New York Times Magazine

"Questions for Ryan Adams:  America Rocks"

The rising singer-songwriter on stepping into stardom just as the world steps into war.

Q: Your new CD, "Gold," came out just two weeks after the terrorists first attacked, and on the cover you're standing in front of an American flag. What made you pick a flag?
Well, obviously, it was done months ago. We did the cover shoot out in Los Angeles, and we did a lot of different poses and everything. One of the things we had was this big huge flag, and I thought it just looked powerful-that's what attracted me to it. I also kind of wanted to tweak the whole Bruce Springsteen "Born in the U.S.A" thing. Instead of me standing there all tough like Bruce, I'm in slouchy, twitchy posture, my head down, my hair a mess. We thought it looked cool, but it was also meant to be a bit of a goof.

It means something else now, though, don't you think?
Yeah, I guess it does, not so much for me, because it's not like I carry one around with me and look at it all the time. But it's like writing a song-you do it one way, you mean something by it, it means something to you, and then it goes out into the world, and people are free to make their own meaning out of it.

The record's first single is called "New York, New York" and has as a chorus, "I still love you, New York." That has taken on new meanings, too, hasn't it?
The funny thing about it is that it’s actually a love song to a particular person, and in place of her name, I just say "New York." It's got a lot to do with the city, because that's where we were together a lot, and how I think about the city is based on where we went together and what we did. But it wasn’t intended as some anthem or anything.

It's kind of eerie how prominent the twin towers are in the video for that song. Did you consider reshooting it?
Eerie-is that what you thought? Interesting. I haven't even seen the whole thing through. It was the first time in my life I've ever lip-synched, so I'm a little nervous about looking at it. We decided to stay with this video because it was what it was-we shot it on Sept. 7; it's the city as we knew it and saw it. If people don't want to show the video or don't like it, I understand. We're not pushing it or anything, saying, "Here's the video with the towers." It's just out there.

After Sept. 11, and then when the bombings began in Afghanistan, a lot of bands cancelled their international tours. But you went ahead with you European tour. Was that hard?
People were definitely uncomfortable. I mean, I'm scared to fly anyway-I went two whole years without being able to get on a plane. It's still not easy. I need a window seat, and I will not get on anything that has a propeller. But the band talked about it, and we decided that we didn't want this to stop us from doing what we would have done naturally.

And how has it been? Do the crowds love you because you're an American and you've got a big flag on you album cover?
I hope it's not for that reason. I hope it's because they dig the music. But yeah, the crowds have been real loving.

Have you been approached to participate in a lot of benefits, charity events, that kind of thing?
Not really, no. We've been on the road working, which isn't to say we wouldn't do it if someone asked. But we're not quite at the point where people are asking us to get up there on a stage with the Who and the Rolling Stones. Though my mom did call me up to tell me that they were playing my song on the television during that Madison Square Garden show, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I told the band, and we were psyched to have been part of it in any little way.

Do you think music has healing power in a time like this?
Yeah, I do think music has healing powers, but I'm speaking only for myself. Music fans will go to their music. Other people will take a walk or read a book. I don't want to pretend that music has some kind of higher power. I'm just some guy with a guitar who plays rock 'n' roll. I'm probably the last person in the world who could explain to anyone why this happened or what we should do about it.

But don't people look to artists they admire for guidance in troubled times?
Yeah, maybe, but I'm not sure they should. It's time to revert to that great punk rocker Shakespeare and "To thine own self be true." It's really the punkest idea of all time. Don't do what people tell you to, just because they're saying it real loud and like they know what they’re talking about. Make up your mind. DO your own thing. Heal the way you need to heal.

     -Hugo Lindgren