Sometimes I wish I was an indie rock institution

Is Bill Callahan a giant or does that guitar just look really small?

Is Bill Callahan a giant or does that guitar just look really small?

From his voice, I picture Bill Callahan as the kind of friend you call when all forms of torture that work, friends, and circumstance can bring have been heaped upon you. It’s something in his deep drone that sounds so plaintive and calm that makes me think that Callahan would patiently listen to even your most inane complaints (“The Craigslist scalpers are taking away all the good tickets!” “I had the radio on in traffic, and every single station was playing a different Coldplay song!” “People keep moving my stapler!”). He’s got a proven track record of playing nicely with a number of people. His earliest work, done under the name Smog, is widely heralded as influential in the lo-fi world. These days, Callahan is often compared to his Drag City label-mate, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, for his understated take on folk that eschews gimmickry in favor of honest lyricism and thoughtful melodies. Also, Cat Power has covered two of Callahan’s songs. One could imagine that the transactions that led to those agreements called for Callahan to turn up the soothing in his tone.

I first heard of Callahan indirectly. Smog was one of the many performers name-checked in Mary Lou Lord’s ironic celebration of independent music, “His Indie World.” When I heard and learned to appreciate Callahan’s work on my own time (that is to say, in the aughts), I agree now that his place in that ditty, aka Brief Survey of Indie Rock Circa 1990s, is well-earned. Fans of Smog will be especially pleased to note that Callahan’s most recent album, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, goes back to that melancholic place that brought the artist to critics’ attention years ago. Even if he’s upgraded from the busted guitars and garage recordings of the past, he’s just as capable of making your moody-day music as he’s ever been.

  • Bill Callahan ~ Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle ~ Drag City

The Wind and the Dove


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