Callier is cool, never too precious. He attempts neither a totalizing theory of Darkness nor an experience of everyday abjection; his goal is to write songs that take the listener on a journey around the world. It was not, however, a humanist project, and at times the deadpanness of white culture comes out in flashes of relief: ‘The exhausting man’, the smoothing ‘money makers’ – trouble in the street below . But Callier does not minimize his people’s experiences of racism or poverty. Instead, his music seeks to surround them like a shield.
After Callier was fired from Cadet, reportedly due to poor sales, producer Don Mizell signed him to Elektra, who attempted to insert him into the “disco-loverman” lineup, freeing Fire on ice (1978) and turn into love (1979). Again mislabeling hampered his career, and in 1983 when Callier’s daughter Soundiata told him she wanted to live in Chicago, he retired from music, got a job as computer programmer at the University of Chicago and focused on raising his daughter. Callier’s collaborations were riddled with untimely deaths: Stepney at 45, Riperton at 31. Callier persisted until his death from throat cancer in 2012.
It’s a bit disorienting to read posthumous essays that emphasize the “discovery” of Callier’s talents, casting him as an unsung hero. It’s meant with respect, and I’m not sure I’m accomplishing anything different here by trying to convey that Callier was extraordinary and deserved all that love. Besides fame, had found different meanings through his art: a respected singer-songwriter in the eyes of his contemporaries and, as a testament to his own experimentation, an influence on a wide range of musical lineages, including early American grunge. , British trip hop, and Japanese lo-fi instrumentalism.
His friends and family called him an “ordinary joy,” the way this man lit up a room, the childlike wonder he inspired in his friends and peers. This light has been reciprocated: in 2017, after a community petition, Chicago inaugurated Terry Callier Way on a stretch near Seward Park in Cabrini-Green. It’s a small memorial to a man from Chicago whose main tension was between his people and the outside world. On “I’d Rather Be With You”, a warm and generous song from his third album, he sings about indispensability, the sacrifices he would be ready to make to be with someone: “I could take my guitar/And hit the road, try to be a star / That kind of thing / Don’t like me. Sometimes love possesses us.