Easy Tiger – By Ryan Adams

I’m listening to Ryan Adams a lot at the moment (not to be confused with Bryan Adams by the way). As a band we play a couple of his songs in our standard set. Lyrically Adams is poetic, musically he blends country (listen out for the lap steel and the banjo), with a more contemporary feel. What is interesting is that he faces the harsh realities of life and relationships very openly, which is illustrated in his 2007 album ‘Easy Tiger’.

On first listening there are some very catchy tunes, thoughtful numbers and even a jolly jig (Pearls on a String) in the middle. But as you read the lyrics you find a much darker world that Adams, at least poetically, inhabits.

The album starts with great optimism in the song ‘Goodnight Rose’. Rose is told to relax, to put her troubles behind her and sleep well. The reality is, says Adams, that there’s lots of things people don’t understand, so don’t rush around so much, life seems to go fast enough as it is. The hope is that ‘tomorrow’ will bring the victory for them both. It may be uncertain, but they can face it together.

Apart from ‘Pearls on a String’ there is only one other song that offers any real hope in the face of tragedy. The song is entitled ‘Tears of Gold’ and seems to be describing a Christian family dealing with death. There are tears, but life goes on (‘Laura’ is making the dinner and ‘Mary Anne’ is asked to say grace before eating, as she wipes the tears from her face). What helps them get on? It’s the hope of ‘the rapture’. There is the hope that the tears of gold will be replaced with music and laughter. Death does hurt, the tears are ‘evidence of the pain that she feels’, but there is real hope in the face of death.

The rest of the album offers little that resembles this hope. The very next song after ‘Tears of Gold’ is called ‘The Sun also Sets’ – whereas dawn gives hope in ‘Goodnight Rose’, here there is no hope offered – the song ends with the sun setting. He was in a relationship that just ‘faded out’. He thought there was ‘love enough left to fix it’, but clearly not. What is the refrain? ‘There it is’. This is a theme that comes up a number of times in Adams’ songs. There is a recognition of the brokenness of life, but a feeling that it is inevitable. He speaks as though a lot of it is simply out of his control. In the second song ‘Two’ his brokenness is seen in light of a broken sink – an inanimate object. Later he says that he has ‘a really good heart, I just can’t catch a break’. It’s not his fault that he is broken, he is helpless in the face of it. There is a similar feeling of helplessness in ‘Everybody knows’ as he explains how he’s always in need and can’t reciprocate the love and care this woman has shown him. There’s no hope of holding on to her when he’s ‘spinning out of control’. This lack of hope comes up when dealing with prostitutes, which are hinted at in a couple of the songs. In ‘O my God, whatever, etc.’ (speaks for itself!) there is again the talk of the morning bringing hope. But then the chorus comes in ‘Oh my God (despair?), Whatever (passive acceptance?), etc. (it goes on…) The theme of prostitution comes up again in ‘These girls’. But this time he is the one being used by them. Still, even though he knows this, he wants them, he’s been waiting for them, cos when they smile…

How does he feel at the end of the song? He’s tired, and he wants to go to bed. This is another theme that builds momentum through the album. ‘Off Broadway’ talks of his feeling of homelessness after a breakup. The passing cars speeding past him remind him of their relationship. But where is his home? He doesn’t know anymore. He’s tired, and he wants to go home. In ‘Rip Off’ Adams speaks of knowing countless people who don’t know themselves but want to fix themselves. But there’s little hope of that. He makes promises ‘but they hurt’. Again it seems like it’s the promises, and not him who hurts.

By the final song we seem to have reached the end of his journey from hope in the new day, to an acceptance that life goes on, you grow old and you die. The final song is called ‘I taught myself how to grow old.’ As we did in the first song we meet ‘Rose’ again. This time, however, she is ‘poor little Rose’. Perhaps she didn’t take the advice of the first song, but she is now ‘beaten by the rain, in the wind, in the gale, the thunder and the hail. He’s feeling the pressure of the pain that builds over the years. So how does he react to this difficulty? He’s taught himself to grow old, ‘without any love’. That is his coping mechanism. But it is clear it has not meant a good life. He is now ‘crooked on the outside, and the insides broke’. Later he says that the ‘insides caved’. The album finishes with the line ‘I taught myself how to grow old’.

Ryan Adams takes a very realistic look at life, and this realism is corroborated by the Bible. Life is broken. Relationships break up, people are selfish, they leave relationships as the thing they wanted ‘fades away’. We naturally blame everything but ourselves. We feel victims, that we’re good at heart but we’ve been dealt ‘a bad hand’. But what can you do in the face of such brokenness? If you don’t believe in the rapture, then perhaps all you can say is ‘there it is’. When it is not your fault, when it is outside of your control, and it seems anyone’s control, perhaps that is the only answer you can give. The only way to cope is by teaching yourself how to grow old sheltering yourself from the harsh side of love, when it falls apart. ‘Three words is all it takes to break a heart in two’ says Adams. We want to hear the three words ‘I love you’, but so often it becomes those other, heart breaking three words ‘I hate you’.

Ryan Adams raises some serious issues, that all too often as Christians we ignore. People are hurting, and they do not understand the cause and have no hope of an answer for that hurt. But the Bible speaks right into that situation. First of all it makes clear that a lot of these problems are not something that have happened too us, but are something done by us. When we choose not to love, even when things seem to be fading, when we realise we’re sinful at heart then far from this removing hope it actually brings hope when we encounter Jesus. For Adams the problem is outside himself and seemingly not in anyone’s control. In the Bible the problem is inside of us, again it is not in our control, but it is in God’s. Jesus is the one who gives hope for tomorrow by bringing forgiveness for all the hurt causes, and healing to these broken hearts. He is the one who enables us to grow old, not by hiding from loving others, but by loving others, giving ourselves sacrificially, even when it may hurt. He’s the one who gives us hope beyond death so those tears of gold can be turned to music and laughter. It is a wonderful vision, and is a sure hope, so that we don’t have to say ‘well, there it is’. Things will change and we have seen the hints of that in the life of Jesus. We’ve seen sickness and death overcome, we’ve seen one who was able to give everything for the sake of others. And most importantly we’ve seen our sin forgiven.

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