Ryan Adams Addresses His Infamous "Summer of '69" Heckler Incident in New Op-Ed

Ryan Adams Addresses His Infamous "Summer of '69" Heckler Incident in New Op-Ed
Back in 2002, Ryan Adams made headlines for confronting and subsequently ejecting a heckler who demanded he play Bryan Adams's "Summer of '69" during a live set in Nashville. Of course, he ended up performing the song in the same venue 13 years later, but Adams has now detailed his side of the story in a new op-ed.

Published by the New York Times, Adams's first-person account tells of how he felt both in the moment and after a story about the incident made its way through the press. An excerpt from his op-ed reads as follows:

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.


Adams felt that he "became an attraction for people who wanted to pay money to hurl insults at someone" after the incident was reported by the Associated Press. In retrospect, however, he feels it was "the beginning of who I am today":

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.

Adams concluded by revealing that he would have picked Bryan Adams's "Run to You" instead, another hit from the Canadian songwriter that he's performed live on occasion.

Adams's new LP, Prisoner, is set for release on February 17 through Pax Am/Blue Note/Capitol. You can read Adams's full op-ed here.