Sunday, February 24, 2013

David Menconi's "Ryan Adams: Losering"

David Menconi is a music critic and arts reporter at the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He has also written two books – 2012’s Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown and 2000’s Off The Record – which are closely connected even though one’s a non-fiction biography and the other’s a novel.

Fittingly for our purposes here, Menconi points out here, that connection centers on the idea of casting:
When it comes to casting the Ryan Adams bio-pic based on Losering, I went through that process a long time ago – only in reverse. Going on two decades ago, I was writing Off The Record, a roman a clef set in the music business that focused on a crazy-brilliant-troubled rock star overcome with self-consciousness. Since this was my first (and so far only) foray into book-length fiction, the characters were pretty directly based on real people I knew.

The plot called for my rock-star character, Tommy Aguilar, to be a charming never-do-well who remained likable even while doing objectionable things, plus a brilliant musician. On both counts, Ryan was the perfect model. During Whiskeytown’s mid-’90s days as a local Raleigh band, I went to every show I could and lurked about, committing Ryan’s mannerisms to memory. Ryan had was a great performer who had a flair for the dramatic in everything from onstage presentation to offstage interviews, making an impression with even the most mundane movements and gestures. He worked guitars, microphones, beer bottles and cigarettes (not to mention admirers and haters) with equal facility. It was like watching a Rock Star 101 master class, hardscrabble bar-band life as performance art at the highest level.

And so Ryan became Tommy in my mind’s eye, even though they didn’t really sound much alike. Ryan certainly had plenty of rough, raw and wild moments with Whiskeytown back then; but my imagined Tommy was exponentially more volatile, with a penchant for triggering riots. Still, as I wrote Off The Record, I heard them speaking in the same voice, and I’ve always thought of Tommy as Ryan’s evil twin. You could say that Ryan and I spent a lot of time in each other’s heads back then, although only one of us was aware of that.

Who, then, should play Ryan in Losering? While it’s tempting to say no one but Ryan himself could do it (and his only big-screen appearance to date is as himself, a performance scene in Judd Apatow’s This Is 40), there is only one actor I can imagine pulling it off: Johnny Depp, who has the right combination of grit, edge and depth. Depp is pushing 50, of course, which means he’s a couple of decades too old. But he’s been playing Keith Richards in Pirates of the Carribbean movies for 10 years now, so how hard could it be?

If anybody is capable of bringing the young Ryan’s brash swagger to life, it’s Captain Jack Sparrow.
Learn more about Ryan Adams: Losering, A Story of Whiskeytown at the author’s blog.

The Page 99 Test: Ryan Adams: Losering.

--Marshal Zeringue