Music serves many purposes in life. It can sooth us, heal us, and sometimes just distract us or put us in a better mood by bringing us to think about situations in life with a different perspective. I have recently been listening to a musician named Bill Callahan and wanted to bring a song called “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” to your attention.

I will start with a little background on Mr. Callahan just to get you warmed up. A colleague of mine at work introduced
me to the music of Bill Callahan.

Bill Callahan may not be very well known where you are, so let me tell
you a little bit about him. For fifteen years he released albums under
the band name Smog. His early recordings were done with
extremely inexpensive and sometimes out of tune instruments and
recording equipment. In some ways he can be categorized along with The
Mountain Goats as a pioneer of using inexpensive recording equipment
and pushing the importance of lyrics and the passion of the musician
over multimillion dollar recording studios that capture technically
brilliant but soul free recordings.

In my workplace, there is a rotation of music played via laptop and iPods. One day my office friend decided to play Callahan’s new album.  I found the experience strikingly powerful — the deep tone of Mr. Callahan’s voice hit me immediately. Others in the office teased my friend for playing it, saying the music was really depressing — but something about the music spoke to me. 

When my Callahan-loving colleague was on vacation, I had a strong desire to hear a song that my friend had played for us a few times. I kept searching for different terms in the song I wanted to hear until I finally found it: “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” from Callahan’s recently released album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.

Eid Ma Clack Shaw, as I hear it, is split into two parts. The narrator has two separate but equally important dreams. In the first dream, he has a dream in which his departed lover — by death or other means — visits him. That dream shakes the narrator, in such a profound manner that he is awakened. He wishes that there were a way to rid himself of such painful memories.

That dream leads into the second part of the song. The narrator falls back asleep and is suddenly inspired to compose the most perfect song. This song, he says, contains all the answers — perhaps how to rid himself of memories. He then somewhat awakens and manages to write down the lyrics to this song that he has written in the dream — but then when he fully awakens, he has scribbled the following:

Eid ma clack shaw
Zupoven del ba
Mertepy ven seinur
Cofally ragdah

He ends the song by repeating his desire to be able to rid himself of memories and he reminds us of the song that he wrote in his dream.

What can we do with knowledge that we learn in dreams?

Can we ever hope to take the knowledge outside of the dreams?

Or is it just that there is nothing really new in our dreams since they are created by our own brains and we should be able to find the knowledge if we can but delve into our own mindspace somehow?

In an interview with Uncut magazine, Mr. Callahan was asked about writing songs in dreams.

Have you ever “dreamed the perfect song”?

I have dreamed melodies that made my heart weep and I have dreamed lyrics that would shatter the world. When I wake they run back into the woods.

What are your thoughts on the song and capturing dreams?

25 Comments

  1. This is a thoughtful article, Gordon, and I enjoyed your analysis of the song.
    I’m not sure if I immediately see Callahan’s genius. His fumbled lyric-turned-into-a-song reminds me so much of Claes Oldenburg’s “Torn Notebook” on the UNL campus:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/05/30/claes-oldenburgs-torn-notebook/
    I’m also not sure if Callahan should be performing his own songs. Speaking a melody has never been my favorite notion of singing. SMILE!
    I do think our dreams rule us and in my experience — trying to write them down only destroys them. Dreams are meant to be foggy and ethereal and wafting and giving them a hard context explodes their meaning in the mist.

  2. Thank you, David.
    I’m not sure that Mr. Callahan dreamt this dream. To me it’s more of a story about a man with such a dream.
    I rather enjoy Mr. Callahan’s speak melody – but I guess different strokes for different folks? 🙂
    That last paragraph – the article I was trying to find was centered around that theme. 🙂

  3. Weird. I wonder what happened to the comment I left here.
    I think that Callahan wrote the song about a fictional character and didn’t just pull a torn notebook 🙂 I am also fond of his particular talk singing because I actually get a lot of emotion out of it.
    I wish I could find that article you wrote that basically was all about how trying to write down dreams destroys them. Hmm.

  4. That makes sense, Gordon. Callahan is imagining this scenario — it might not apply directly to him.
    It seems when we upgraded to MT 4.3 that the trusted commenters flag was reset somehow. I think I’ve fixed it. Give it another try.

  5. Indeed, Halpey. You’re quite welcome. This is one of my favourite songs of 2009 for sure.
    Check out my other music related articles. I imagine that you might also like The Mountain Goats and John Vanderslice.

    1. It’s such a fascinating song to me. Glad you like his music! A friend of mine told me that he once attended a concert where there were exactly four people in attendance. Mr. Callahan basically said, “What do you want to hear?” and played anything and everything.

  6. I believe that this song is about his dog, who had passed away at the time. The opening line is “Working through death’s pain”. The opening stanza closes with “Howl, howl, howl”

  7. Gordon,

    I really enjoyed the post. I’ve listened to this album countless times and have been affected in similar ways to you. I just wanted to say thanks for your perspective, I got a lot of inspiration out of it. And being a musician myself, that is a priceless gift to me.

    Merry Christmas,
    Adam

  8. hello namesake! I have known about smog for about a year now and I feel like my life is much greater for it. You are right, there is something wonderful about his voice and his unconventional melodies. I arrived on this page hoping to find out what the words Eid ma clack shaw meant or if they are just made up nonsense. Anyone know?

    p.s. check out dead man’s shoes, a film which includes Callahan’s vessel in vain on the soundtrack. it fits perfectly to the film, as does a few other lovely acoustic numbers

    1. Greetings in return!

      As far as I know, Eid ma clack shaw is a made up nonsense. Everything points to that. Either that or Mr. Callahan found it in a book buried in a University library, left unread by anyone else for many years. That’s speculation, of course.

      Thanks for the film recommendation!

  9. Hello! (first of all, sorry if my english is a bit messy, I’m spanish, but I swear I’m trying my best)

    I really like this man! I was searching for some explanation of this eidmaclackshaw thing, what he was trying to say? (In fact, I didn’t read the lyrics and when I was listening to the “Zupoven del ba, mertepy…” I was like “What a strange accent…” jajaja)

    I just wanted to say that finding someone from another country that also likes Bill Callahan voice and lyrics (as I do) is very pleasing, and I find this post very enjoyable, thanks!

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