Ryan Adams' fans are so devoted they'll serve two years' probation
This post has been updated. See below for details.
A piece in Sunday's Calendar profiled the alt-country singer Ryan Adams, whose new album, "Ashes & Fire," represents a kind of cleansing for a few difficult years. He plays Hollywood Forever tonight (and godspeed on getting in). As part of researching the piece, I talked with Rob Thomas, moderator of the popular Adams-centric message-board site ToBeYoung.
In 2005, in a case sprearheaded by the RIAA and Universal Music, Thomas was one of two fans who plead guilty to federal copyright violations for posting advance tracks from Adams' 2005 album "Jacksonville City Nights." Yet Thomas still runs the board and maintains a (complicated) affection for Adams' music.
Our short interview is below.
What exactly happened after your track-posting incident in 2005? Did you end up facing fines or legal ramifications?
The case ended with my co-defendant and I accepting a plea deal. We were originally charged with felony counts, but were able to plea it down to a misdemeanor. We both received two months of house arrest and two years of probation. I was able to have my ankle bracelet removed a few days early due to good behavior, and my probation ended a few months ahead of schedule for the same reason. There was no restitution to be paid to the record label, as they were unable to prove that they suffered any monetary loss due to the leak of the four tracks.
You still run the ToBeYoung board, and I’m assuming that means you’re still a fan. Your relationship to Ryan’s music must be really complex, Describe how you feel listening to it now after everything that happened.
It was quite hard to listen to his music for awhile after the case. I had shut the board down while everything was happening, and wasn't sure if I was ever going to bring it back. After everything was resolved, I decided to bring the board back, as I missed the community that was created there.
Quite often, he is the least discussed topic on the site. It's just a great group of music lovers who enjoy the outlet the site gives them. As of today, I have no problem listening to Ryan's music. It has all been put behind me, for the most part. I treat him the same as any other artist that I listen to. I actually might be a little tougher on him since everything he does is put under a microscope on the board. He has since contacted me explaining that he did everything he could to get the charges dropped, but that it was out of his hands. Whether that is true or not, I'll never know for sure.
Why do you think Ryan has kept such a powerful hold on longtime fans through a long and difficult career? Is it his charisma, his prolific catalog that rewards deep interest, or something else?
I think his personality plays a big part of it. It's hard not to be interested in seeing what he'll do next. I mean he's already retired from music more times than I can remember. He's always going to come back, but it's hard to predict what he's going to do or release next. However, I don't think any of this would matter if he wasn't such a great songwriter. It's easy to put up with his antics and all the joke songs he releases when we know he'll be able to pull us back in by releasing another great album. And with the pace of his output, whether it be music, books or artwork, we're always going to have something to discuss and critique.
A lot of the mainstream media seemed to be, in a way, disappointed that an “authentic” alt-country singer like Adams turned out to have a sense of humor and be kind of goofy and release black metal albums and do rap mixtapes and such. What do you think the mainstream misunderstands about his personality?
This is a tough question to answer. It's hard for me to say I have a good understanding of his personality. I just see what he puts out there for all of us to see. He doesn't have much of a filter on his work. If he records something, he's going to put it out there at some point. I feel that he enjoys seeing the reaction that some of the stuff will get on the Internet. He is very in tune with the criticisms his fans are making. I guess the mainstream may have just misunderstood that he is no different than any of us. He loves the Internet.
-- August Brown
[UPDATE: This post was edited for clarity to specify that the RIAA and Universal Music led the case against Thomas.]
Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times