Menconi – Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown

24 Nov

Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown by David Menconi (2012)

Originally published on Pop ‘stache

At first glance, the cover of Losering implies that it’s a Whiskeytown memoir written by none other than Ryan Adams. Upon closer inspection though, David Menconi’s name is detectable in the form of a beer label.  This might disappoint some expecting Adams’ histrionic musings in print, but those concerns are quelled by the unauthorized biography in which no anecdotal bars are held.

Menconi has covered the music scene of North Carolina’s “Triangle” for over twenty years at News & Observer. Better known as Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, in the mid to late ’90s, the Triangle was a musical hot spot, which some referred to optimistically as the “New Seattle.” Picking up on Adams’ genius early on, Menconi may know Adams better than anyone, although, as the Preface explains, he lost touch with Adams after an unflattering review of Gold in 2001.

Adams, however, especially early in his musical career with Whiskeytown, was never one to shy away from media limelight. Once he gained critical mass popularly he dated several musicians and actresses, which found him more press. He also had a habit of now infamous blogging tirades, in which he tore innumerable assholes, deservedly or not.

Losering is nothing groundbreaking, particularly for those Adams fans that followed his early work or his drunken online updates.  Instead, what David Menconi did is cleverly packaged those moments, including snippets from Menconi’s own interviews with him along the way, in chronological order, jazzed up with a bit of biography and musical criticism.  As to be expected, the book focuses on Adams’ time spent in Whiskeytown, additionally covering his solo career to date, which is a bit misleading considering the title.

“Menconi depicts the two major alter-egos of Adams: the manic, talented, charismatic and unbelievably productive singer/songwriter, and the arrogant, petty, melodramatic, solipsistic drunk prick who’s endlessly feeling sorry for himself.”

There is no shortage of examples of each. Adams can write a beautiful song of desperation in ten minutes on a bar napkin, or given a five-hour car ride, he can write an EP’s worth of material. He can also summarily leave the stage for extended periods of time or pick fights with his own bandmates mid-set. Adams talks about the latter in a 1998 interview with Menconi reprinted in Losering regarding scuffles with guitarist Phil Wandscher: In the middle of a song, Phil would sometimes look over and go, ‘Fuck you.’  I’d say ‘Fuck you!’ back, we’d stop the song and there’d be feedback while we tried to hit each other.”

It’s one thing to talk about the core members of Whiskeytown and how and where they met, but Menconi has a tendency to namedrop pointless locales and other musicians. The reader is bombarded with endless names of fill-in drummers and studio bassists that appear and disappear in the same paragraph. One namedrop is not so much forgettable as totally laughable: “Like Adams, Wallace wasn’t shy about telling people he was going to be famous someday. But history does not record whether or not Ryan and Biggie ever crossed paths in Raleigh during their prefame days.”  Sure, mentioning the Old 97’s, Uncle Tupelo and The Replacements makes sense, but Notorious B.I.G.?

“Most of Menconi’s critique of Adams’ work, Whiskeytown through his solo catalog, is spot on and he outlines it with brevity in his selected discography.”

That being said his review, or rather dreamed up, eight-page, track-by-track ad nauseum narrative on Whiskeytown’s outstanding Stranger’s Almanac is excessive and ridiculous. It only makes complete sense when Menconi divulges that he wrote a novel with a protagonist based on Adams.

What will or should win over most readers is Menconi’s generally enjoyable literary voice (despite some of the aforementioned hiccups) and his back-of-the-hand knowledge on the subject. He feels like an older brother figure to Adams, both enamored by and supportive of Ryan’s gift, but not afraid to speak his honest opinion. He is also able to offer some interesting insight like his hypothetical dialogue between Leona Naess’ self-titled release and Adams’ Rock N Roll after the two had split.  It’s a bit awkward, but certainly inventive.

Ryan Adams: Losering a Story of Whiskeytown is by no means an essential read, but it sure is a quick and fun one. It best serves casual fans that know very little about one of rock’s most entertaining personalities of the past two decades. Also, anybody who doesn’t already own Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac after reading Losering will likely seek it out, and for good reason.

Rating: ***

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