In the wake of #MeToo stories flaring up in the music world as a result of a flurry of accusations against singer Ryan Adams, many more female musicians have been taking to social media to share their own stories of debasement, among them singer-songwriter Lydia Loveless. As a result of Loveless’ posts alleging that she was repeatedly sexually harassed years ago by the life partner of one of the founders of her record company, Bloodshot, that co-owner announced Monday that she was stepping aside from duties at the label.
Nan Warshaw, the Bloodshot co-founder who is removing herself from active duty with the company, said that steps had been taken to address the situation “since it came to light” several years ago, but nonetheless said she “apologize(s) for any hell or even awkwardness I put Lydia or anyone through, due to my actions or inactions. No one, and especially no one within the Bloodshot community, should ever have to tolerate sexual harassment; feeling safe and comfortable should be your right. … Because I don’t want my personal decisions to be a negative distraction from the amazing work the bands and staff are doing, for the moment I’m going to step away from Bloodshot.”
The allegations have to do with a man that both Loveless and Warshaw refer to as the latter’s life partner, Mark Panick, whom Warshaw emphasized “does not work for Bloodshot in any capacity and has never been an employee of Bloodshot.”
The Chicago-based label, which was founded in 1994, has been at the forefront of the intersection of indie-rock and roots music for the last quarter-century. Loveless has been among the more prominent acts on the label, which have also included, past or presently, Alejandro Escovedo, the Mekons, Neko Case, Robbie Fulks, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Murder by Death, Old 97s, the Bottle Rockets… and, in the late ’90s, Ryan Adams.
“I feel like I’m going to break into a million pieces and this was hard to write,” Lydia said in an Instagram post that introduced the story she told, acknowledging that “I know it’s going to cause problems for myself and a lot of other people but I am tired of carrying it around.”
In her posts, Loveless wrote that “Nan Warshaw’s domestic partner Mark Panick has long been a source of strife for me” despite the fact that she considered much of the label staff “friends more than business colleagues.” Though he was not part of the staff himself, Loveless said Panick “was a part of all social events” from the time she signed with the label at 19 and, “for years, as much a face of the label as anyone.” She maintained that over a period of years Panick “would greet me with a rub to the ass and a close whisper in the ear — ‘Hey, hoooooney.’… He approached me at the Bloodshot 20th anniversary party and, while resting his hand between my buttcheeks, told me he loved my messy hairdo because it reminded him of the way girls’ hair in high school would look after they blew him. I didn’t know who to tell about these behaviors because I felt afraid as, for me, shows are work events and Mark was a part of the label from my eyes.”
Loveless said she felt guilt about the alleged harassment: “What did I do? Should I dress more modestly? After one groping incident at SXSW one year, I was told by (co-owner) Rob Miller to come to him if I was ever made to feel uncomfortable again. He relayed to Nan some of Mark’s actions he’d witnessed, and was told by Nan that ‘she couldn’t help it if people threw themselves at Mark.’ This was maybe five years ago. It’s hard to remember specifics. After that, I felt completely betrayed by Nan but didn’t want to cease my relationship with the label.”
Loveless wrote that after two people at the label asked a couple of years ago if she would prefer Panick be banned from label events, she agreed that his absence “would help me feel more comfortable at my own shows,” and she had only seen him in passing by accident one time since. “I don’t think Bloodshot has maliciously encouraged this behavior, but instead quieted it to protect their brand, and it indeed has been covered up in my eyes, since Behavior only ceased when I was informed that they wanted to begin signing more women.”
Miller released a long statement Sunday, saying that Loveless’ earlier statements about Panick’s behavior were “essentially, and sadly, true.” He emphasized that Panick, whom he called Warshaw’s boyfriend, was never an employee, and “therefore, he is also not someone I can fire.” He said that upon becoming aware of the behavior, he had addressed it immediately by forbidding Panick any contact with Loveless and banning him from any event “where staff are present or artists are performing. He is not allowed contact with any staff or artists via social media or email. He has abided by this and according to Lydia’s post, there was no further contact… I realized I had failed” in not seeing the discomfort, he wrote.
Miller did counter Loveless’ assertion in her latest post that the label as a whole had tried to cover up the situation, saying he had urged public candor about it, whenever she was ready. “Since she told me directly of the pain and some of the specifics of the harassment she endured, I have endeavored to help Lydia get her story told, to go public,” Miller wrote. “I am relieved Lydia is talking about it now. … There has never been an attempt to cover it up, diminish it or deflect blame for it. I did not feel it was our place to go public with this until she was ready. We should not be the ones to define the conversation or her experience. … The shame, humiliation and rage I feel over this is, I fully understand, a fraction of what she feels.”
Additionally, Miller wrote to fans of the label, “If you need to turn your backs on us for our inability to recognize this sooner, I ask only that you do so in a way that does not punish the artists or our employees. They should not suffer for the contemptible actions of a caveman.”
In an email to the Chicago Tribune Monday, Warshaw wrote that “the length of time that I am ‘stepping away’ will depend on what is best for the artists and the staff,” adding that she “will be involved in the label going forward, as co-owner, unless at some point I decide it is no longer best for the artists.”
Panick, the man Loveless alleged was “allow(ed) to grope, paw at and mentally disturb me for over five years,” issued his own statement to the Tribune, writing, “I am no saint and behaviors learned in the past can be unlearned. I do not remember the events Lydia describes in the same way. But I truly regret making her feel like that and really wish I’d have understood that at the moment.”
Loveless has released five albums or EPs for Bloodshot since 2011, the latest of which, “Boy Crazy and Single(s),” was in 2017.