Bill Callahan. Side 1. Track 1.

Setting out. Proclamations of setting out. When it happens you know it.
Bill Callahan is a master of the opening track on what we old folks used to call an album. Now you see kids, that’s a collection of songs all written and recorded around a similar time and place and mindset and ethos and vibe and aww forget it man. What I’ve really been wondering is if Callahan writes these opening tracks last. I see him as the kind of cool calculator who deftly places crumbs throughout his work so I imagine he writes these opening pieces with the full size and feel of the album already existing and known to him. They’re just too perfect.

This really begins in earnest with his last 2 albums under the Smog moniker, both of which are blatant harbingers of the Callahan records to come. It’s where “the voice” changed too. You can barely hear the higher register of Dongs of Sevotion and Red Apple Falls clinging to his baritone like lichen desperately holding on to a vessel headed for deeper, uncharted waters. And by the time Supper was served, it only took Mr. Callahan one more record to realize he needed to ditch the Smog moniker altogether and invite us all along for Mr. Callahan’s Invisible Republic train ride. It was a New Deal, if you’ll allow the low hanging fruit of an analogy.

“Feather by Feather”
This is a heavyweight song. Dylan-level craft and execution and released into a completely uncaring world. “Losing your wings, feather by feather” he even sings, a bleak glimpse into the ensuing Cohen-esque era. Callie is also clearly saying here to the indie rock nerds, “Get your head out of your ass, dick wipes. This is the real shit now. We ain’t tossing off 7” B-side ditties any more!” Or something like that.

“Winter exposes the nest, and I’m gone.” See, there’s the final goodbye to the indie rock scenester club. Not that he was ever in it. Not that it even existed.

“From the Rivers to the Ocean”
This one soars like he was actually released from a band named Smog and allowed to make his own album finally. Which is funny because Smog was just him you see? I always thought he said “Have faith in worthless knowledge.” but apparently it’s wordless. Whatever, both are cool and relevant. Doesn’t the doe-eyed Joanna Newsome show up somewhere around this point? Worth noting probably. I don’t subscribe to any sort of New Criticism when it comes to rock n roll or folk rock or pop or whatever the fuck this stuff is called so yeah, it’s relevant.

“Jim Cain”
“Cain” slowly unfolds with more checklist enumerations from the world-weary poet. What he thought would happen. What didn’t. What never will. It’s fucking great. One of the few guys around these days pulling this kind of Cohen/Dylan/Townes level of lyric exploration and reach. Downright epic considering it’s all been made in the last 20 years. Sounds older to me. But once again, there’s a ton of What if and Have to Wait and See platitudes in this opener as well.

“Drover” from Apocalypse may be the exception. It’s not focused enough on the task at hand. The once in a generation reply to “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes”, “America!” is a more likely opener in my humble opinion.

“The Sing”
I don’t know Dream River very well yet. Will begin processing it more thoroughly now. And upon doing so it’s hard to imagine this opening track is the hardest dick in the pack. But wait, I do remember this “Beer and Thank You” refrain. It’s really pretty good I have to say. A few time changes too. Well, it’s the only song on the record I probably know so we’ll just have to wait and see.

They’re all expansive and open with forlorn, yet thoroughly resigned feelings about the immediate past. They offer promise and potential but are very aware that they were just here a year or so back, promising the same thing.

It’s true that all great opening tracks herald the oncoming information like a well-designed poster or a slick-tongued barker pulling in passerby to the carnival, but Callahan’s are so spot-on, so eerily encapsulating of the savage and quiet beauty to come that I’d rather listen to the songs than even think about this anymore.

Fin. Bacchus

Editor’s Note. This piece originally appeared on Medium:

Bert BacchusComment
16 Albums
  1. Beatles, Let it Be. This could literally be any of their last eight records for me — excepting Submarine — but this one is messy and beautiful. I remember getting into this record with my girlfriend one fall and since it’s an “out there” and unpopular Beatles record we felt like we had finally discovered our own Beatles and not our parents “Love Me Do” mop tops.

  2. Nick Drake, Pink Moon. Everything I’ve ever wished I was as a musician. And obviously enough melancholy and midnight for the moping teenager still residing within me. Bryter Layter and 5 Leaves Left are just as good and totally different.

  3. Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes. A transmission from another planet, as if there crackling on the AM dial in the middle of the night arose this harmonious fuzz with incredible lyrics. This record reminds me of getting a good pre-buzz before heading out for a night on the town.

  4. Led Zeppelin, II. I am a shameless Zeppelin fan. Their powers are gigantic and evident so there’s no need for me to recount them here. Once again I could take any of their records really but this one was in my cassette walkman for the entire summer of my 14th year here on this rock and that means getting to second base with the most amazing girl I’d ever met and drinking warm beers someone stole from the damaged bin at Winn-Dixie. So it’s nostalgia for sure and there probably isn’t a white male in his 30's who doesn’t have the exact same experience but it was the suburbs in South Carolina so what did you expect? I should really get another Zoso T-shirt soon and solidify my standing as the old guy at the next rock show I attend.

  5. Jeff Buckley, Grace. I used to loathe him. He was on MTV constantly one summer just whining away in his oversized Hanes tee about lost love and I hated his voice. I have to be honest about that as a prologue to this record but something clicked one day and I couldn’t get enough. This record is my mid-twenties: unpaid utility bills, hardwood floors, hangovers, bartending, late-night ennui in a shitty old mill town with delusions of grandeur and nothing to show but smoker’s cough and pissed off ex-girlfriends.

  6. Smog, A River ain’t too much to Love. Fits nicely alongside most anything from Harry Smith’s germinated seed. One eye longingly hung up on the past and the masters before and one eye stubbornly honed on furthering the vision. His voice may be an acquired taste but once it gets you it never lets go.

  7. Neil Young, Live Rust. Once again, take your pick. Throw a dart at a wall of Neil albums and you’ve got a good shot at getting a record worth your time. He’s not as important or influential as say Dylan or Lennon has been on American music but he’s all I’d need on a desert island.

  8. Silver Jews, Bright Flight. Our Leonard Cohen makes a country record and the world is somehow lifted by its sadness. Actually Berman is more in the vein of American surrealist James Tate than Mr. Cohen. I listened to this record a lot with my dad when we were working together.

  9. Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin. I remember coming home from a boned existence in Williamsburg, VA to visit my closest friends and listening to this record from a copy I snaked from the record store I was slumming in. I didn’t even steal it either, nobody wanted it. It speaks of a time and of a mind to me that I share with three other people; by people I mean man friends.

  10. Pink Floyd, The Wall. Well this is another boring, predictable, and safe suburban cracker choice here but I’m trying to be honest about these records, not cool. I listened to a cassette of this in my headphones going to bed every night for about two years of my teen-aged life.

  11. Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street. Unwashed jeans, an incredible amount of heroin, and a bunch of British rock-stars trying to be southern black musicians. Also a great record for pre-debauchery warm-ups (see №3).

  12. Television, Marquee Moon. Punk-rock poetry. Incredible lyrics, exquisite guitar playing, and inner-city swagger all rolled up in one messy bundle of catchy pop tunes.

  13. Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks. One of many masterpieces by the 20th century’s greatest songwriter. Once again however it’s all in the timing and this one along with Desire and Blonde on Blonde got me through a shit-load of heartaches, tribulations, and hangovers. It’s also worth nothing that I’ve never really tried to write a song that wasn’t somehow ripping this guy off.

  14. The Minutemen, Double Nickels on the Dime. In my opinion you’re just plain un-American if you don’t worship this band and attempt to summon D. Boon from the spirit world on a regular basis. Either you’re a Minutemen fan or you’re a fucking terrorist.

  15. The Complete Stax/Volt Singles, Volume I (1959–1968) The height of 20th century American music? How can these songs sound like Christmas and summer at the same time? I have no idea. Embrace it, learn it. Repeat it.

  16. Curtis Mayfield, Live. So tight yet so loose. So hip yet so political. So hot yet so cool. This man was a genius and the band he assembled for this tour…whew!

I could easily do 30 more but this is a good, honest start. I’m sure I’m completely ignoring huge gaps in my taste and life experiences with amazing music. Off the top of my head: The Velvet Underground & Nico, any George Jones Best of, Gram Parsons two solo records, Son Volt’s Trace (I can drive for days without sleep if I have that record), Kris Kristofferson’s Border Lord, Dusty Springfield’s In Memphis, Sir Douglas Quintet’s Mendocino, The Possibilities’ Way Out, Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information, The Pixies Doolittle, Bad Brains’ I Against I, the Misfits, the first 10 Kinks records, the Roger Miller box set, Sandy Bull’s E Pluribus Unum…..

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Medium:

Bert BacchusComment
To Comic Book Stacks I’ve Loved Before

The first merchant of fine readable goods I encountered as a child in Macon, Georgia was the comic book shop. I can’t recall for sure but I think this shop was called Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and it was on a very busy street on the opposite side of town from my grandparent’s house. Due to this geographical reality and my Gran Gran’s reluctance to sit in traffic for a half-hour each way and then spend another hour or so waiting for me in the car to get my comics, I only visited Heroes on the rarest of occasions.

I remember a little of the store’s layout but my main memory is the smell.
The vanilla scent of aging paper in a used-bookstore was — and remains — an intoxicant of the highest quality for me, but the crisper printing press aroma of freshly-bound comic books is a treat unto itself. No matter the scattered detritus of one’s daily stenches such as the rotten smell of a paper mill before a thunderstorm or the layer of tobacco smoke that lay on everything in the 80’s, when I walked into a comic book shop I was gifted a clean slate, a freshness that promised and continually delivered new worlds to me,
un-tainted by a tween’s realities in the sleepy south.

Of course, my carefully selected stack of goodness would inevitably have to be mowed down due to merciless financial realities but I always started the crusade with fervor and aplomb. It’s pretty much the same as buying records now…if bands put out an album every month! The Bob Pollard Song Factory & Melody Emporium Monthly. Or Weekly. Or Daily! Aahh!

The Uncanny X-Men (and anything to do with Wolverine) and The Amazing Spider-Man were always #1 and #2. The perennial favorite in the #3 slot was almost always Batman, which was my only DC comic. Marvel all the way baby. Although at this point I’m just happy that comic book companies exist
I suppose.

After that it truly became about separating the wheat from the chaff, and quick! Gran Gran’s overheating the Olds in the parking lot under a July sun and the three other grandkids in the car don’t give a shit about comic books. The remainder of my stack consisted mainly of titles I occasionally dipped into but didn’t collect and new, weird stuff I wanted to try out or had heard someone raving about. But the real silent killers were the Crossovers. Of course I had to have all the X-Men issues from The Fall of the Mutants but that only gave you parts 1, 5, and 9. To get the whole story you had to buy New Mutants, X-Force, Excalibur, and Alpha Flight. This made things difficult indeed.

Did the powers-that-be know what they were doing? Were they aware of this excruciating choice wherein a 12-year old must rob Spider Man to pay Magneto? The answer is that of course they knew. In fact once I learned about that evil little bastard we call Marketing it all became acutely clear to me and I immediately felt a little used. It didn’t stop me from still trying to assemble my complete collections and Special Anniversary Re-Launch Annuals and Graphic Novels though.

Comic books invented the sequel that Hollywood has so shamelessly deployed ad hoc at every turn whenever the scent of a dollar to be made is on the wind, and it eventually ran me out of the comic shops. Playing music and buying records, skateboarding and buying decks, girls making fun of comic books just as you were starting to give a shit what girls thought…but the powers-that-be don’t care, they got fresh batches of boys and girls lined up behind your aging teenage wallet. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think I ever once heard a girl make fun of comic books, it was the sheer terror of imagining such a thing that convinced all of us dumb-ass dudes that they had to hate comic books. Right? Idiots.

So this all added up to a comic collection cessation on my part if you will. There are still too many things these days that I find myself ‘collecting’ or ‘hoarding’, depending on who you ask, so I know that I’ll never return to those crucial stack choices in a comic book shop again. I might slip in and see if there’s a crossover run of titles I can lose sleep over not having a full set of for the archives though.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared on Medium:

Bert BacchusComment