Bryan Adams: Waking Up the World

by Vanessa Annand

Bryan Adams: Waking Up the World

When Bryan Adams sings that “it cuts like a knife,” you can almost feel the cold blade. When he reminisces about the summer of ’69, you’re certain those were the best days. When he confesses, “Everything I do, I do it for you,” you believe he’s got one driving motivation.
It turns out he does: to illuminate what can’t be ignored. If Adams was Waking Up the Neighbors early in his career, now he’s waking up the planet.

The luminary

Adams is entering the fourth decade of a rock career that’s seen him win a Grammy, belt out beloved movie theme songs, and have his name in lights on Broadway (he co-wrote the songs for Pretty Woman: The Musical). He could rest on his laurels at any time.

Instead, he’s doubling down on his passions, including photography. He’s shot everyone from A-list celebrities to wounded soldiers to the Queen. He’s known for capturing his subjects with frankness and dignity, shedding light on them in a way that maybe only someone who’s spent their life in the spotlight can.*

He’s also taking his environmentalism to new heights, regularly calling attention to everything from whale hunts to elephant poaching. He chairs a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the natural splendor of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And earlier this year, he physically put himself between whalers and a whale in that country’s Caribbean waters—just him and his paddleboard. (Yes, that might be the actual definition of rock ’n’ roll.)

It gets more personal than that: Adams is an ardent vegan. The diet aligns with his values … and lets him leap around stages night after night.

In an exclusive interview with alive, the father of two paused during the tour for his latest album, Shine A Light, to reflect on his diet, his recent projects, and how he strives to do exactly what that album title suggests.

*He also shot all the images in this article (in case you skimmed the byline!).

On being vegan

[Vanessa] When and why did you go vegan?
[Bryan] I switched to a plant-based diet 30 years ago because I wasn’t okay with eating dead animals anymore, and that included fish. I read as much as I could about the transition as I was unsure I’d get what I needed from just plants. But, as I discovered, it was actually the other way around: I wasn’t getting what I needed from eating dead food. Within a month of eating a predominately fruit-based diet, the eczema I’d had since I was a baby disappeared. That convinced me I was on the right path.

[Vanessa] Was it a quick change or a shift you made over time?
[Bryan] It was quick, from one day to the next.

[Vanessa] What role have raw and sugar-free eating played in your life?
[Bryan] I went raw for a year and a bit, and I used to have dreams about spaghetti, but it was the healthiest I’d ever been. Unusual and unexpected things happened on a sugar-free raw diet. I wasn’t allergic to pollen anymore, and any dry skin/dandruff completely disappeared.

[Vanessa] How have your diet and lifestyle choices affected your immunity and overall wellness?
[Bryan] You need to be aware of the changes that your body goes through, such as flexibility, and they tie into what you eat. I started doing Pilates and then later got into yoga over a year ago, and that has had a profound effect on my wellness.

Reducing inflammation and keeping the body as clear and alkaline as possible should be the goal.

On raising vegetarian kids

[Vanessa] Has being a parent changed your diet? What’s a typical dinner in your household?
[Bryan] Naturally, there is always plenty of fruit, and our family devours it. Both of my daughters are vegetarian, not vegan. But the deal with the children is: They are allowed to eat whatever they like, as long as they know what they are eating and can accept it. In other words, if you know that is bacon and it comes from a dead pig, and you are okay with eating dead pig, then you can have it. And they’ve been offered it at schools and friends’ houses, and they never wanted it or any other kind of animal.

It’s interesting to watch the reaction of children once they are old enough to realize what is going on.

[Vanessa] What do you try to teach your children about food?
[Bryan] Everything. The first thing is: Animals are to be respected and they are not just packages in the supermarket. Secondly, we are made up of about 90 percent water, so the more water-based foods you eat, the more you are replenishing your body. I’m not talking about glasses of water; I’m talking fruit and veggies. Luckily, they love both.

On his photography

[Vanessa] Do you have any new photography projects coming up?
[Bryan] Yes, I have a new book of photos with Steidl publishing called Homeless. It’s portraits of homeless people who work for The Big Issue magazine on the streets of London.

[Vanessa] What’s been your most memorable photo shoot?
[Bryan] Photographing my parents recently before my father died.

For every ticket sold on Bryan Adams’ Shine A Light tour, a tree will be planted (thanks to an eco-partnership with DHL, the company managing the tour’s transportation needs). Adams may be famous for albums like Reckless, but when it comes to the carbon footprint that goes along with touring the world, he’s anything but.

On his new album

[Vanessa] You’re touring your 14th studio album, Shine A Light; how do you stay fit and healthy on the road?
[Bryan] Yoga, good food, and sleep.

[Vanessa] You’ve said the title track had its genesis in a time when both your parents were in the hospital. How did such a dark time spark a song about light, and why did it feel like an apt message for a global audience?
[Bryan] It’s what came out at the time. It’s such a positive message; it was right for where my head was. Thanks to Ed Sheeran for the co-write on that.

On writing for a Broadway musical

[Vanessa] You developed Shine A Light at the same time as you were penning songs for Pretty Woman: The Musical. How did you decide which songs were meant for which project?
[Bryan] The songs for the musical were all written with the story in mind; however, we always tried to craft them so they would have a possible life beyond the musical. Anything that was written for the musical that didn’t make the cut, I’ve recorded—such as “Please Stay” [for] and “I Could Get Used To This” [for].

[Vanessa] What did you learn from your first Broadway musical?
[Bryan] You learn not to be precious about your lyrics, because they are going to inevitably be rewritten.

[Vanessa] How was it different from writing music for film or albums?
[Bryan] Writing Pretty Woman was different to writing for myself because I had a narrative to follow. Broadway is all about the story.

On common threads in his career

[Vanessa] Working on Pretty Woman: The Musical saw you relocate to New York for a while. What was that like?
[Bryan] When I made my second album in 1981, I lived at The Algonquin Hotel on 44th, and I worked on every album I made there until 1988. For this project, I lived one block down, and I worked at the same studio I made some of my records in, so it felt unbelievably familiar. I love NYC; I could live there easily.

[Vanessa] Is there a common motivation or goal that spans your art?
[Bryan] Shine a light

Straight from the heart

We asked straight-shooting Adams about his must-haves and must-gets.

  • Favorite food? Avocado
  • Best energizer? A fruit smoothie
  • Top city for vegan eats? Los Angeles
  • Go-to workout? Yoga or swimming
  • Dream musical collaboration? Sam Smith
  • Photo you want to take in 2020? A few musician friends
  • Song you can’t stop listening to? “Shine A Light”
  • Cause you’re excited about? My new book, Homeless—all proceeds go to the homeless

Vanessa Annand is alive’s managing editor. The first big concert she ever attended was a Bryan Adams show.

A version of this article was published in the November/December 2019 issue of alive USA with the title “Bryan Adams: Waking up the world.”

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