Emotional Motion Sickness

By C.B. Radio

In the late summer of 2017, as the cusp of the ‘Me Too’ era was about to shock the country, a relatively unknown singer-songwriter named Phoebe Bridgers dropped “Motion Sickness,” the folky breakup ballad and debut single that sounded partly like Joan Jett and partly like Joni Mitchell.

“I hate you for what you did,” sang Bridgers bluntly as the song began, not mincing words but eventually relenting “but I miss you like a little kid / I faked it every time / but that’s alright / I can hardly feel anything / I hardly feel anything at all.” There’s a fiery undercurrent to Bridger’s lyrics, but also a dull numbness that overshadows her pain, perhaps the sign of a bad breakup, but maybe also indicative of something more disturbing.

“Motion Sickness” – it turns out – is a song about Ryan Adams, the disgraced alt-country indie star who, in a harrowing New York Times story from February, was outed as a serial abuser. The Times interviewed Adams’ ex-wife Mandy Moore, Bridgers, and many other women, including an unnamed source who says she was underaged when Adams tried to solicit her on social media.

It’s another major comeuppance of the “Me Too” era, as abusers from all walks of life are exposed – not limited to the indie music sphere, which includes stories about not only Ryan Adams abusing women, but also troubling accounts involving queer fuzz-rock duo PWR BTTM and others involving the math-rock British band Hookworms. The outcry is not just limited to people like Harvey Weinstein. The problem is much more pervasive.

Unfortunately, abuse and the music industry have a longstanding relationship. John Lennon beat his first wife. David Bowie allegedly bedded underage girls regularly. Hair metal icons can commit sexual assault on stage for an entire concert hall to see, yet no charges filed. R. Kelly. Chris Brown. The list goes on.

In the past, famous people could mostly get away with abusive behavior – even middling country rock acts like Ryan Adams, who has been a negative influence on not only his own social circle, but also other contemporary bands (Adams allegedly caused infighting among members of the Strokes after they rose to popularity in the early 2000s). It’s a testament to the bravery of women like Phoebe Bridgers, then, that Adams is now on public alert. It could save someone from being abused by him in the future.

Writing a song about your abuser isn’t hard — talking about your experience and contributing to a tell-all in the New York Times is, and Bridgers, Mandy Moore, and countless other brave women risk their reputations by telling the truth when keeping quiet is far easier. “Motion Sickness” is a great song, a conflicted, honest look at an unsettling time in a young woman’s life – but when Bridgers opens up and calls out her abuser, it resonates just as loudly as her singing voice.

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