Bramble Ramble: Musings on the long-term effects of Bill Callahan’s music. Inspired by my first exposure to his 2013 album, Dream River.
Bill Callahan is either a father or a brother to me. Or maybe a kind of uncle. His music does something miraculous in people, something intensely personal that, although it’s often a new experience, seems innate to each of his listeners. Bill takes his time. He is a pacer. He hangs out on the other side of the proverbial forest, singing, playing, vamping, droning, confessing, warning, crafting, carving into the soundscape with eternal tenacity. Simple music: deceptively simple music that lulls the listener in like a siren, but will never ambush. Hell, it doesn’t even bother to invite you in, never mind take your hat and coat for you.
Regardless of how long you listen, Bill remains unmoved and continues to grow his musical empire for its own sake. Bill does not tailor to your tastes, but his tastes infect you. Eventually, you realize that what he has to say is exactly what you’ve wanted to hear all along. And so, you never leave Bill’s records alone for very long. I, at least, have to keep tabs on him. I’m his nosy neighbor. I need to know what he’s building in that studio of his. He’s a gentle giant who you wouldn’t want to step into the ring with. He sees the Vortex in your eyes.
His songs are the cousins you only see at family reunions: the ones who fascinate you for the duration of your annual rendezvous, but whom you are inevitably torn from just as you’re really growing into one another. You listen to his records long enough to glimpse the brilliance behind each of them. You go back to the reunion next year and your cousins are the same people, but you grab ahold of just a little more of their personality. Each listen is a step in pursuit of metonymy, but entropy has its way in the end. You never get the whole story. You will never know how many saddles your cousins have really ridden in, or the names of their lovers. You will never walk out of the bottom of that dream lake with clean feet. We all must do our time alone in that dark shed when we’ve been champing at the bit to get airborne all along.
So instead, I’ve got to enjoy the party where I met Bill for the first time, and be grateful for the letters I get from my cousins. Even if they never culminate into the relationships I dream about while petting butterfly wings. If I ever meet Bill, I’ll have to make some serious hemorrhages to my personality. The things I want from him seem impossible: a smile, a terrible pun, and an arm-wrestle. Maybe we could split a sandwich and count stuff. After all, what more can you do when your interaction only exists under the premise of mutually assured destruction? It would be an insult to give him the respect he has earned. To ask him anything would be an attempt to force us each into a position neither of us choose to play in our free time. How can play be honest when it happens on the job? What does he want from me? Maybe I’ll give him a really good hummus recipe. I hope Bill Callahan likes hummus.