In a 2003 Spin exposé dubbed "Who the Fuck is Ryan Adams?" James Barber, Geffen Records A&R guy-turned-record producer, said: "In every interview you read with Ryan, he talks about growing up on hardcore and Black Flag and punk rock. It's like, 'Where's that in your music?'"
Ask former Patty Duke Syndrome drummer Brian Walsby or perhaps the ghost of Jere McIlwean, the late bass player of that legendary, oft whispered-of trio and you might find the answer.
Patty Duke Syndrome--Adams' band that followed a series of short-lived acts and Sadlacks-era experiments--is where that is in Ryan Adams' music. Barber produced Rock 'N' Roll, Adams' appropriately named attempt to show the world that he had rock 'n' roll built into his balls, if not his brain. But the unreleased Syndrome is that real rock 'n' roll of Adams' unheard back catalogue--earnest, eager, youthful, honest and at least somewhat spontaneous.
The 11 tracks recorded by Jerry Kee on Aug. 28, 1993 deliver on rock music's promised lack of easy compromise. On the stabbing, crunchy, Replacements-friendly "What's Your Name?" Adams sings "You were a little girl/this is a fucked up world" with a natural ease; a decade later on Rock 'N' Roll's "Wish You Were Here," he barrels, "It's totally fucked up/I'm totally fucked up/Wish you were here" with less eloquence and the strained sense that, if it's going to be rock 'n' roll, it's going to have "fuck" in the chorus.
Surely, Adams' influences are written all over every track, as they have been for most everything he has ever recorded. But that's what makes this still-unreleased album so alluring: The distilled lessons of Dinosaur Jr., Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Superchunk (Walsby and Mac McCaughan were apparently at the Cradle together when Walsby and Adams met) and countless others are easily recognizable. That's why it's so good. Much more so at 18 than at 28, Adams sounds genuinely affected and inspired by his idols, playing his own games with their lessons because it is fun, not potentially profitable. "Song for Sara Bell," the result of Adams' crush on the Dish siren, isn't his lyrical highpoint, but its undeterred affection shines through as Adams follows the chant of "Your Eyes" with "Hypnotize" half-a-dozen times. That's followed by an ode to Erectus Monotone and preceded by a nod to Honor Role's Bob Schick. Elsewhere, the songwriting predicts what have since become Adams' hallmarks: the need to leave, the fight to stay, the pains of romance, the brink of self-destruction and the beer-bottle path to the edge.
There are flaws recorded into the cracks: Walsby rushes headlong on the bass drum during "What's Your Name?" and Adams seems to forget what he's playing on "Crow's Nest" coming out of the second chorus. Again, it's those miscues adding much of the charm here, spotlighting the uncorrupted, first-take nature of this one-day session. Rock 'n' roll, dude.