Waiting To Derail: Ryan Adams & Whiskeytown, Alt-Country’s Brilliant Wreck by Thomas O’Keefe and Joe Oestreich (3 out of 5)

In terms of full disclosure, I confess–I LOVE Ryan Adams. Whiskeytown was my first introduction to his genius. At the time, a soundtrack over and over again through ten years of endless drinking and one guy. Then he went solo (Ryan and the guy) and I’m still a fan years later. I think he’s a genius. Of course, the minute I found out about this book, I had to read it.

This charts O’Keefe’s career as road manager and eventually manager for Whiskeytown. Whiskeytown, as a band, made it 6 years and released 3 albums. Ryan and Caitlin, fiddle player and vocalist, were the only constants through multiple lineup changes (you almost need a scorecard to keep track of it). Ryan Adams, as many know, went on and continues with a successful solo career to this day. I knew going into this that many a memoir have been written by band managers and other insiders. I had hoped this would be a little more in-depth about the songs and Adams’ own writing processes in the band. No one can really get 100% inside someone’s head, but if you play your chords right, you can get close enough in your time with an artist to get a feel for them. Reading O’Keefe’s vision of things (as a mostly sober man around a man and band known for their excesses), I felt for him as a man on the outside looking in. He spends some of the book saying that very thing, in fact. I also felt that he did the very best trying to make heads and tails out of what was often an experiment in patience. I read a book by Van Halen’s former band manager a few months back, and the sentiments were similar in many regards. However, Van Halen didn’t cancel their shows often; maybe two over their entire time with their manager. Not the case with Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown. Quite a bit of the book is about the cancellations of shows; so much, in fact, that I am surprised a drinking game hasn’t been invented around that part of the Whiskeytown story. O’Keefe spends much of his time trying to keep a lid on an openly unraveling Adams, and repair damage brought to the band’s reputation with the missed shows, the drunken on stage hijinks, and the band personnel changes. I really enjoyed the hijinks, I’m not going to lie. I was quite entertained; I am, I admit, immature in this regard. I also really enjoyed the background info on the alt-country scene at the time Whiskeytown was on the scene. It did move me to write down a few bands that I need to check in on, or bring back to my listening milieu. I also enjoyed learning a lot about the other members of Whiskeytown. When you have a man as talented as Ryan Adams, you find it easy to lose sight of the other talented people around. It’s just the nature of rock n’ roll. Or alt-country. Adams’ determination to not be labelled as anything makes itself known multiple times throughout the book, and that restless nature keeps poking its head out, so it should surprise no fan of his that it also becomes a supporting character in the book. I guess as an aspiring writer, I yearned for more about the writing process, the songs, etc, and O’Keefe did what he could, but those areas are eclipsed by whatever mood Adams was in on that particular day. I have no doubt that O’Keefe tells the truth here, but the end result to me felt more like a tour diary than it did about the inner workings of the band. Having said that, it was an enjoyable and often humorous look at a brief meteor on the alt-country radar in the mid-90’s. Any fan of Ryan Adams should read this book, but it would not surprise me if reading this just amps up the desire for a more comprehensive look at the genius known as Ryan Adams. It did for me.

~ by generationgbooks on June 26, 2018.

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