Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
Jan 28th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Put Smog Away

music_BillCallahanBill Callahan on old monikers and atheistic anthems
Score one for the atheists. On Bill Callahan’s first album (he was then known as Smog), 1990’s Sewn to the Sky, there’s a song called “I Want to Tell You About a Man,” where we learn about a person who doesn’t drop acid, is not a member of the New York rave scene, and doesn’t even read Philip K. Dick books—didn’t everyone parse “The Man in the High Castle”?

Well, the man in that song is eventually found out to be Jesus Christ (don’t make him say it twice), and it’s left to the listener to figure out whether this is a piece of pompous proselytizing, or an instance of black humor. The issue seemed to be cleared up 19 years later on the Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle track called “Faith/Void,” where Callahan implores his listeners to “put God away.” In a strong sense, it seems like the first legitimate atheistic exultation since “Believe,” and in fact it turns out the idea was to create a song that a certain community could get behind.

“There was really only one guy who objected to ‘Faith/Void’ in my sphere of interaction,” recalls the 45-year-old Austin, Texas guitarist. “I guess he was down with God and thought it was fine to use God as a social weapon. I'd been reading a lot of atheist literature and thought those people need an anthem.”

In fact, the intrusion of religious themes into Callahan’s lyrics is just one instance of how the singer-songwriter’s career has developed. Though his vocal delivery has always been perfectly described as ‘austere,’ the framing of that delivery has shifted greatly. Sewn to the Sky shares much in common with a Jandek album, featuring more creepy soundscapes than traditionally structured songs. It’s probably how the (apparently false) notion that Callahan’s a Jandek admirer developed.

Still, even in the context of natural artistic development over two decades, the contrast between Callahan’s early and recent material—Apocalypse, his 14th album and third under his own name, was just released in April—is stark. Lo-fi crackle has been replaced with Pro Tools, and free jazz-like meandering has been replaced with polished country-esque songs. So how does the man himself reconcile those extremes?

“I am a different person,” explains Callahan. “I've been several different people since 1990. I was interested in different things, I had different desires and the sound in my head was very different. Reconciliation is not necessary. Somebody else made those records! My tether is about three records long, which is about six years. I can ‘feel’ back about three records all the time. I can sense that connection or conciliation only for about a five- or six-year stretch.”

It’s kind of surprising, then, that Callahan stuck with the Smog moniker as long as he did. For 11 albums between 1990 and 2005, Callahan used the pseudonym to mark his recordings, and finally with 2007’s Woke on the Whaleheart, switched to releasing albums under his own name. Nowadays, it seems like the decision was long overdue.

“I was tired of it,” says the Maryland native about his old appellation. “And it dawned on me that it had lost any meaning for me. It was just like a nonsense word that I was using to name my recorded output. Like ‘Gozo’ or something.”


Bill Callahan plays at 8:30 p.m. Monday, June 20, at Don Quixote’s, 6275 Hwy 9, Felton. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 603-2294

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Force of Nature

Santa Cruz’s Carlie Statsky brings her love of the natural world to the hyper-personal art of wedding photography

 

Mercury Retrograde in Aquarius

The magical time of Mercury’s retrograde cycle is here once again, until Feb. 11, and then some. The Mercury retro cycle actually lasts eight weeks when we consider its retrograde shadow, giving us six months a year for review. We know the rules of Mercury retro: Be careful with everything; cars, driving, money, resources, friends, friendships, groups, interactions, thinking, talking, communications. Avoid big purchases, important meetings and important repairs. Mercury retrograde times are for review, reassessment and rest. Our minds are overloaded from the last Mercury retro. Our minds need to assess what we’ve done since October—eliminating what is not needed, keeping what’s important, preparing for new information in the next three months (till mid-May). Mercury in Aquarius retrograde … we reinvent ourselves, seek the unusual, we don’t hide, we’re just careful. We live in two worlds; outer appearances and inner reckonings, with both sides of our brain activated. Yet, like the light of the Gemini twins, one light waxes (inner world), the other (outer realities) wanes. Like Virgo, we see what’s been overlooked—assessing, ordering and organizing information. It’s an entirely inner process. When speaking we may utter only half of the sentence. We’re in the underworld, closer to Spirit, eyes unseeing, senses alerted, re-doing things over and over till we sometimes collapse. Because we’re in other realms, we’re wobbly, make mistakes, and don’t really know what we want. It’s not a time for decisions. Not yet. It’s a time of review. And completing things. Mercury retro: integration, slowing down, resolution, rapprochement.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of January 23

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Bye Bye Benten!

Benten closing, plus Award-winning gin, a massive burrito and chocolate review

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Scanning the shelves of Deluxe Foods of Aptos, which carries an impressive selection of local and imported wines, I picked up a bottle of Trout Gulch Vineyards Chardonnay 2012, described as “a local favorite” by the busy market.

 

Cremer House

What’s old is cutting-edge again in Felton

 

How are you going to make a tangible difference in your community this year?

Spread more kindness and compassion.