Exclusive: Ryan Adams: ‘I Felt Like They Were Asking Me to Die’

Two years after a series of #MeToo allegations turned him into a pariah, the struggling singer is finally breaking his silence. But does anyone want to hear what he has to say?
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For some fleeting moments, things seem good again in the home of Ryan Adams. It’s a warm summer afternoon in the Hollywood Hills, and the singer-songwriter has an acoustic guitar in his hands. As his colony of cats wander in and out of the Tudor-style living room that he’s transformed into a recording studio, he begins strumming an unfinished country song of sadness and regret. “It’s cold here today, and the windows are frozen shut,” he begins, looking down at an open notebook, his voice soft and wounded. “I close my eyes and beg forgiveness before I sleep . . . It’s sad what we do to feel loved.”

Adams laughs out loud and repeats the line—“It’s sad what we do to feel lo-o-o-ved”—then plucks the strings hard and stops. “I can never use that,” Adams says with a shrug. “I don’t know—how good can that be?”

Self-doubt is a frequent companion these days for the once widely acclaimed recording artist and seven-time Grammy nominee. At 46, Adams’s life and career are shattered, and much of the vibrant circle of trusted friends and musicians he knew is gone. In most cases, they left without a word. Their exit abruptly followed an article published February 13, 2019, in the New York Times under the headline: “Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.” The newspaper alleged a pattern of sexual misconduct and emotional abuse, of obsessive and retaliatory behavior with several female artists, including one fast-rising discovery, Phoebe Bridgers.

In the article, Adams’s ex-wife, actress-singer Mandy Moore, accused him of emotional cruelty and sabotaging her music career. And, most damaging, the Times said Adams traded sexually explicit messages online with an underage girl.

Adams responded immediately via Twitter: “The picture that this article paints is upsettingly inaccurate. Some of its details are misrepresented; some are exaggerated; some are outright false.” He also acknowledged “many mistakes” in his life and apologized to “anyone I have ever hurt.”

But the damage was done, and it was severe. Adams’s record deal with Blue Note/Capitol quickly ended, along with release plans for a trilogy of albums he had just announced for the coming year. An upcoming tour of the UK was cancelled. A few months later, his new manager very publicly split from Adams by leaking his frustrated private messages: “I want my career back…I’m not interested in this healing crap.”

More than two years of purgatory later, Adams is still finding his way to some redemption and seeking a path toward restarting his canceled career. He’s attempting to make new music again, performing live-streaming concerts on Instagram almost nightly, reconnecting with fans worldwide as he performs entire albums, wanders his house alone, and talks up his cats. He’s also shared some of his darkest moments, alarming viewers and attracting unwanted attention from Variety and other media raising pointed questions about his state of mind.

“I’m an emotional human being. Why can’t I communicate to people who are my fans and listen to my music?” he asks. “There’s a stigma about people that suffer from depression and anxiety, as though depression’s not an illness. If I don’t talk about it and I can only sing about it? It’s a ridiculous expectation of me.”

Adams has done no interviews in the years since the Times article appeared. At first, he was content to post public statements of apology in the hope of mollifying the music world that immediately shunned him. These messages were not well-received, and the music press that had frequently praised him no longer gave him any attention at all.

He had been a jokester and a troublemaker in interviews, a thoughtful poet or shambolic party animal. A 2001 profile in Rolling Stone described the then-emerging star as “too prolific, a drunk, a mess, a shambles, a control freak, a genius.” Alongside genuine acclaim for his work from a range of admirers, from Pitchfork to Elton John, he became known as an essential voice for connoisseurs of literate, deeply felt songwriting, celebrated for his performances at Carnegie Hall, L.A.’s Greek Theatre, and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. And now all of that was gone.

“I felt like they were asking me to die,” Adams says now of the accusations and immediate fallout, the loss of friends and professional support, the presumption of guilt. “So I’m losing my life’s work, and my dream of who I am, my ability to provide for myself. And I now don’t have the emotional support to help fix this. The door has slammed and what am I going to do?”

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Adams at the Invictus Games Closing Concert in London in 2014

Adams’s new crisis publicist is concerned about him reopening a “can of worms” by talking about these issues—she asked to not be named in this story—but he’s also caught in his own catch-22: unable to move past negative perceptions without explaining himself and answering the charges.

His early public apologies were met by criticism from Moore and others, who said that Adams should have expressed his remorse directly to the women involved. He’s since been in touch with at least two of the women in the Times story, including writing a personal letter to Moore. (His ex-wife has had no further comment, and recently complained that an unnamed publication canceled a career-spanning interview because she refused to speak about Adams.)

Immediately after the Times article was published, Adams’s world began to crumble. Friends and colleagues he’d spoken to just days before were simply gone. He compares the exodus to the movements of a “swarm of birds, and they all turn at the same time.

“I was in fucking shock,” he says. “I couldn’t sleep. Anxiety made me so sick. I couldn’t fix it. I was functional in that I kept my house OK, and my cats were OK. But I was not well.”

Adams began therapy immediately, which helped. One lifeline was his little sister, Courtney, back in North Carolina. They texted daily, spoke every few days. “Some of my best friends from back home were really worried,” he says. “Later, they said to me, ‘I didn’t think you would make it.’”

Adams found that he couldn’t look at himself in the mirror. He didn’t change clothes for days at a time and spent most of his days alone on a couch with his cats in a small room with a TV. He survived on Pad Thai deliveries.

During his first year as a social pariah, one of his longtime female roadies was in Los Angeles to help a friend through a bad breakup. Adams let them both stay in his house, so she saw up close what had become of the once dynamic rock star she had toured with for years.

“It’s the saddest thing ever,” she says. “He’s so screwed up. He’s so shamed. He feels so bad about himself.” (She asked to remain anonymous.) “He probably gained 40 pounds. He looked horrible. He’s getting better and better now, but he needs some redemption.”

Having already gone through the possible loss of a once-soaring career,  Adams now fears he’s on the verge of losing much more. He has contemplated a take-it-or-leave-it offer to sell the publishing rights to his songs; otherwise, he faces losing his rented house, his studio, everything. The possibilities of a comeback still seem far in the distance. His mood is filled more with doom than hope.

The prospect of doing a long interview where he faces the accusations, and tentatively contemplates his future, is not comforting.

“Are you going to kill me in this thing?” he asks, not for the first or last time.

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On another afternoon, visitors crowd into Adams’s home as he prepares for his first photo shoot in years. It’s a task he has ordinarily enjoyed since his earliest days in the alt-country band Whiskeytown, presenting himself as the image of a confident rock star, cool in denim and shades. But as he paces his living room where a photographer is prepared to shoot, he can’t sit down. “I’m incredibly nervous right now,” he says, apologizing. Not helping is a flareup of his chronic Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear disorder that for years has caused him hearing issues and moments of vertigo. Also, here are his current manager, his crisis publicist, and, least comforting, a journalist ready to discuss his troubles. He paces the room, then steps outside for a smoke. The pictures will be taken, but not until he’s settled his nerves an hour or so later.

Adams eventually sits down to talk in his small TV room and reclines on a couch, feet up on a table. He cut his hair back to its usual auburn tangle about a week ago, after it had grown to his shoulders and was threatening to transform into dreadlocks, he says. On the wall behind him are framed posters for David Lynch’s Dune and The Empire Strikes Back. In the background, the Bravo channel silently plays a reality-TV show on the big screen. A cat lays beside him, and falls asleep on a leopard-print blanket. Adams has spent a lot of time alone in this room, reading books, sleeping on the couch, ordering takeout. “Just having the TV on is like having a friend,” he says, then smiles. “I just realized how desperately remote and sad that sounded.”

He used to do so many interviews for each album release that he’d sit through an assembly line of interrogators and sometimes check out, like a door-to-door salesman looking at the clock and the nearest exit. Other times he might be moved to say too much, to elaborate on drinking and drugging, struggles with mental illness, or to start a feud with other musicians (the Strokes, Father John Misty) or Sean Hannity. “It all feels like a violation on some level. It’s the part of the gig that’s terrible.”

But now Adams feels the need to explain his situation and respond to the accusations. “I’m a guitar player-songwriter,” he says. “I wasn’t willfully trying to destroy anybody’s life. My actions as a human being, where I was on stage or in the studio the majority of all this time, endlessly working on records, does not leave this gaping huge hole of time for me to be walking around like a romantic supervillain.”

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Adams claims, “I wasn’t willfully trying to destroy anybody’s life.”

Ian Spanier

Outside is his black ’59 Cadillac, a classic American car with whitewalls and huge Batmobile fins he’s named Christie. (He calls the car the badass sister to Stephen King’s possessed Plymouth Fury in the novel Christine). He hasn’t driven much lately; mostly he’s walked the streets of his Hollywood neighborhood.

One afternoon, he wandered into the Vedanta Temple in Hollywood, a gleaming miniature Taj Mahal built in 1938. Inside, Adams heard beautiful singing and saw flowers and other offerings to the Hindu deities. Then the singing stopped as worshippers began to meditate. In that moment, Adams says, he felt something beyond his initial curiosity. It was like, he says, “waking up inside my body.” Adams began returning to the temple nightly.

During one of those visits, a woman tapped him on the shoulder and said the swami wanted to eat with him. Adams immediately accepted. As they ate, he remembers the balding holy man gently telling him: “It’s so beautiful how sad you are because you are so broken. And all you’re doing is trying to put yourself back together. It’s exhausting, exhausting.”

Adams wept right there. “For someone to tell me that to my face, who doesn’t know anything about my life . . . Talk about crying in front of stranger,” the singer says. “He didn’t want anything from me. And it just fucked me up.”

Adams was by then battered and filled with self-loathing. Aside from the accusers named in the Times article, others had weighed in online. His sometime collaborator Jenny Lewis expressed solidarity with the women in the article and hasn’t spoken to him since. His former girlfriend Karen Elson posted about a “traumatizing experience” with Adams but soon deleted the message.

Then his guitar player, Todd Wisenbaker, a friend who had traveled the world with Adams for years and shared his obsession with Morrissey and the Smiths, very loudly quit. He posted a long, oblique message to Instagram that suggested a falling out over issues not in the Times article: “I chose to believe his insane version of the truth because it was easier than believing that anyone is capable of being this much of a monster.”

Even now, in his little TV room, Adams attacks no one. And he tears up for the first time when discussing the “deeply hurtful” exodus of the people in his life.

“You know what? I love that guy,” he says of Wisenbaker. “I love that guy and I support his journey and his disappointment, or whatever it is, with me. Because if I don’t love him now, someone I don’t speak to anymore, then I didn’t learn anything.”

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Born in 1974, Adams came out of Jacksonville, North Carolina, and landed in New York City to lead a new band of bristling country-flavored indie rock called Whiskeytown. His solo career began in 2000, arriving fully formed as a musically gifted, disarmingly boyish wild man with big ideas and bad habits. From the beginning, romantic entanglements were the fuel behind his songwriting, much as they had been for Fleetwood Mac, between Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull, or Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. “I know that this is going to sound entirely shocking,” Adams says. “But musicians hook up sometimes, write songs about it, and break up.”

In the days after the Times bombshell, newly aware critics returned to the lyrics of Adams’ songs in search of forensic evidence. There was plenty to read within the romantic fireworks of his songs.

If there is misogyny in his lyrics, it’s just as easily found throughout the history of a chauvinistic music category that includes Neil Young’s “Stupid Girl” (“You really got a lot to learn”) or the Rolling Stones’ “Stupid Girl” (“She’s the worst thing in this world”) or Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” (“You’re an idiot, babe /It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe“).

All of these names are celebrated still in publications that have written Adams off completely. Clearly, some of the most beloved figures in classic rock, R&B and hip hop could not survive the kind of scrutiny that got Adams cancelled. Mention “Idiot Wind” in that context, and Adams immediately sits up and quotes from the lyrics like a Dylan scholar. The song is a bitter, agonized epic written amid the breakup of Dylan’s first marriage, and includes the sneering: “One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes …”

“I understand how dark that song is,” Adams says, betraying years of obsessive listening to a bootleg of the album, Blood on the Tracks. “I don’t hear Dylan saying ‘I wish you were fucking dead.’ I hear him saying he wishes he was dead, because he is in so much pain.”

On his first post-divorce album, 2017’s Prisoner, Adams took no shots at his former wife, but went typically inward with songs of romantic regret and loss. By most accounts, the breakup of Adams and Moore was difficult and drawn out over the usual issues of money and property

Even so, when the Times article landed, Adams says most surprising to him was that Moore was involved at all.

“I was like, ‘What is the point of this now? Because this is going to hurt my family and it’s going to hurt our friends.’ And we talked about this stuff years ago. Dissolving a marriage is one of the most difficult and soul-crushing things you can do. And the best you can do is to do it with care. We did the best that we could. So, yeah, I was a little confused.”

Their marriage ended unhappily in 2016 after a period of separation, but Adams believed they had finally got to a place of acceptance and understanding. There had been apologies at the time and after, he says, and they had continued to communicate, in part to discuss care for the many animals they adopted together. That didn’t end after she met her second husband, Taylor Goldsmith, singer-guitarist for the band Dawes.

“When she got engaged, I wrote her a letter saying that I am so proud of her and so happy for them,” Adams says. In the note, he made an awkward joke about being the “worst-ever FedEx delivery system, but our journey led you to this perfect, wonderful man.”

“We had those kinds of exchanges and they meant a lot to me,” he says.

Moore and Adams remained in communication for years, though there were also occasional comments in interviews blaming the other for failing the marriage. He once blurted that his ex had never once inspired him to write a song, which was obviously untrue. Their communication stopped six to eight months before the Times article came out.

In the Times and in other interviews, Moore called her ex-husband controlling and said that he stood in the way of continuing her music career. She described a husband who was extremely needy and demanding. Their marriage became “unhealthy” and “codependent,” she recounted on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.

As an established hitmaker with two pop albums certified gold and one platinum, Moore wasn’t without options and opportunities. Still, she turned to her famously gifted husband to help her with her songwriting. “I did write songs with my ex-wife and I did create music for her to write lyrics to sing to,” he says. “Those songs would not always be finished, but I was always excited when we did sit and play and sing together.” He introduced Moore to his friend, songwriter-producer Butch Walker, who guided hit albums by Pink, Katy Perry, Weezer, Green Day, and the Wallflowers. And a frequent visitor to their house in the hills above Griffith Park was storied producer and engineer Glyn Johns, who’d worked hit albums for the Who, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and, in 2011, for Adams, for his understated fan favorite Ashes & Fire. Adams says Johns wanted to work with Moore and suggested recording an album of cover songs.

In the Times, Moore alluded to emotional abuse during their marriage, though few specifics were included in the article. One example she gave was that Adams would often say to her: “You’re not a real musician, because you don’t play an instrument.”

“If that were to ever to come out of my mouth, I would have hoped that it was followed immediately by a sincere apology,” Adams says now. “I am capable of saying things that I later regret and it sucks to ever have that happen.” He adds that he couldn’t have possibly meant it, since the first time he saw Moore perform at the Roxy in West Hollywood, she closed her set playing a coveted Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar in a difficult tuning. “It was so good,” he says, “everyone’s mind was blown.”

Asked if he wasted Moore’s time or held back her music career in any way, Adams takes a long pause. “Absolutely not,” he says emphatically. “Because the only thing I know is the guitar is in the next room, and I can go pick that up any time I want and I can be free on that instrument and there are no wrong answers on it . . .  I don’t know how I would’ve prevented her from exploring that or pursuing it with someone else if I couldn’t offer it. I understand her disappointment. I see her point of view. I understand the frustration she must have been feeling. I wanted to be as helpful as I could.”

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Moore and Adams at the flea market in 2009

COP/BuzzFoto.com via Getty Images

Adams left New York City and relocated to Los Angeles around the time he and Moore married in 2009 and soon found the beginnings of his own creative circle of musicians and artists. He established a studio he called Pax-Am in an unused living room-sized space at the famed Sunset Sound, where decades of his musical heroes from Prince to the Stones recorded. A large American flag covered one wall of his space, and the checkerboard floor was crowded with instruments, cables, and vintage recording gear. In the adjacent room, he kept a manual typewriter for writing lyrics. Passing through Pax-Am’s doors was a long line of established artists (Bob Mould, Haim, Jenny Lewis) and newer voices, some who joined his band, or were recorded for the first time by Adams.

Among those was Phoebe Bridgers, who was just 20 when she first arrived at Pax-Am. She started hanging out there and Adams recorded some of her songs, as she played his treasured red, white, and blue Buck Owens acoustic guitar. A brief sexual fling began on his 40th birthday.

“She was a friend and an inspiring, great musician, and she has a really funny and unhinged sense of humor,” Adams recalls. “Pretty much everybody that was rolling down to Pax-Am was a cut-up and a clown. It really felt super cool to have people that were like-minded because L.A. could be a really serious place.”

Bridgers described to the Times being disturbed by Adams’s demands for attention and impromptu phone sex, even telling her he might kill himself if she didn’t comply. The article accused Adams of threatening to not release Bridgers’s record after their breakup, and of taking back an offer to open for him on tour.

Adams says he recorded many unknowns, male and female, at Pax-Am that he never put out on vinyl. And, ultimately, in 2015, he did release her three-song EP, Killer, and had his publicist announce its arrival in a press release that quoted Adams calling Bridgers a “musical unicorn” who “could make a jar of sand sound like Blood on the Tracks.” He also hosted a live event for Pax-Am releases that included a performance by Bridgers at the beloved Grimey’s record store in Nashville. There was national coverage in Entertainment Weekly.

Bridgers was invited to tour as his opening act for several dates in March 2017, just ahead of her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, coming later that year on the Dead Oceans indie label. Bridgers told the Times that on the first date of the tour, Adams asked her to bring something to his hotel room. “I came upstairs and he was completely nude,” she said.

Adams says he has no memory of this. He also notes that he rarely sleeps in hotel rooms unless he’s ill, which is confirmed by crew members; he sleeps on his bus almost every night on the road, usually parked at a hotel, generally going to his room only to shower.

To one of his longtime female roadies, the idea of Adams standing in a hotel-room doorway naked is inexplicable behavior in someone she knows as very self-conscious about his body. “That’s weird to me, but I don’t know,” she says, then wonders if a disorienting flareup of his Meniere’s disease could have caused such a scene. “Sometimes he gets completely whacked out.”

Two of Adams’s female roadies agreed to talk about their experiences with him, but asked to remain anonymous for fear of damaging their own careers. Adams was atypical, they said, as a major artist having a crew with so many women (about half the 12-person crew). Other tours could be “horrible experiences” of misogyny and disrespect, but Adams provided a safe and welcoming workspace, they said.

Another female associate who had been with Adams for years and had evolved into one of his closest aides on the road says, “It’s hard enough for women in the industry,” noting the poor treatment she endured or witnessed while working for much bigger names. “And the gig that I felt the safest as a woman was the one that gets taken down by this article.”

After the Times investigation hit, Adams’s female crew made attempts to reach Bridgers through social media and the cell number they still had for her from the tour. They were alarmed by the accusations and wanted to hear what had happened directly. Bridgers didn’t respond.

“I feel like we created the space for her to be 100 percent comfortable to tell us anything,” one of them says. “I fully apologize to her if she didn’t feel comfortable. The most irritating thing for me is that Phoebe has publicly called everybody around Ryan enablers, and we’re not. I love these women. I would have stuck up for them so hard . . . He does not intimidate me. This could have been solved before all this crap came out.”

Bridgers joined Adams’s 2017 tour with no entourage at all: no band, sound engineer, tour manager—just her and her acoustic guitar. Adams told his crew to “take really good care of her,” one female roadie recalls, so they handled her sound and lighting, sold her merch, and generally looked after her needs. She also traveled on the crew bus.

Bridgers’s last night on the tour was at the Orpheum in New Orleans. Dressed in black, she smiled and told the crowd, “I’m especially bummed tonight,” suggesting she was sorry to leave the tour. She then sang an Adams song from 2014, “My Wrecking Ball,” including the lyric: “And all the walls we built, they rise and they fall . . . Won’t you come and maybe knock me down?

Her career caught fire from there, as critics and audiences embraced her vivid, conversational songs that could be sweet or jarring, emotionally delicate or intense. Among the most popular was “Motion Sickness,” which recounted a disorienting romance, and was later revealed as an unflattering tune about Adams.

“Here’s a song about a full-grown adult man who never goes down on anyone,” Bridgers declared during a 2018 performance at the Higher Ground nightclub in South Burlington, Vermont. By 2021, Bridgers was booked to headline some of the same big rooms once frequented by Adams.

The most damaging accusation in the Times article was that Adams knowingly traded sexually explicit messages online via texts and Skype with an underage girl, identified by the Times only as Ava (her middle name). Adams doesn’t deny the exchanges but says he didn’t know her age, and that pictures she posted on Facebook and Instagram showing her performing in New York nightclubs suggested she was older. They never met in person.

The newspaper examined thousands of texts between them, and acknowledged that Adams asked her to “convince me” that she was over 18. She sometimes said she was older than she was, and never revealed her true age. After the story was published, the Times provided the FBI with copies of the text messages between Adams and Ava, which launched an investigation from its field office in the Southern District of New York.

Adams’s lawyer, Andrew B. Brettler, confirms that the FBI searched the singer’s iCloud account and, he believes, the musician’s email and Facebook accounts. Adams was never interviewed by the FBI. In the end, nothing was found to prove a pattern of illegal behavior with underage girls, and the investigation was dropped in the fall of 2019. Adams’s lawyer was informed by the FBI in a phone call soon after.

This information wasn’t publicly released at the time, just months after the original article, when it might have had the most impact. It wasn’t reported until January 2021 by the New York Post’s Page Six, quoting an anonymous source. One reason is that the support Adams once had from a team that handled his publicity, management, and promotion no longer existed for him. And there was little or no follow-up in the news media about the accusations against him, other than occasional questions included in larger interviews with his most famous accusers. “I had been thoroughly canceled at that point, so what was it going to matter?” Adams says.

Afterwards, Adams and his lawyer communicated with Ava, now in her early 20s, and they came to an understanding about their earlier exchanges and the damage done. Even now, in his isolation, Adams won’t criticize her for the role she played in the Times story, and for any lies she told him about her age. “I cannot blame her,” he says. “I left home when I was 15 and I get it.”

Ava also provided a written statement to Brettler that read, “I was not truthful about my age in my texts and communications with Ryan and I repeatedly told him I was 18. Contrary to the New York Times article, Ryan and I both freely participated equally in texts of a sexual nature with one another… Ryan is a good human being and my sole wish is that both of us have learned from this experience.”

Adams understands he still faces lingering suspicion that he prowls for underage girls. “I have no history of this kind of bullshit. I love women who are tall and mean to me and smarter than me by half. This is not my pattern,” he says later, exasperated, between smokes on his back patio. “This part of it is insane.”

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Near the end of 1969, a drunk but inspired Jim Morrison recorded “Roadhouse Blues” with the Doors, and growled the lyric: “The future’s uncertain, and the end is always near.” Among the many lessons that Adams learned from the Classic Rock generation, it’s a line well-suited to his current state of mind. His moments of musical euphoria are often interrupted by flashes of despair. He still has no label deal, and few companies will even discuss working with him. He was in serious talks with a highly respected indie label for several weeks, which recently ended without an agreement. An informal survey of music industry veterans suggests there’s a way back for Adams, with time and contrition, but any label (or concert promoter) will have to balance audience demand for his new music with possible backlash, including from other artists.

In the meantime, Adams is fully back to work, deep in writing mode. The new songs are “perfectly raw and really pretty,” he offers. His experiences these last two years will inevitably play a part. “I use what I’ve got and I work with it, and I try to make something beautiful out of it. And then it changes me.”

In the last year, Adams put out the first two albums of his planned trilogy on his own Pax-Am imprint, and now hopes to find a home for the third, Chris, which is weighted the most with the death of his brother, the album’s namesake, in 2017. “It’s the best of all of them, but I should never listen to that record again because it’ll kill me,” he says. “I dipped my pen in some pretty dark ink and I can’t seem to get it out.”

He hopes to perform a few West Coast theater dates solo later this year, with a more substantial tour in 2022. He’s uncertain what the reception will be. COVID-19 has interrupted his ambitions, but his many Instagram performances have essentially been public rehearsals, Adams says. They have also been an emotional lifeline not only for him but for fans under lockdown in other parts of the world. He says he receives hundreds of direct messages a day from fans, for whom he has created a line of T-shirts and coffee mugs that feature his lyrics. They typically sell out. One has a cat flexing a muscle with the slogan “Insta Lifefeed,” in defiance of the negative press that described his situation as increasingly desperate, both financially and emotionally, after he publicly pleaded for labels to give him another chance “to make some music.” He had been strongly advised not to vent online, and the same day Variety published a story about the posts, his crisis publicist quit.

Ironically, Adams says his call for help and the bad press was accompanied by renewed interest in him. He has a book project with a publisher, and he recently performed a song as part of an online concert event to benefit roadies and support staff sidelined by the coronavirus called the FiLo Festival. Others who performed included Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, David Crosby, Questlove, and Sammy Hagar. Adams was invited to the festival by filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann (son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann), who was pleased to find no pushback against his presence. “I’m somebody who has been in recovery now for many, many years. So I’m a big believer in second chances. I’m a big believer in not just writing people off,” Kreutzmann says. “Everybody needs friends.”

Back in his living room, Adams is at the computer, playing snippets of songs, some new, some old and unreleased, all of them with an undercurrent of longing. He appears confident playing his piano or holding a guitar. “It took me a long time to not be afraid of the guitar again,” he confesses, describing his songwriting as a means to “crack some kind of code in myself.”

Adams wants redemption through his music, and says he’s working hard at it. “One day I was like, ‘Why are you still doing this?’” he says, then pauses. “That is probably a really good song title. That actually might be the best one I’ve ever had.” He reopens a notebook and begins writing down the words, saying them out loud again and again: “Why are you still doing this?


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