Mostly at Bear’s insistence and partially from my own curiosity, I have fallen into a full-fledged, unglamorous Bill Callahan stupor as of late. I have to have it with my coffee in the morning, and it has too often become my middle of the night wake-up call to turn off “One Fine Morning,” a song I have spent an embarrassing amount of time with, as if to make up for lost years with a new friend. And then like a gift from the universe, I stumbled upon the discovery that Gil Scot-Heron’s “I’m New Here” was originally a Bill Callahan song, released on (his then-stage name) Smog’s 2005 album A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. The more familiar Gil Scot-Heron version has a riding intensity that takes on a declaration of virility, whereas Callahan’s stoic simplicity and frankness in his quiet philosophy is a personal epiphany, a hint at enlightened thinking and an internal return to form. The differences are actually subtle, and their voices echo one another, like close friends finishing each others’ baritone stories.
The first thing of notice is the repetition of “no” that opens Callahan’s original, a sort of mantra that wards away into focus. The delicate fingerpicking sweetens out the coarseness in his vocal and emits a lightness against the obtuse songwriting. I’ve been obsessed with the way things fit into and affect specific times and places, so it’s been hard not to hear this song in my head the past few beautiful Los Angeles mornings, like whispered secrets directly from Spring. It embodies the impending season and changing breeze it always brings – the friends who come and friends who go, the annual exchange of new ambitions for the things we finally let go of, and mostly, the constancy of a life always in motion. There is a sinking sense of renewal that’s not necessarily about being in a new place, but having a new perspective of somewhere you’ve always been. Let this one talk to you, it’s wise as hell.