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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with music writer David Menconi


David Menconi

_David Menconi, The (Raleigh) News & Observer’s music critic since 1991, is making waves with his recent biography — “Ryan Adams: Losering, a Story of Whiskeytown” — about the former frontman of the local alternative rock band Whiskeytown.

Staff writer Sarah Ang spoke with Menconi about the book, his adoration of Adams — and writing about an uncooperative subject._

Daily Tar Heel: Why did you write this book?

David Menconi: It was a story worth telling and a story that tied in a lot about the local music scene, which I’ve been covering for over 20 years for the paper.

There was a time back when people described the Triangle as “the next Seattle.” It was going to be the next alternative rock boomtown. That was when Ryan got here, and he was a part of that. He was a window into recreating that era of local music history.

DTH: Is the book more about Ryan or Raleigh’s music scene?

DM: It’s definitely focused on Ryan, but there’s a good bit about the scene he came out of.

DTH: What was your favorite part of writing the book?

DM: One of Whiskeytown’s records back then was called Strangers Almanac. I’ve always thought of that record as the definitive Raleigh record of the time.

I interpreted that narrative as if it were a narrative about a night out, and what he must have been thinking and feeling in each song.

DTH: What inspired the title?

DM: “Losering” is a song title from Strangers Almanac. It’s a very abstract song and one that doesn’t reveal its meaning easily. I’ve always interpreted the lyrics as trying to decide if what you want is worth giving up what you have.

It seemed like a perfect metaphor or symbol for his career.

Adams is someone who got what he wanted, but in the process, gave up what he wanted.

DTH: You say you’re the best and worst person to write Adams’ story. Can you explain?

DM: I was kind of part of it at one time. That’s why parts of this book are first-person. It’s a fairly unconventional biography, as these things go.

I wanted the focus to be about him, his life, his career, his music. It’s impossible for me to be an impartial observer.

DTH: Do you admire him?

DM: I admire his music very greatly. I admire the art.

I admire his determination and willingness to say anything.

He’s certainly also said and done many obnoxious things to many people over the years. But I always do find him kind of charming. Somebody else who read the book said I showed an almost fatherly compassion towards him.

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DTH: Are you frustrated that Adams refused to cooperate?

DM: I was disappointed. The part of his story that was most interesting to me was from a very long time ago, when I talked to him quite a bit.

It didn’t feel quite so necessary to speak to him today, but it certainly would have been interesting to have his input.

His lawyer told me one reason Ryan didn’t want to participate was because his memory had faded. The memories aren’t all that clear for him, it seems like. Which isn’t entirely surprising, given how much drinking was going on.

DTH: Why do you think Ryan asked other people not to divulge anything to you?

DM: I think he thought I was writing a different book than I was. This isn’t the scandal book about Adams, which is out there, if anyone wants to do it. The “Ryan Adams as a jerk” book is something any number of people can do.

DTH: What were you worried about while writing?

DM: There’s this perception and kind of a taint about an unauthorized biography.

Ryan hasn’t responded to this in public, but I figure he will at some point. He might have some ugly things to say.

DTH: So you think it turned out well?

DM: I do. It’s impossible to write a book by just despising it and thinking it’s terrible.

The only reason to do a book is if it’s burning a hole in you to get out, and I think this one was.

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