One thing about Ryan Adams’ music: it’s always perfect for the rain. Like a lot of musicians, his whole career has arguably been about recapturing the soul of his first album. Heartbreaker might be the best singer-songwriter album of the last two decades, a quiet showcase of Adam’s gift for simple melody and the immediate lyricism that launched him to the forefront of alt-country.
“To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” isn’t very indicative of the rest of Heartbreaker, and it certainly isn’t the track that most people pick as an immediate highlight (that would go to instant classics like “Come Pick Me Up” or “Oh My Sweet Carolina”). It’s a jangly rocker, the busy rimshot that kicks off the record before it settles into a series of increasingly slow and pretty ballads. But like all great opening tracks, it immediately sets the tone, without even needing the words: rain’s pounding on the window, the city’s alive outside, but in here, can you just leave that record on?
Like a lot of Adams’ opening tracks, “To Be Young…” also works as a thesis statement for the record at large: “When you’re young, you get said, then you get high…then you be high ’cause you got sad.” This cycle of who-did-what-and-why, reasons and excuses and regrets all getting tangled in a mess—it’s what Adams thinks being young and sad is all about. Then the song’s bridge lifts up and Adams goes into his falsetto; maybe it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it. He’s reminding you of “the days [when] the rain would fall your way” and you’re on the precipice, suspended on a raindrop that’s about to do what comes naturally to everything in the world: fall.
“Oh man,” Adams sighs. And you know exactly how he feels.
Play this song: While you walk through the city in the rain, not caring how soaked your jeans get.