There are few people, musicians or otherwise, who can speak as eloquently about songs and their meanings as Ryan Adams. For this Valentine's Day, our guest DJ, Ryan Adams, chose love songs by Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Smiths and Sonic Youth, which we discussed in detail along with Adams' new album, Prisoner, which addresses boldly both love and his recent divorce. (As well, we have a First Listen stream of Prisoner right here.)
Adams on Springsteen's "Stolen Car" and its final lines:
I drive by night
And I travel in fear
That in this darkness
I will disappear
"I love that line. That's the fate of everyone... That is the special thing about songs of longing and remorse and the encapsulation of the human spirit, is that we are temporary visitors in a dimension that is not ours. It's interesting how people relate to that sometimes, as though that is a morbid way of looking at the world. But instead, it's very real and beautiful way of looking at the world, because its factual and it also means that everything matters and everything is heavy. It doesn't invalidate anything... It just actually makes things, I think, even more special."
On the lonesome road:
"That lonesome road in that car — that's the thing to love. That's the place where you are. For me, that's the place I am. I like that place. And there's nothing wrong with that place. In fact, that's where everything's right. But I think it's different for everybody.
"It's driving at night, '59 Caddy [Adams' car]. You've got some trees and stuff hazing by the window, windows are down. No radio. Just there. Just experiencing things. No expectation. No feeling of uncertainty. Just being and feeling stuff and being what you are, whether part of you is filled with this broken stuff and part of you is filled with some hope. All that stuff is all in the river and in the creek, and it's below you, and it's moving, and you don't have anything to do with it. I think the more time I spend, the more I realize that it's nice to separate yourself, if you can, from that expectation and that idea of the reward of happiness."
On The Smiths' "Well I Wonder":
"I think that he is describing that unbelievable force of extreme longing... it's the most romantic feeling. This is, in my opinion, probably the greatest song I know. I think he's describing that unbelievable force of extreme longing, and it's the most romantic feeling — it's the perfect storm of just utter romance. Every color is as bright as it could be."
On the magic of taking emotion and turning it into a song:
"It's the same thing as those beautiful charcoal drawings in caves, where you see pictures of horses and the wild game that they were hunting and we go back and someone says, 'These are the oldest drawings that are ever known.' And you know, that person, that day, was thinking about - either about how beautiful those animals were or how it felt to be out there with them that day.
"I think that there is this thing inside of human beings, and it's this total appreciation of being alive. It's so profoundly in our gut."
On writing songs using a typewriter:
"It's the sound that I heard growing up, my grandmother typing away on the typewriter used to make me fall asleep. I shared her Remington Rand. I still have that typewriter. It's doing great.
"The good thing about typewriters is you set it up on a desk up against a window when you're typing and you could just look out the window and you just space out and you just type. I just type faster on a manual typewriter because my hands are big as hell, and I just break the keys off of every laptop I ever had."
On emotional awakening through song:
"So the guitars in this record specifically this song, they speak of a sensuality and sexuality — almost like a sparkling excited memory and being nostalgic for a feeling. It's a crush it's a crush. This moment bookends when I realize I am no longer in a trap. Instead I am the clouds above the trap, it's a transformation. I didn't understand my own freedom... I was free inside of this repressed desire. And so I look at it as an awakening and maybe I'll spend the rest of my life describing that moment and 'Prisoner' was the first time I really got it. I think it's the very first time I was smart enough to stop trying to be smart and to allow myself to just be very perfectly flawed."
On Sonic Youth's "Shadow of a Doubt":
"She's dreaming... she's dreaming about someone that she's so attracted to. She's dreaming, and there's these fireworks and stuff going off, and these weird, static waves. You see almost mirage-type images of a character coming in and out of her field of vision in this fever dream... it's being peaceful... and then, when the song hits this climax in the middle, it's that feeling of, whether in a dream or metaphorically speaking, it's the panic of the obsession and of that attraction.
"To me, this is the genius of that band... It's total seduction, total and complete physical, spiritual, transcendental seduction. It's like the filter of reality is just burnt off, and the fumes are toxic electric sparks, and you're just in it."