about Mercury and sell short the contributions of his bandmates. The rest of the band, who look strikingly like their real-world selves (especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May, but also Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joe Mazello as John Deacon), show a range of emotion and real chemistry to bring us even further into the tale. That the movie includes May’s vision for the stomp-clap of “We Will Rock You” and Deacon presenting his disco-influenced bass riff that became “Another One Bites the Dust” are fabulous bits that really flesh out the band’s collaborative talents — and makes the times when a misguided Mercury pushes back on the band’s family feeling even more compelling.

Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin has both some heartbreaking scenes as Mercury’s wife who realizes he is gay well before he accepts it but also heartwarming parts as somebody who sticks by him even as his life strays the wrong direction under manipulative manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech). Even seemingly smaller roles like Mercury’s family and his eventual partner Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) allow the performers to show genuine humanity and decency many such movies wouldn’t bother to provide.

One could quibble with the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of parts of the film. From the formation of the band through when Mercury actually received his AIDS diagnosis, the filmmakers take some liberties with facts and timelines. This should probably bother me (and my history degree) more than it does, but a biopic is not a documentary. The reworking parts of the backstory come in service to creating a more powerful story, and the film is such a fun ride that I won’t get hung up on it. This is a Hollywood tale, after all, which is both based on a real band and a wonderful bit of escapism.

If you’re a Queen fan, it goes without saying you should see this movie. But even if you aren’t, the music and the story and the performances are all so engrossing, enjoyable and entertaining that it’s likely you’ll leave the theater as a Queen fan. It really is a kind of magic.

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