Archive for the ‘Bill Callahan’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #77 (September 9, 2020).

Bill Callahan has been making music for thirty years (half of them as the band Smog).  He has a deep, calming voice.

His songs are slow and almost spoken word.  They might even start to put you to sleep until you start listening to his lyrics.

For his Tiny Desk (home) concert, Bill Callahan stands outside his home, near a desk adorned with a taller-than-usual globe, two books and a single banana. [They play] three songs from Gold Record, which came out just last week [as well as an older song, “Released”].

“Pigeons” starts with Callahan saying “Hi, I’m Johnny Cash,” and, with his deep voice you might be inclined to believe it.  The music comes in with a picked guitar intro and Callahan’s slow delivery of this engaging story:

Well, the pigeons ate the wedding rice
And exploded somewhere over San Antonio
I picked up the newlyweds and asked them
Where they wanted to go
They said “We don’t care, we don’t know, anywhere, just go”

Outside of Concan, the groom noticed the gold band on my left hand
And said “You got any advice for us, old man?”
Well, I thought for a mile, as I drove with a smile
Then I said when you are dating, you only see each other
And the rest of us can go to hell
But when you are married, you’re married to the whole wide world
The rich, the poor
The sick and the well
The straights, and the gays
And the people who say we don’t use these terms these days
The salt and the soil
After I’d said my piece
We drove on in silence for a spell
How my words had gone over, I couldn’t tell
Potent advice or preachy as hell
But when I see people about to marry
I become something of a plenipotentiary
I just think it’s good as you probably can tell

Midway through, the song turns into a bouncy waltz for a few bars.  Then it returns to that slow picking of the verses.  Derek Phelps adds trumpet accompaniment and Matt Kinsey plays a lot of guitar lines that act as mini solos as well as dramatic bass lines.

He says he wrote “Released” a few years ago but it seems more and more appropriate every day.  The dramatic guitar opening is great and Kinsey’s lead fills add a lot of depth to this simple opening.

The music gets really loud and dramatic as he sings the middle part (italicized below), before the song returns to that gentle, vaguely Mexican sounding (especially with the muted trumpet) melody.

The lyrics are a short poem

Like two wrestlers
I am mostly still
As the Four Horsemen
Come over the hill
Trying to pass themselves off as the Holy Trinity
When any fool can see
Any fool can see
Everything is corrupt
From the shoes on our feet
To the way we get fucked
Oh, I know that we are free
Don’t tell me again that we are free
Tell me, when will we be released?

“Another Song” is a bit faster even if his vocals aren’t

I keep coming back to a lyric from “Another Song,” which he performs here: “Lonesome in a pleasant way.” We’re all a little bit more lonesome than usual right now, but we’re lonesome together. Maybe that feels OK, pleasant even.

It’s quite catchy.  It’s also fairly short except for the coda which is louder than anything else as it builds with the repetition of the title.

“The Mackenzies” is another story song.  It’s sweet and sad and comforting and painful.  And the tempo rises and falls accordingly.  Kinsey’s lead guitar lines throughout the verses are really something delightful as are Phelp’s trumpet additions.

The blurb ends with a nice sentiment from Bill.

Callahan, in the zone during this performance, shares so few words between songs that we decided to follow up and ask what he’s been feeling about his world today.

“There are a lot of voices these days. So many that, I think, even positive sentiments become detrimental in their deafening number,” Callahan explains. “Quiet reflection can be the clearest and most informative and soothing voice you’ll ever hear. There are many unknowns at this time in history. It’s more than a junction in our old world. It’s the possibility of a whole new world. A large part of me believes this. Listen to music, read books, talk to friends and family. Don’t listen to the voices, not even mine!”

[READ: September 8, 2020] “The Husbands”

This story is about Maggie, a woman who likes to sleep with other women’s husbands.  She knows it’s not healthy (mentally or physically) but she does it anyway.

She started with her sister’s husband.  She had dated Patrick in high school.  Then they broke up and her sister, Sarah, dated and then married him.  That’s not why she sleeps with Patrick now (probably).

She has slept with her best friend’s husband, her librarian’s husband, many other husbands.

Most of them are one of, but the thing with Patrick has been going on for quite a while.  She even flew with Patrick to Texas for a weekend. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-“Small Plane” (Field Recordings, November 11, 2013).

Many episodes in the Field Recordings series travel far and wide to exotic locations.  For this Field Recording [Bill Callahan Sings ‘Small Plane’ In A Serene City] Bill Callahan travel to exotic downtown New York City.

When we first approached Bill Callahan to do a Field Recording in New York City, we asked him if he had any special place in mind. His reply surprised me: “A community garden.” I guess I’d stereotyped him in my head, because after all those years of dark, thoughtful songwriting — first as Smog and then on the pensive records he’s made under his own name — I’d imagined a library, someplace quiet and dark.

The video starts with the hustle and bustle of the city and then slowly moves into a quiet, peaceful garden, complete with a pond (and turtles jumping into it), birds, tomatoes, and a microphone.

As it turned out, the brightly lit 6th & B Community Garden, with its lush greenery and mellow wildlife, provided just the right setting. The noise of cabs, buses, trucks and the occasional siren wound up punctuating Callahan’s calm, deep baritone, but he makes it easy to ignore.

He sings about being a lucky man flying this small plane.  And he setting compliments his contentment.  It’s just him and his quiet electric guitar and all is well.

[READ: October 26, 2018] “Waugh”

Last week’s New Yorker story was called “Flaubert Again.”  This week’s is called “Waugh.”  The last one was tangentially about Flaubert but this one is (as far as I can tell) not about Evelyn Waugh at all.

This was one of those fascinating stories that was very simple but in which all of the details about the story were so vague that I couldn’t figure anything about it for many many pages.

This is a story of five unrelated boys who live together–they all pull tricks to make rent.  Rod was their defacto leader–not their pimp exactly, because he tricked too, but more like an elder watchmen.  He was tough and very strict.  You could be kicked out of the house for many infractions, and at the first sign of Sickness.

I assumed that this story was set in the 1970s in San Francisco.

Then one of the boys is named Google, so clearly it can’t be set in the 70s. (more…)

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eleanorSOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-Tiny Desk Concert #21 (July 13, 2009).

billcBill Callahan (formerly known as Smog) plays beautiful slow ballads.  He has a deep, calming, gorgeous voice.  And his songs have a very traditional acoustic feel (even when he plays electric guitar).  He is excellent at what he does.

But I’m afraid I just don’t really like his style all that much.  I can absolutely appreciate why he is so well-regarded, because even as I’m listening to this Tiny Desk set I keep thinking how good everything he is doing is.  Man, his voice is so interesting, and his music is so pretty (the strings add a very nice touch).

But I just can’t imagine myself ever choosing to listen to his album.

In fairness, a song on a mix tape would probably be awesome, and I did enjoy the three songs here: “Jim Cain,” “Rococo Zephyr” (great title, and my favorite of the three) and “Too Many Birds.”  And I can imagine if I was ever on a mellow music kick that this would be where I’d start.  So if you enjoy pretty, mellow music done incredibly well, Bill Callahan is definitely your guy.  I feel like he is not as well-known as he ought to be, so check him out.

[READ: January 23, 2014] Eleanor Rigby

Completing three Douglas Coupland novels in two weeks may seem daunting, and it is especially so when the books are as dark as these have been.  (With Coupland’s follow up book, JPod, he would go in a different direction and kind of break the darkness somewhat.  And the new book which just came out seems like it is more humorous than dark).  This book is perhaps the most insular of his career and perhaps the most insular book I’ve read.  The title is puzzling (and is ultimately revealed), although Coupland says that he was inspired by wondering what happened to Eleanor Rigby after the (Beatles, duh) song was over.

So in this story, the main character is named Liz Dunn.  Liz is a blank.  She claims that she is so dull that if she were an extra in movies, she would be asked to leave the scene because she is too devoid of character to even be an extra.  (Actually, Liz lays the self-pity on a little too thickly throughout the book–we got the point).  Liz has a brother, who is an accomplished world traveller, and a sister who lives nearby and pops in to check on her once in a while.  Both are married and have their lives together, unlike Liz who lives by herself in a room with no personality at all.

Liz’ sister is beautiful and got up to all kinds of trouble in school and William has always been successful, but Liz was…nothing.  She didn’t like to do much.  And she pretty much holds herself up as the antithesis of her sister.  She watches movies all the time in her living room. And then she goes to sleep.  She works at a well paying but dull job and she has saved a ton of money because she never spends it on anything.

As the story starts, she is getting wisdom teeth out. She takes a week off from work, but he boss (the Dwarf Whom I Report To) calls to say that someone will bring some work over to keep her busy.  She has bought a bunch of tear jerker movies in hopes of riding out the painkillers with them.  And then she gets a phone call.  A man named Jeremy has her name on his medic alert bracelet and he is in the hospital.

Liz doesn’t know who he is, but then takes a guess and goes to see him in the hospital.  And it turns out to be…her son. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BILL CALLAHAN-“Santa Maria” from Score! 20 Years of Merge Records: The Covers(2009).

I don’t often listen to songs that are as simple and straightforward as this one.  It’s an acoustic guitar with occasional piano and Callahan’s deep voice.  The melody is enjoyable and the vocals are crystal clear.  (Callahan is from Smog, a band I know of, but whom I don’t really know).

The original of this song is by Versus on their Afterglow EP.  I’ve liked Versus for a long time–their mix of male/female vocals and rockin’ guitars is always exciting.  But I didn’t remember this song at all.  It turns out that it’s kind of a slow, brooding number, something I probably wouldn’t have paid a ton of attention to back when I was rocking out more.

I prefer the Versus version as there’s more interesting tricks afoot, although Callahan does some cool subtleties by the end of the song that really bring out some interesting twists to the song.

[READ: April 16, 2012] “Our Raccoon Year”

I’ve read a few pieces from Paul Theroux, and I’ll say that this piece really surprised me.  While I wouldn’t try to categorize all of Theroux’s writing, I would say that a domestic story about raccoons is one that I would not have expected.

The story opens with the narrator, a young boy, telling us that his Ma decided to go away.  Their Pa explained that she was where she wanted to be “with her friend.”  Given the circumstances, and the fact that Pa was a well-respected citizen (and attorney), Pa was given custody of the narrator and his brother. He was the first man to be given custody of children after a divorce in their region and it only upped people’s opinions of him.

That’s a neat conceit for a story.  So it’s surpising when he says that it also began their “raccoon year” which means it was their year of dealing with raccoons. (more…)

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