What Ryan Adams’ songs mean to me, part one: So Alive

This song does such a great job of reminding me that I am alive.  Not only because it is inferred from the title, or even due to it being one of the more anthemic Ryan Adams tracks in his catalogue.  So Alive is brilliant at reminding me that I am alive because it is one of those songs that, when it is finished, I immediately have to fish into my pocket for my phone so that I can skip back and listen to it again.  And anybody who has witnessed me walking to or from a particular location (for that is my primary reason for walking:  to get to or from somewhere) will attest that, if I am not reaching into my pocket for my phone, I pretty much resemble a mindless zombie with no awareness of what is happening around me.

Perhaps what I enjoy most about that moment of being alive, when you hit ‘back’ and the opening guitar chord blasts out through the earphones again, is the idea that passers-by probably think that I am reading an exciting text message or receiving another massively complimentary comment on the colour of my socks.  When little do they know that the reality is that I simply want to hear a rare uplifting song from this melancholic alt. Americana troubadour again, because I can never listen to So Alive just once.

Always on your side
I’m on your side
And so alive it isn’t real

So Alive isn’t the first song I heard by Ryan Adams.  It isn’t even the first Ryan Adams song that I loved or that I love the most.  But it is the song which made me fall in love with his music and sparked a fourteen year and twenty gig obsession.

Tuesday 25th November 2003 was the first time I saw Ryan Adams play live.  It was the first gig I would attend.  I still have the ticket and some cuttings of newspaper reviews in a scrappy old notebook alongside my own handwritten review of the night.  My piece is overly sarcastic and lacking in depth.  Thankfully I have matured out of that habit.


I don’t remember a great deal about the performance.  I was young – barely twenty – and had enjoyed some Jack Daniels, whilst my enthusiastic scrawling suggests that everything he and his band played that night was the best thing ever.  But it is So Alive that truly left a lasting impression.  Rock N Roll had been released barely weeks before the tour and this would be the final song of the night.  It was delivered with an energy and a passion that still resonates today.  I can remember him perched on a speaker at the front of the stage bellowing these words with every ounce of his being.  Probably with a bottle of wine in hand, such was the Ryan Adams of the early 2000’s.  I knew immediately that he would be my favourite musician and that I would see him again and again.

The next time I saw Ryan Adams perform – in Liverpool in January 2004 – he played So Alive early in the set, it wasn’t nearly as impactful, and towards the end of the show he would fall from the stage and break his wrist.  He wouldn’t tour again until sometime in 2005.

I was already hooked, however, and like that ridiculously big falsetto in the chorus my appreciation of this song goes on and on.

Album:  Rock N Roll
Album release:  4th November 2003

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