Ryan Adams Writes NY Times Essay About His Infamous “Summer Of ’69” Heckler

For the last 15 years, Ryan Adams has endured a routine, cruel joke: audience members at his concerts heckling him to play Bryan Adams’ 1984 single “Summer Of ’69.” The root of his misfortune is an incident back in 2002 during Adams’ first headlining performance at the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, when a fan continuously berated him to play the song of his near-namesake throughout the show, resulting in Adams walking off stage to ask him to leave. That exchange became headline news, and a significant source of frustration for Adams, who has since made peace with it and has even been now known to take up the request on occasion.

While he’s discussed the matter in a number of interviews, Adams shared today an official first-person account of that fateful evening to the New York Times. As evidenced by his songwriting, Adams is an excellent storyteller, and his essay is an evocative depiction of what went down. Here’s an excerpt:

I finally had enough and piped up: “Who is it? Who is shouting? Tell me who it is!” I asked the person to raise his hand so I could see him. He did not. Finally people pointed furiously to a seat not far from me in the front. I walked down the few wooden steps in front of the stage to the aisle where all the fingers pointed.

By the time I got there, I was so angry. I felt humiliated, but what else could be done? Either way I had lost something. Unlike a more seasoned comic or musician, I didn’t have the experience to ignore a situation like this, or to use wit to turn it around. I felt a kind of disappointment and disillusionment that I had never known — and it was in front of a thousand-plus people.

As I approached the heckler’s wooden pew, I was shocked. He was only a few years older than me. Unshaven, bleary-eyed. He had on a baseball hat and seemed so drunk that his limbs hung from his sides like a broken doll. His eyes were like two poached eggs waiting to break. The anger left me, and I instantly felt bad. No one was there for this man. No one stopped him.

I said, “Hey man, if you were trying to ruin the show you succeeded, but I need to try and finish this — it’s my job.” I pulled out two $20 bills and said: “Here is your money, please take a taxi and leave here. Go home and take an aspirin. Please. Leave.”

I walked back to the stage. People applauded. The fourth wall was destroyed in the worst possible way. But this moment, where I decided to do what the security and the people around him would not, felt genuine. It is what I would have done if I were in the audience.

He goes on to discuss the journalist who first publicized the incident that would never cease to dog him, as well as his subsequent growth in response:

I became the person who would send an email every year to the genius writer of that song on his birthday, which is also mine. I would learn how to show empathy, or fight for myself, or make fun of it all, and shine some love on that lonely, crazy person we have all stood next to before, screaming into the night from the shadows. I toasted the last drink I ever drank to that heckler the day I cleaned up.

He also shares in the piece his feelings about playing the Ryman for the first time and that his own personal Bryan Adams jam is “Run To You.” You can (and should) read the whole essay here.

Adams’ upcoming sixteenth studio album Prisoner is out 2/17 via Pax Am/Blue Note/Capitol.