At the end of my undergraduate degree, I had about $50 to my name. It was there in my bank account; two digits comprising my monetary worth for the rest of the term.
It was a warm and brilliantly sunny evening, one of the first of the season, in late April and I was walking down Whyte Avenue with my friend. We passed Blackbyrd Myoozik, which would later turn into my record store, and I stopped in to look at CDs. I wasn’t aware of vinyl then; I didn’t know you could get a record – a real record – of a contemporary album. On the shelf, there it was; an embossed gatefold 180g copy of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals’ Cold Roses. With some of the $50 that remained in my bank account, I purchased the record.
I was fascinated with it – the heaviness of the record, the gatefold-sized album art, running my fingers along the cover art and feeling its smooth grooves. I didn’t have a record player so I brought the record with me the next time I visited my parents. I remember thinking the sound of it was so different than on a CD or a ripped mp3 copy. It was warm, musty, rugged, even a little warped as the needle moved steadily along its diameter as it played at 33 1/3 RPM. I was not only hooked on records from this moment on, but I had fallen in love, yet again, with the album behind the record. It’s a great album, played at a great medium – it’s amazing what vinyl can do when it collaborates with an artist whose material is meant for a bigger, better space than your iTunes playlist.
Cold Roses is a double album, 18 tracks of Grateful Dead-inspired mid-summer bliss. Odes to Jerry Garcia (Rosebud) and Ryan Adams at his country howlin’ twangy best vocally (the upturned, high-pitched trills in Cherry Lane, for example) are mini, calming works of art. Ironically, during this period Adams was anything but calm; suffering addiction and debilitating symptoms of Meniere’s Disease, looking haggard and frail during the whole tripped-out touring of this album, there was a sense of unrest behind a record that speaks easily and sleepily of lost love, and questioning all aspects of love: why does it end, where does it go, and what matters in life. Friends is a song that, to this day,makes me feel the same introspection I felt when I heard it for the first time. Songwriting mastery at its best is a line like “This afternoon with you was something like a letter/The kind that someone writes but never sends”. There’s acceptance in this record – it speaks of, and to, someone in the summertime prime of their life, wondering what is to come and how to get there, while examining and reflecting upon the good, and the bad, in their life, and filling the space with questions and musings. It’s the kind of record I heard when I was 18 and realized what it meant to be a young adult, and it’s the kind of record I listen to almost a decade later with more wisdom, and I realize certain inalienable truths about being in one’s twenties through the voice of a then-troubled, wise-beyond-his-years artist.
Going on second (or third, or fourth) honeymoons with records you loved is an interesting journey because it allows new relations to take place between you and the music. There is nostalgia there as there is enrichment; I am remembering who I was, at the same time that I’m coming to realize that who I am too, is embodied by someone else’s words of wisdom and poetry. I can pick up more pieces now than I could before, and add them to a semblance that already existed. I owe a lot of my past ten years to Ryan Adams’ records. Each is a gift to me as someone who learned more about themselves and the world and love than they thought possible. Today, I revisit Cold Roses because I was thinking about how true it is that “we don’t choose who we love” and upon another listen, I realize I’m lucky to be privy to the kind of record that speaks to me in such a way, its wisdoms hit me while I’m walking down the street and prompt me to flip through my vinyl collection for even more words of advice.