*Editorial note: this was written before I ended my marriage. Sometimes when something is close to the end, there are glimmers of the beginning.
Bill Callahan is the kind of songwriter that quotes Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back" in his song "Real Live Dress" and everyone thinks he's being ironic. And those lyrics being in a Smog song would be ironic if you find its inclusion unexpected, but then apparently you don't really know Bill Callahan if you think he doesn't really like a song like "Baby Got Back". This was all revealed today in an interview over at the Quietus. But plenty of people loved "Baby Got Back". My dad tormented me and my college friend by singing along whenever it thumped through the car speakers during our summer road trip in the late '90s. You could say I extracted my own revenge when we played Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, but who was more embarrassed when the words "I'm a real cunt in spring" came out of the speakers? Hard to say.
Bill Callahan is also the kind of song writer whose music becomes easier to listen to as he gets older--he's replaced noise with craft. Songs from his new record played on the radio as my uncle drove us home from my sister's baby shower. Bill Callahan's aged and I have a sister with a baby who you could safely play "Small Plane" to and call it a lullaby.
When I spent the greatest amount of time thinking about Bill Callahan I'd returned to New York from a few months in Taiwan and sat in a cubicle researching the rights for a science textbook. I was a temp and got paid about $10 an hour so I was going to listen to CDs on my discman until they told me not to. Nobody did, so I listened to Smog's Knock Knock and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's I See a Darkness. I was probably depressed. In early 2000 it seemed like I had been depressed longer than I had ever been not-depressed. When my mother found out I was officially depressed she called me a stranger when she meant to say the word strange. Same difference I guess. I actually corrected her. "Do you mean strange?" "Yes!" she said. "You are strange." I probably listened to Smog's song "I Was a Stranger" and laughed to myself about the ironies of my life. I actually taught my mother how to call me strange.
Last night we went to see Bill Callahan's tour film, Apocalypse. During the film I asked myself the same question I pose to myself whenever I see a relatively attractive man. Would I f* him? Yeah, I thought, probably. Then I noted his straight silvery hair and I decided I would tell my husband James that he's going to look just as handsome when his hair's that gray. I might have even used the words silver and fox.
After the film Bill Callahan came out and conducted an answer and question session, or a reverse q&a. He was going to ask the questions. I nudged James and told him to raise his hand. He shook his head, no. I was just pretending I wasn't going to raise my hand. Of course I was going to raise my hand. When Callahan called on me he called me a guy. Then he apologized and said it was dark. I wasn't offended. He asked if I wanted a serious or hilarious question. I said give me a hilarious question. So he asked, "Do you think about me a lot?" And now I'm going to paraphrase myself-
"Less often than I used to." He didn't quite hear. "Less often than I used to." Which seemed to surprise him and I explained that I'm older and because I'm older I know more musicians. Also, when you're in your teens or your early twenties you have more time to obsess over musicians so I did, but now that I'm older I don't obsess as much. I just don't have the time. It's not personal, I said.
A woman behind me said, "Good answer."
Callahan said something like, "You should reconsider that."
And the conversation moved on. At the end he said "Does anyone have any questions about the film? That's still a question." For the last question he assigned someone to choose a questioner and I raised my hand but didn't get picked. I would have said that in 1997 David Berman told me that Bill Callahan is very funny and charming when you talk to him in person, but the minute you put a camera on him he freezes up. I would have asked, Do you agree with that assessment, and if so, what's changed so that 16 years later you're starring in a tour film?
And it made me think about how I've changed. I'm not depressed but am I still a stranger? Am I strange?