Ryan Adams is really into poetry, and Cameron Crowe loves it
Look. Stephen King actually does like it. He's got an accolade on the back of the book. We won't denigrate that. Bully for Mr. Adams.
But the lion's share of critical attention cited on the covers of "Infinity Blues," the debut volume of poetry from the alt country megastar, quite ominously comes from people who are neither writers, nor critics, but who simply seem to be buddies of Mr. Adams. "Like all his work," says filmmaker Cameron Crow on the banner accolade, "it's soul poetry of the highest order."
Yeah. Remember when Cameron Crowe made Vanilla Sky?
Author Eileen Myles, in what may be the most damning of all faint praise, loudly declares in her accolade that the book is "much better than reading a friend's journal." Oh, and Mary Louise Parker just loves it. You remember her from The Spiderwick Chronicles. Right? Well, take your literary cues from Ms. Parker from now on-- according to her, Ryan Adams is "proof that poetry will find its writer." Stand aside, William Blake. Turns out Mr. Adams is the chap we've been waiting for.
The photograph on the rear of the book does little to elevate expectations. It shows a beshadowed Adams hunched over his typewriter in trademark flannels, hacking out a poem in a recording studio, as if to remind us that he is, after all, a musician first, so go easy, ok? Be gentle. He wrote these between vocal takes.
It's not a suitable out. It's too small a hole for so bloated a figure as Adams, and he'll get stuck at the cranium should he try to sneak out of it feet first. The poems within aren't terrible fare. In spots, his language actually demonstrates some poetic proficiency and a touch of vision. He even demonstrates the occasional tendency towards meter. But Adams is an arrested adolescent in all things, and hasn't yet outgrown his underage infatuation with Bukowski. So within a nice elegant line comes a reckless plop of obscenity, and the inevitable diuretic beat poet runoff that reminds us all where Adams truly belongs-- at a coffee shop open mic with a guitar.
The book is chock full of inexplicable mannerisms: among those thanked in his foreword are Albert Einstein, David Letterman, Jay Z, and the Boston Red Sox. The bio at the back vaunts his musical career with such weasel phrases as "Ryan Adams may be primarily known for acclaimed albums such as..." Of course, an italicized litany of Adams' albums follows. Word for word, attention to his musical career outweighs mention of his literary passions nearly three to one. And that's the rub. This poetry stuff Adams has been passing the time with on his last few world tours? It's just an afterthought-- something to fill up a few empty miles and empty notebooks between sold out shows.
Sure. Crossover art is always tricky. We can cite Shaq Fu, Joe Pesci's album of Italian Classics, and Kiss Meets Phantom of the Park for notable examples. And yes, it's a shame that artists should be so maligned for attempted growth. But as long as artists continue to play both hands against the house, they stand to lose twice as much. As long as a musician's book of poetry is preoccupied in its press materials with mentioning how many Grammy nominations the poet has garnered, expect the yawns and wisecracks to flood in, and the literary world to turn its back.
In "Infinity Blues," Adams is polishing his hubcaps with one hand and absently typing a poem with the other, and this is why the public sneers. And in Adams case, he's spent the last decade building his own gallows. This book of poems, reeking of self seriousness, is just the hangman's noose.