On Sept. 11, 2001, alt-country troubadour Ryan Adams released what would become his most successful single to date. That same day, the song’s simple video hit VH1 and MTV. The timing was almost eerie, given the song’s title — “New York, New York” — and the prominence of the Twin Towers in its NYC-centric video, which Adams reveals was inspired by his love of “Friends.”
Now, ten years after 9/11, Adams revisits that peculiar-yet-crucial moment in his career, and the anthemic rise of “New York, New York,” off his Sept. 2001 album, “Gold.”
I remember so clearly when your “New York, New York” video came out — right on 9/11. Having the Twin Towers in the video, how did you react? Did you ever worry it would be pulled from the networks?
Adams: I did what anybody would have done. I said I wasn’t working the song, not playing it live. Basically, my request was that the song wouldn’t be used in any television, documentaries or commercials, and that they would just take the video off. I was told they couldn’t take the video out of rotation. The same guy that signed me [to my publishing contract] had become the head A&R guy at Lost Highway [Adams’ label at the time], so you do the math on that (laughs). It played a few times, and I said that if they didn’t add some kind of statement to the video, I was gonna protest in some way. Finally they took care of it.
It’s one of the most quintessentially “New York” videos ever. Did the timing freak you out?
It was so weird, like it was meant to be. The original video, we shot was in a taxi cab and it came out badly. I was a fanatic for the show “Friends.” Like, I’ve seen every episode in order. So I said, “Can we just shoot it so it has all the angles from the ‘Friends’ opening sequence, when they show the city?” If you actually look at “Friends,” and the angles that sweep by in the opening sequence, it’s pretty much exactly where I am in several of those parts of the video, in the performance part. So that was the original intention of the video, me poking fun at my “Friends” obsession.
You know, you couldn’t take a photograph of New York back then without the Towers being in there. It was always the way to frame your photograph. Even if you didn’t want the towers in the photograph, if you were pointing your camera in that direction, they would show up, as if they were omnipresent. They would get into photos without you even thinking about them. I made a lot of good decisions in my life, and making that song unavailable was good. I allowed the Yankees, NYPD and the fire department to use it if they wanted. I actually heard the beginning at a Yankee game in the old stadium, which was cool, because it wasn’t getting exploited.
It became an anthem, but in my opinion, it wasn’t cheesy. And this was at a time when there were quite a few musical tributes floating around, some of which were arguably cheesy.
I think it could have been taken the wrong way. A lot of people don’t know how records are made and don’t know when they come out. It only takes one person to say, “Shame on you for exploiting the losses of others for your own personal gain.” It only takes a snowball effect of that kind, and someone can misunderstand information in the United States. It only takes a spark to create an inferno. It starts as a snowball and there it goes. So I think the reaction to it was one good thing.
Where were you and what was your aim when you wrote the song?
The song was about a lady. It’s a poorly written song, I think, about my supposed time in New York in my early twenties. I always felt like it was going to be misappropriated anyway. I’m not from here, but it was like the “silly, new New Yorker” thing to do. I just only recently started playing it again, which is pretty cool. But I play it the way I originally played it, which was on piano.