October 1, 2008

The Will Ferrell/Ryan Adams Effect

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On Friday night at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals ripped through a slew of musical styles, from rock to folk to ballads to country swing. Adams and his band roared through genres as quickly as Will Ferrell rips through mostly-shoddy Hollywood comedies (Step Brothers, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory, Stranger Than Fiction, Talladega Nights — all of these post-Wedding Crashers, just to name a few).
Ryan Adams has released nine albums in the past eight years, two of those double-discs, and has another album slated for release later this month. He has written country ballads, garage-rockers, folksy jams and even uploaded heavy-metal trash and rap experiments onto his web page. The singer is prolific to the point of absurdity and has gotten due flack for it — mostly because lots of what he puts out is the stuff that should be edited away.
Strangely, for this reason, I love Ryan Adams. But conversely, it is for this same reason that I dislike Will Ferrell.
In fact, over the past few years my dislike has evolved into a full-fledged hate for Ferrell, after the blundering mimesis of his once funny character into a stock-roll in a huge catalogue of generally cruddy movies.
Amazingly — and luckily — however, after I re-watched Old School this weekend, I had a flashing change of heart. After about three or four years of hating on Ferrell, I was rolling off my couch, laughing, as I was suddenly reminded how funny the comedian can be. I was reminded that, indeed, he is, well, really funny.
Despite Ferrell’s great performance, I give the actor flack for the exact same reason that critics give Ryan Adams flack: Critics scorn both men for regurgitating the same material over and over again. Before re-watching Old School, I thought Ferrell’s case was different than Adams’. I thought that Ferrell just wasn’t funny. But this isn’t the case. Ferrell is funny. It’s just that too much of a good thing is, well, a bad thing.
But still, this doesn’t explain why I love Ryan Adams, but not Ferrell. It’s unlikely that any other contemporary singer/songwriter releases more material than he does. And yet, for me, it never gets old.
With this in mind, I do stand fairly alone in my adornment of Ryan Adams. The concert on Friday night was far from sold out and most people there were in their mid-30s, and hardly a set I would describe as tastemakers.
This only helps to illustrate my point. People seem to get tired of the same old thing. No matter how good that thing was or is.
In a larger sense, this problem has certainly entered the consciousness of many publicists, agents, managers and actors. In a recent article in The New York Times, Michael Cera was profiled as a self-conscious, smiley and nearly lethargic actor (big surprise), who wants to “take it slow.”
Whoa! My favorite — and arguably the best — comedian in this new Judd Apatow coterie wants to take it slow! This is George Michael Bluth we’re talking about here. A really funny dude is scared to make too many movies. That’s nuts! And frankly, I’m scared.
I bet Cera’s scared too. He’s frightened that his hyper-awkward (and thereby totally cool) character will be reduced to unfunny stock if he makes too many movies too quickly.
By reiterating the same role too often, could Michael Cera become the next Will Ferrell?
I think no matter how great any actor may be, they run the risk of slipping into the Will Ferrell scenario. And for that matter, the Ryan Adams scenario as well.
But in a way, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A good movie and solid performance aren’t changed by the schlock made after the fact. Case in point: Will Ferrell’s Old School, as I have said, is great. Likewise, Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker will always be a masterpiece no matter how bad Rock ’n Roll is.
On Friday night in Syracuse, Ryan Adams played a brilliant rendition of “Come Pick Me Up,” a chugging and poignant masterpiece from 2000’s Heartbreaker about longing for a cheating girlfriend. In the chorus, he sings: “I wish you would / Come pick me up / Take me out / Fuck me up / Steal all my records / Screw all my friends / They’re all full of shit / With a smile on your face / And then do it again / I wish you would.”
The beauty and emotion of Adams’ debut masterpiece reminds me why he is my favorite singer/songwriter. And the song’s lyrics could not be more appropriate.
After a really great singer releases tons of shitty music (something Adams knows a lot about), you feel cheated. You feel ripped off by the hundreds of bad songs released.
But if the singer’s original performance was good enough — as moving as Adams’ song “Come Pick Me Up” certainly is — you will perpetually yearn to listen to it again: To be picked up, taken out, fucked up — and then you’ll ask for it again. And again. And again.