Bryan Adams: The Man, The Music, The Cause
| December 1st, 2008
Photo by Bryan Adams
2008 has been a banner year for Bryan Adams. His latest album, 11, coyly named so because it is his eleventh studio release, was critically acclaimed and shot to number 1 on the charts. His global acoustic tour in support of it was sold out to rapturous reviews.
Back home in Canada, he finally had time to pick up his star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, a decade after receiving the honour, play a charity concert to benefit the Evangelista/Adams Centre for Breast Screening in St. Catharines, Ont., all while “Summer of ’69,” his monster smash of 1984, was voted the best summer song of all time by radio listeners.
On the 10 days out of the month Adams was not touring, he could be found shooting photographic portfolios and campaigns for a slew of international clients and his exhibit, Hear the World, for which he photographed renowned musicians to help raise awareness for hearing loss, opened in Berlin, New York and Zurich. Despite his peripatetic lifestyle, the indefatigable Adams, 49, put down his six-string long enough to chat during one of the rare occasions he could be found at his home in London, England.
Suzanne Boyd: How long have you lived in London? And do you still consider Canada home?
Bryan Adams: I’ve been living in this country on and off for around 18 years now. I always like coming back to Canada. I actually have my studio there.
SB: It’s in Gastown in Vancouver, right?
BA: The idea was to choose a building in a heritage part of town that could potentially be torn down and turn it into artistic space — making the most of something that could be really amazing. I found a derelict warehouse that had been burnt out, and I refurbished it and turned it into The Warehouse Studio. We’ve had everybody from Elton John and REM to ACDC and Nickelback in there. So, it’s an amazing studio.
SB: I’ve been there, and it’s really beautiful. Do you have other reclamation projects?
BA: Me! I’m a reclamation project.
SB: People are really interested in you and your personal life, but you never talk about it. Do you think the music speaks for itself as to who you are as a person?
BA: I don’t think anybody can totally reveal themselves through their music. There is always going to be a question mark, and that’s the intangible and beautiful thing about music. You can’t analyze everything about it because it is a mystery, and that’s incredible and exciting.
SB: But the music that you did when you first started and the music you’re doing now, does that say different things about you as a person?
BA: I think that there is no question that when you start out, you have a different way of going about things because you don’t really know certain things. I hate to say it but I wish I knew now what I didn’t know then. The idea is, you know, the naivete when you go into things, and I sense, in some ways particularly, not knowing a lot can sometimes be a good thing.
SB: They always say rock music is sort of a young man’s game, but as rock music has grown up, so have all the great artists.
BA: I think so. I learned more on my first tour when I was 19 or 20 than I did on pretty much any other tour. Because during those early days, I figured out this is the real me.
SB: Your songs tend to follow two streams: rock ‘n’ roll fun or great love ballads. What do you love in life?
BA: Well, right now, for example, I spent half my day talking about my foundation [The Bryan Adams Foundation], and I’m really enjoying doing that. I met someone who started a foundation here in London that helps dysfunctional children. She has two centres here and she’s looking for more ways of doing it because she has 12,000 children all coming from dysfunctional homes. I think it’s an incredible thing, and she’s doing it with love. So, I guess, what do I love? I love the idea of being involved with people like that, who are giving. And I love being out on tour because it makes a lot of people happy. I’ve got a family of people I’ve been with for a long time, and I feel marginally responsible for keeping that going. I love a good dinner. And I love a hot bath.
SB: All good things. You said you feel marginally responsible for keeping it going. Do you ever think of a day where you would not tour?
BA: No, not really, because I like it too much.
SB: Back to the foundation, when did you create it?
BA: Actually, I have been involved in philanthropy for a long time, but now I’m focusing on making more of the foundation. It’s completely funded by my photography. All the money that I make from my photography, whether it’s working on campaigns, magazines or donations from the people I work with. For example, I did something recently with BlackBerry where I did a series of portraits. We called them Modern Muses, which hung at the National Portrait Gallery in London. They were shots of influential and powerful women in the Uu.Kk. who are doing great things. Some of them were architects, some of them were lawyers, some of them war journalists. A lot of them were philanthropists. They were very generous and gave a donation to the foundation, and I did the shots for free.
SB: We are running two self-portraits of you, including the cover shot. What is it like to photograph yourself?
BA: Photographing myself is akin to photographing Shrek. Trying to keep still for long enough is the problem. I get very impatient with myself and generally use the first or second photo I take.
SB: Did you have any idea your love of photography would blow up into something this meaningful to you as an artist and to your foundation?
BA: Not really. I had no idea. None at all. I used to go to my guitar player to be my museon tour. Anytime I wanted to get some pictures, I used to get Keith [Scott, his longtime guitarist and best friend since they met in Toronto when Adams was 16] to take his clothes off and jump around the room. He doesn’t want anyone to see the pictures. He’s sworn me to secrecy or he’ll kill me.
SB: I won’t print that! So would you shoot when you were travelling?
BA: Yes. That’s how I initially started back in 1980 when I was on my first tour. I brought my camera with me so I could document it and, then, the work I did with you [at Flare magazine in 1999]. It was really great, and it gave me some confidence to go forward and work with Linda Evangelista, which gave me more confidence. So just the combination from all those things together just pushed it to a different level.
SB: And did it allow you to express a different side of yourself? People always think of you as the guy in the white t-shirt, the guy in the lumberjack shirt. Canadiana. Your photography has put you in the world of high fashion and international style, and a lot of people wouldn’t put that in your sphere of interest.
BA: I think the lumberjack shirt is very fashionable.
SB: I agree. You made it fashionable.
BA: I think Neil Young made it fashionable, but I just rode on his coattails.
SB: People would now say that Bryan Adams is a fashion person.
BA: Do they?
SB: Absolutely. You’re shooting for Vogue, Bazaar and Tatler as well as advertising campaigns or companies like Diesel and Guess. You own Zoo magazine [published in Germany], which is a really fashion-forward, very innovative style magazine, and you’ve done a photography book with Calvin Klein. Do you think people are surprised at that side of you?
BA: No. I’ve never heard anybody talk about it, to be honest. Have you ever heard anybody talk about it?
BA:Really? I’ve never had anybody talk to me about anything like that. They might talk to you about it.SB: So let’s not. So…how’s the family?
BA: Everyone’s good. Mom is great.
SB: Your mother just turned 80 and is an artist.
BA:She’s painting away. She decided later in life that she wanted to paint to keep occupied, and she ended up painting quite seriously. My younger brother Bruce and I support that wholeheartedly, although some of the subject matter — we have to shake our heads. I don’t want to get into that, but let’s just say there’s been a few eye rolls. I’m happy she’s still active and excited, and she’s never lost her passion for life. And when things started to get dull, she found another way.SB: Has that inspired you because you are such a forward-moving person? You’re always doing something new or writing another song or taking another photo or working with your foundation. Do you get that from your mom?
BA:I must say my father’s equally as active and equally as engaged in his own way. He’s very learned and very well-read and very active in local politics — and I think, each to his own.SB: Looking forward, what is next for you?
BA:Let’s see. Just my music and more tours, and I look forward to doing a bit of a Canadian tour in the New Year. It’s going to be more of the same, really. I can see the foundation becoming more active. The motto of the foundation is helping people help people. I want to find people with really great ideas and help them bring them to fruition. It’s just really exciting to see things come together like this.SB: Do you ever think about age at all?
BA:No, I don’t think about it at all. But I’m reminded all the time.
SB: By people like me asking you if you think about age at all?
BA:People do that. But I really don’t. People like to remind me. “Coming up to a big one,” they say, “coming up to a big one.” Oh yeah, I guess I am.SB: You are always described in the press, as “the boyish Bryan Adams.”