Monday, May 23, 2011

Artistic License and Registration, Please.

So speaking as we were last week about the whole one-guy-singing-with-just-a-guitar-for-backup thing, I just finished reading a recent adulatory New Yorker profile -- by Sasha Frere-Jones, a very sharp younger rock critic who I have never found irksome, even when I disagreed with him -- about a 44-year-old indie singer/songwriter (a folkie, in earlier parlance) named Bill Callahan. Who is apparently highly regarded by contemporary hepsters, but who I have somehow managed to have avoided hearing previously.

Curiosity piqued, I made a bee-line for a song Frere-Jones rated particularly highly, "I'm New Here" (recorded when Callahan was doing business under the stage name Smog.)

And the answer to your question is -- I don't know about this guy. Which is to say, I haven't quite decided whether he has a genuinely interesting and quirky sensibility or whether he's just a sort of post-modern Gen Y version of a lot of full-of-themselves 60s and 70s poet types I didn't care for back in the day.

Although I gotta admit that this paragraph from the New Yorker piece --

There are other antecedents for Callahan, some of which he rejects. Though he has expressed admiration for Fred Neil, the deep-voiced folkie known for writing “Everybody’s Talkin’,” from “Midnight Cowboy,” and for Merle Haggard, another songwriter who is fond of the comic deadpan, Bob Dylan, the albatross for many songwriters, is irrelevant to Callahan. “I never liked him,” he told me. “He seems sort of unpleasant and uncomfortable.”

-- may have gotten my hackles up to the point where I'm incapable of giving the guy a totally objective listen. At least for now.


Anonymous said...

You're right, full of himself, self indulgent, boring folky crap, who cares. Before you make a note to yourself, bad post. Let's Rock And Roll!

steves said...

"...sort of unpleasant and uncomfortable."

Funny. That was precisely the sensation I had listening to this song, which, it should be noted, I also found uninteresting.

Sal Nunziato said...

Stopped it at 1:25. Puh-LEEZE!

What a pretentious jerk.

Karin said...

Meh. I like one-guy-singing-with-a-guitar, but this guy doesn't impress me. Voice is pleasant, if not particularlty tuneful, guitar work is primitive. Melody and lyrics are not memorable either.

Anonymous said...

Don't know this guy Callahan from a hole in the wall, but Gil Scott-Heron did a cover of this song on his last album that, IMO, was absolutely killer. I mean, I've played it to death on my ipod. Go figure.


Anonymous said...

Sorry meant to post this youtube link to Gil's version


edward said...

Stylistically sounds more like Ramblin' Jack Elliot than Bob Dylan.

He can be forgiven the anti-Dylan crack for the same reason Costello was for making the same comments about Bob and Bruce. When you're the new kid in town, you shoot your mouth off at the biggest target.

That said, don't hear any indication of him hitting the heights Costello has.

Sal Nunziato said...


Callahan is not really a new kid in town. He's 45 years old and has been making records since 1992.

Just sayin'...

edward said...


Oh, in that case, Nevermind;>

Though, has anyone ever called Bob Dylan pleasant of comfortable?

steve simels said...

The comment just seemed really stupid to me. On several levels, including the disingenuous one, i.e. yeah right, you never listened to him or were influenced by him.

dave™© said...

Here's a just-published comment from well-known cranky guy R. Crumb about Dylan:

"I hate his voice. I can’t stand to hear him sing. I thought some of the songs that he wrote in the mid-60s were kind of clever, with clever lyrics. But I just can't stand to hear him or see him perform. And I think his heart is in the right place a lot of times, you know. Someone told me he was an aficionado of old 20s, old time music, and that he listens to the same kind of stuff I like. Someone told me that. But his own stuff, his own music never interested me that much. It used to irritate me in the mid-sixties when he was worshipped like a god. I thought that was really annoying. I thought his schtick with his whiney voice was really irritating."

dave™© said...

From the same interview, Crumb reveals he liked Tommy James and the Shondells and Sam the Sham!

steve simels said...

And what right-thinking American doesn't?

steves said...

Yes. But Crumb is still a genius, while Callahan is still a bore.

Big difference!

steve simels said...

Well, there's that.

Although, I feel morally obligated to listen to more of Callahan's stuff just in case. Critical responsibility and all that crap.

steves said...

You mean in case Sasha Frere-Jones may be right? Has hell frozen over, too?

Peter Spencer said...


It sucks.

And not in a new or refreshing way, either. He's just another self-conscious I-meant-to-do-that primitive who became a singer-songwriter because singer-songwriters don't have to be able to play their instruments, or sing, or write about anything besides themselves.

I'm going to sign my whole name to this.

Anonymous said...

I'm of the school that a singer/songwriter can't do serious work on a flat top acoustic guitar with a cutaway. On the other hand, if he had an acoustic (no pickups) archtop with f-holes and no cutaway, then he can count on me for support.


Anonymous said...

GREAT column title, by the way.


peter Spencer said...

You can say what you will about Dylan - that he's cynical, a phony (to quote Joni Mitchell), a plagiarist, can't sing, a money-grubbing hypocrite whose career has been one long victory lap (Randy Newman is hilarious on the subject) - but without him the form simply doesn't exist.

steve simels said...

but without him the form simply doesn't exist.


We have a winner!!!!

steve simels said...

And that said, our commenter RichD is absolutely right -- Gil Scott Heron's cover of this song is actually really cool.

And I've never particularly cared for Gil Scott.

Brooklyn Girl said...

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you ?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And say do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone ?

Yeah, Dylan really sucks.

Blue Ash Fan said...

Ugh! I couldn't even listen to the whole thing. His guitar playing sounds like a beginner who just learned how to hammer on. For this kind of thing, give me Bill Morrissey any day.

Yeah, Dylan sucks. Other than changing songwriting, rock 'n' roll and my high school years, he really hasn't done much in my eyes.

How does a hack like this dump on Dylan? The mind reels.

Anonymous said...

Now that I've actually listened: C'mon, this guy dissed Dylan for the attention it would give him. I have no doubt that if you plumb Bill Callahan's heart, he worships Dylan, but today's hipness code prevents him from saying so.

The song is more like a folk-music-sound-effect than actual song, but that's what the kids are into today (y'all know what I'm saying). There's definitely some kind of post-modern found-art musique-concrete-instead-of-actual-lyrics talent at work here. This guy knows what he's doing, and he is happily turning off fans of concise catchy songwriting from his following, because we aren't going to download his stuff anyway.

Or maybe Harold Camping is right, just off by a few days.


steve simels said...

Funny you should mention Bill Morrissey. That's exactly who Callahan reminds me of, except Morrisey seems like the real deal, existentially.

On the other hand, if I was a little younger and the soundtrack to my early mid-life depression was Callahan, I might feel differently.

@whut said...

This is considered Peak Smog, from about 12 years ago:
"Hit the Ground Running" w/ trademark children's choir, primitive guitar, string section and favorite of the local college radio station, maybe for it's length. You be the judge of its pretentiousness.

pete said...

argue with this.

dave™© said...

And speaking of Dylan lyrics:

Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a gypsy queen
Wiggle wiggle wiggle all dressed in green
Wiggle wiggle wiggle till the moon is blue
Wiggle till the moon sees you.

Wiggle wiggle wiggle in your boots and shoes
Wiggle wiggle wiggle you got nothing to loose
Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a swarm of bees
Wiggle on your hands and knees.

Wiggle to the front wiggle to the rear
Wiggle till you wiggle right out of here
Wiggle till it opens wiggle till it shuts
Wiggle till it bites wiggle till it cuts.

Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a bowl of soap
Wiggle wiggle wiggle like a rolling hoop--

Just sayin'...

dave™© said...

The song is more like a folk-music-sound-effect than actual song, but that's what the kids are into today...

I'll bet I could find an almost-identical comment regarding Dylan circa 1965 in an issue of "Hootenanny".

dave™© said...

Sorry - meant "Sing Out!"

Anonymous said...


Are you saying Bill Callahan is the new Dylan?


Walking Oliver Productions, Ltd said...

Heh-heh. No talent comes to mind. Dilletante comes to mind. How about Stephen Fearing? I mean if I had to pick a Dylan rival for one man, one guitar....

Hi Steve! Long time since I checked in. Missed you, man. Good to get your LinkedIn.


Anonymous said...

Aieee! I remember this shit from my lo-fi enthusiast roommate, back in the early 90s. Does it make me a bad person to have never given the tiniest shit about Smog and Sebadoh and The Silver Jews and Wee Prince Bonnie, or whatever he's calling himself these days? I can live with it. - bill buckner

TMink said...

Seems harmless enough, I just keep waiting for the solo guitar intro to be over and the band to enter on the second verse.