Tuesday, November 28, 2006

John Callahan: "Purple Winos in the Rain" Live on 23rd

First of all, you have to admire John Callahan for getting his new CD, "Purple Winos in the Rain" out there. We've talked over the years and I knew his song-writing was a genuine interest above the hobby level, but how many of us have projects like that? There are books that never get written and home renovations that never get made - a million and one different projects that hover around our lives trying to get in.

So when I heard Callahan was going to be performing songs from his new CD at the Music Millennium on 23rd last Saturday night, I was impressed. Yes, he was going up against the USC-Notre Dame football game, but I started the VCR rolling and headed out.

Is there a worse area in Portland to take a car than NW 23rd? When I found a parking place it felt like I had won a contest. The air was brisk and affluent-looking people were roaming around. Maybe it was the cold, but the deranged element seemed to be absent and the vibe was a Colorado ski town. This was the fancy Portland that I'm still trying to accept.

In the store, a nice crowd gathered by the stage. I didn't catch the name of the piano player, but I recognized Terry Robb warming up his acoustic guitar. Seated in the center was John Callahan, looking determined but somber. The record store was playing a CD of a singer with what I thought was an impressive, intriguing voice, and so I locked into the lyrics. I was quite surprised when I heard the phrase, "Purple Winos in the Rain" and realized it was John's CD. The guy can actually sing.

I became somewhat competitive. John Callahan is a renowned cartoonist, but music is my area. I drifted into comedy from that side of the equation. I was a little irked that Callahan has a marketable voice, and I was definitely eager to see how he performed live. It's one thing to record something - let's check out how he delivered the songs to a crowd.

The concert started and I was impressed. It's very hard for a novice performer to sit there with just a piano and guitar backing him up, and deliver a song. John actually pulled it off and then some. The crowd really loved him.

The next day I talked to him for quite a while, saying how annoyed I was that he turned out to be that good. Incidentally, Kinky Friedman is a buddy of Callahan's and he wants to record the song,"Purple Winos in the Rain". I found that one replaying in my head later, too. I could definitely imagine the Kinkster loving the high quality of the quirky lyrics.

Okay, here's my opinion of the CD. It's one thing for someone who has suffered a lot in life to use it for humor, but when they really let you into the emotional side of their souls, it can be quite sad. I kidded around with John for a while on Sunday before I asked him the question that was bothering me: Is he really as bummed out as the songs imply? He assured me that some were written years ago when he was in a much darker place. I really like Callahan, but he's dealing with quite a weight. The phrase that comes to mind is, "Hell on Wheels". Searching the Net, I saw that it's been used to describe him many times.

The CD is worth checking out. His voice and the actual music are surprisingly good. My wife liked his singing, and she is really discerning when it comes to that. The idea of what John Callahan's song lyrics would be like has always intrigued me, and that alone makes this a fascinating work. But don't kid yourself. This is not a laugh riot. You won't be disappointed by how good this is, but you might be affected by the darkness. For John Callahan, life is no stroll through the park.


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