Wednesday, July 6, 2011

let me see the colts


Bill Callahan
formerly known as Smog
(photo fr music-illuninati)

Bill Callahan is an unusual singer/songwriter, a product of Austin (well not originally)- he is not just talented but peculiar, not just sensitive but, as he appears from the video (below), also a little cocky (in a good way); a little awkward and standoffish, even dismissive- but embraces his star power- my assumptions just going by that video.

I suspect he takes his fame ironically, he's a name you imagine written all lower case; nevertheless, he takes it. He's loyal to his first label; he used to live with Joanna Newsom; you can tell he's awesome. He's clearly an underground star but I think he will stay one. I do not know if he is "old news," but then, how can Bill Callahan ever be old news.

This first song is not just my favorite song by Callahan, it's one of my favorite songs by anyone.

But lyrics first!


Callahan is a poet and it's not a song you've heard anything like before. ("Have you been drinking" is what the person asks the narrator/singer.)

by Bill Callahan

Knocked on your door at dawn
With a spark in my heart
Dragged you from your bed
And said let me see the colts

Let me see the colts
That will run next year
Show them to a gambling man
Thinking of the future

Have you been drinking no
Nor sleeping
The all-seeing
all-knowing eye is dog
And just wants to see the colts

We walked out through
The dew dappled brambles
And sat upon the fence
Is there anything as still
as sleeping horses
Is there anything as still
as sleeping horses


Ok if those don't qualify for most amazing lyrics-or poem- just listen to how they're performed!

Since nobody with equipment to speak of seems to have recorded him live for posterity, first here is the studio version so you hear all the nuances. Somehow he manages to get guitar, voice, poetry and meaning all blended into one deeply felt sound. The paradox is that he achieves all this through monotone. And, how the heck does he get that sound out of his guitar.

Let Me See the Colts, Bill Callahan

But for a smidgen of his personality, here now is a live video of the same song, to see how he behaves in concert. My impression of watching several youtubes is that one never knows quite how he's going to perform that night: suddenly he's speaking the words instead of singing them, or playing wispy trails of guitar and voice; another time, a fired up guitar (as in this version). 
After this one, I'll present a second song, also live.

Let Me See the Colts, Bill Callahan

At least one of his songs hit the big time (that' s how I found out), "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to be a Man" (helpful punctuation not provided). After that, I listened to a lot of Callahan; then I noticed he either disturbed or depressed me, so now I'm careful of when and what I listen to. He once hid behind the name "Smog" for awhile, which sounds like an antisocial statement. However, the critics say that over time he's getting much more cheery and accessible.

Callahan's response to that is, "I used to be an artist. I don't think I am right now. I don't know if I ever will be again." That was from the amazing pitchfork interview 2007 (below). He speaks like a poet. Affected or genuine? I suspect close enough to genuine- just listen to his work, it's in there.

Must-read Pitchfork interview 2007
His wiki isn't half bad either.

I basically prefer tenors (and countertenors!)- it's not often that I like a baritone. But there is a whole class of low men's voices (Tom Waits NOT included) that really moves me: Nick Cave being number one, and of course Johnny Cash, Tom Rush (who?!), there are others. They are deep and affecting. Maybe something about the drone? Perhaps because a melancholy man sounds vulnerable.

A second song I like (video live, below):
by Bill Callahan

When I was seven
I asked my mother
To trip me to the bay
And put me on a ship
And lower me down
Lower me out of here

Because when I was seven
I wanted to live in a bathysphere

Between coral
silent eel
silver swordfish
I can't really feel or dream down here

And if the water should cut my line (*2)
Set me free
And if the water should cut my line
Set me free, I don't mind
I'll be the lost sailor, my home is the sea

When I was seven
My father said to me
'But you can't swim'
And I've never dreamed of the sea again


And the video: not necessarily the best, but with all those bad recordings, it could take hours to chase down anything halfway decent. If anyone stumbles across better videos, please let me know, and if I find any, I will come back here to provide it.

I would say that this song is delightful and yet- I don't think Bill
Callahan ever could be entirely delightful. . .

Bathysphere, Bill Callahan

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