Saturday, March 25, 2023

10 interesting things about Smog’s Bill Callahan

It’s hard to believe I’ve loved so many rock bands for so long. Forget the super classics like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. All these later, 90s bands have imprinted themselves on my mind - heck, my life - for 30 some years. Bill Callahan of the one-man Smog is no exception. Famed Replacements' book writer Bob Mehr interviewed him in the December 2022 issue of MOJO Magazine. Here are 10 things I learned:

1. I rank Smog as my third-favorite band ever associated with the Drag City label, behind Pavement and Silver Jews/Purple Mountains and well ahead of King Kong.

2. He once dated Cat Power. Talk about a one-person-band power couple! He eventually married a filmmaker when he was nearly 50 in 2011.

3. Iggy Pop is a huge fan. So was Lou Reed.

4. One of his sisters got him into punk and new wave as a kid and the other sister has made about 10 albums.

5. Callahan was born in Silver Spring - where I lived for eight years - and moved to England before returning to spend his teen years in Maryland outside Washington DC. He loved WHFS and going to the 9:30 Club.

6. As a kid, he started a fanzine called Willpower dedicated to The Replacements.

7. The first show he ever did was opening for Pavement on Coney Island.

8. He feels like his songwriting touchstone is Lou Reed and his playing one is John Lee Hooker. He also identified with country songs by the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash and felt - rightly - that he could sing in those storytelling, voice-up-front styles.

9. He did an early interview with the legendary and defunct Magnet Magazine and felt they totally got his quotes wrong. When he complained, the magazine said he should be grateful anyone was writing about him.

10. This was the point he made in the article that I found most profound, and it even inspired me to get the basics down on my own, in-the-works Smog-inspired new song. Callahan said he thinks people write books and songs because each one is like another life they are getting to live. He said, “I want 500 lives, but I can’t have them. But I can write 500 songs.” I really like that thought.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

TV Snide: February 2023

TV Show of the Month: Sex Education - Season 1 (Netflix): This is one funny British ensemble high-school comedy. Asa Butterfield leads the way with his Mr. Bean-like awkward boy who seems to be following in the footsteps of his sex-therapist mother played by Gillian Anderson of X Files renown. Emma Mackey stands out as smart bad girl Maeve, as does Ncuti Gatwa as Eric and Connor Swindells as the stern schoolmaster's son Adam. Even the kids you're not supposed to like grow on you over time and seep into your caring conscious. All you could ask for in a TV show. 5 out of 5 stars

Movie of the Month: Avatar: Way of the Water 3D (Wheaton AMC 9): This is no letdown from the epically classic first movie. I tend to favor dialogue and plot over action, but the war and adventure scenes are among the very best in cinema history. Jake and family have to move from the forest to the reef because the Colonel wants revenge for Jake’s desertion from his military and species. There are definite growing pains. Director James Cameron leans heavily on precedent, as this is a mash up of Star Wars, Titanic, Moana, Jaws, Free Willy, and more. 5 out of 5 stars

Better Off Dead (Showtime): I have to stand by my pick on this blog a few years back of this classic as the greatest rom-com of all time. John Cusack’s Lane, Little Ricky, Monique, the guy elsewhere known as Booger, and the whole gang juggle high school, love, and the K12 monster ski hill. The non-stop, and as my 15-year-old son says “random,” laughs never stop rolling. So wacky and funny. 5 out of 5 stars

Documentary of the Month: 1971 (Apple TV): This 8-parter is essential viewing for anyone interested in music, politics, and history. The focus is placed on the Rolling Stones, The Who, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, David Bowie, and a few others, but the story is so much bigger, placing the viewer smack dab into 1971. 5 out of 5 stars

Everything Everywhere All At Once (Showtime): This may be the most wildly creative movie I have ever seen. While 2.5 hours is a lot to take in terms of mind spinning-ness, every 5 seconds presents another amazing idea packed into the ride of a laundry-owning family that can shift into other universes at will. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Cunk on Earth (Netflix): An hilarious and beautiful BBC 5-part production that takes us in spoof form of history documentaries from the cavemen to infinite time loops we may be headed towards. This is really funny and well worth a movie length’s amount of your time. 9 out of every 10 jokes land chucklingly at the expense of all humans. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Novel of the Month: No One Left to Come Looking for You by Sam Lipsyte: When lead singer Earl goes missing, Jack Shit of the Clinton-era band The Shits goes looking for his bass that has gone missing with him. Thus unfolds a series of Coen Brothers-like vignettes across Manhattan that include menstrual-blood-stained art shows, stitch-ripping-heroin-filled concerts, humbling visits back home, and some very bad thugs employed by Donald Trump. The baby-step progressions of late youth are well documented in a story that sags a little at times but has a rip-roaring last third. 4 out of 5 stars

The Greatest Beer Run Ever (Apple TV): Peter Farrell directs what starts as just a goofy (but somehow true) premise of a bonehead who wants to take beers to his childhood friends fighting in the Vietnam War. Zac Efron turns in his usual terrific performance, with great bit players all around, including Russell Crowe as a photographer and Bill Murray as a bartender. The horrors of the war are on full display, as we watch Efron’s “Chickie” transform into a significantly more critical thinker about how the world truly works. 4 out of 5 stars

Short Story of the Month: “The Reencounter,” by Isaac Beshevis Singer (1979): A doctor is called early one morning and told an ex of his has died and the funeral is that day. He goes, and when he arrives, he realizes he too has died. The two meet again in the funeral parlor as floating souls and realize that the intellectual pursuits each had chased throughout their lives were complete nonsense. The thing they despised the most - immortality - was in the process of happening to them. 4 out of 5 stars

“Taking Care,” by Joy Williams (1982): The American writer keeps with her theme of downward spiraling and loss in this short story about Jones, a preacher who stays afloat despite his wife dying in the hospital and his daughter leaving him with his baby daughter while she goes to have a nervous breakdown in Mexico. 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Kids in the Hall 2012 (Amazon Prime):The Lorne Michaels-produced comedy troupe never did it for me back in its original 1990s run. I don’t think anyone would ever describe me as a prude, but the gratuitous sex humor too frequently falls flat. I couldn’t make it all the way through two episodes. 2 out of 5 stars