Anybody out there remember AP (Alternative Press) magazine? I think it’s still around. Nowadays it’s all about like, emo pop punk bands and stuff; lots of skinny Midwest bros with hair products. But! Back in the 90s, AP – along with Magnet – was the indie rock bible-magazine. It ruled.
Every month I’d buy their album of the week or whatever.
Back sometime in 1993, their big pick was “Julius Caesar,” by Smog. I bought it. It was amazing.
Now remember, we’re talking a pre-Internet era, so you had no MP3 samples or whatever. You just took the plunge.
Also, due to the Internet-less-ness of the times, it was still possible to voluntarily maintain some sort of mystique as an artist. And boy, did Smog have a mystique. I knew his real name was Bill Callahan, and I knew he recorded the disc alone, on a 4-track, in his room (in Chicago?)
That was it.
The rest of what I knew was shaped by the album itself; specifically this: Bill Callahan is a twisted, dark, brilliant dude.
The record is like peeling back the lid of some terrifying id (Bill’s.) The songs are about vengeance (“Your Wedding,” key lyric – “I’m gonna be drunk/ So drunk/ At your wedding), the occasional Dadaist silliness (“I am Star Wars!” – he samples the Rolling Stones!) and what can only be described as psychotic terror (“Stalled on the Tracks;” key lyric, “Stalled on the tracks/ A turtle on it’s back…”)
Dude was messed up.
Throw in the eerie, analog-rich, home-recording techniques (not unlike Neutral Milk Hotel records) and you have an instant early 90′s Drag City cassette classic!
That was a long time ago.
Since then Bill has (kinda) re-invented himself, less as a bug-eyed loner possessed by tortured spirits, and more as a dry, still-slightly-rough-around-the-edges crooner. He’s one smooth operator! It must be the baritone that drives the ladies wild.
Anyway, Bill Callahan – billed as, yes, Bill Callahan – is playing the Henry Miller Library on June 19th! Ticket info on the Henry Miller Library website.
I wonder if anyone is still reading this?