Bill Callahan’s “Riding for the Feeling”
I’ve done a lot of leaving as an adult. The poetic call it nomadic, the nihilistic call it lost, and I’ve been known to call it rambling. But ultimately, it was leaving. In less than two days I’m set to leave once more, for what will be the last time. Rather than aim for another city or another state, I’m venturing a bigger leap. I’m going home to Canada.
If I’m really honest with myself, or perhaps just being characteristically romantic, I’ll say that I’ve always yearned to return home. Perhaps all of that previous shuffling was merely attempt after attempt to find what I feel when I’m back there. I’ve been stupidly lucky to experience a long list of lovely places, but like a perpetual Goldilocks, some were too big or too small, and none ever felt quite right.
Now, after 26 prolonged years, I’m finally leaving for the right reasons. I’m going home. Bill Callahan’s “Riding for the Feeling,” from his 2011 album Apocalypse, captures the sentiment so beautifully, and I’ve had it on repeat in the lead-up to my departure. With a voice that sounds like a deep grain of wood, Callahan consistently delivers observations that carry the kind of existential gravitas I appreciate most. Although, really, he could sing a grocery list and it would brim with meaning.
“Riding for the Feeling,” like many a Callahan track, starts quietly. The opening instrumentation—acoustic guitar, Hammond organ, and drum brushes—creates a hushed scene. “It’s never easy to say goodbye/ To the faces/ So rarely do we see another one/ So close and so long,” Callahan sings, meting out the words as though developing the thought in real-time.
Despite that opening credo, Callahan changes his tune, first figuratively and then literally. “In conclusion, leaving is easy,” he sings, “When you’ve got someplace you need to be/ I’m giving up this gig for another season.” It’s here that the song accelerates, building in intensity thanks to a mounting electric guitar. He begins repeating the titular phrase “Riding for the feeling,” the volume of his voice growing with his excitement.
That’s because leaving can’t help but contain the kernel of excitement. It’s such a two-faced thing. On the one hand, sure, it’s sad. Saying goodbye is never a blithe affair, and letting go of people never easy. But on the other hand, when you’ve got someplace to be, it’s hard to keep that bustling excitement at bay.
I’ve got somewhere to be—in fact, I’m long overdue—and in just two days’ time, I’m going to be riding for the feeling, knowing that the feeling is calling me home.