Never go too far without some Big Star: RIP Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton has died. The passing of Chilton, 59, comes just as Big Star was to be feted at SXSW; it seems a kind of absurd extension of the singer's ambivalence about celebrity, evident over the course of his career.

As a Box Top, he was a teen idol while still a teen himself. As a young man, he was criminally undervalued in Big Star. And as a cult figure, his legend loomed over the mixed results of his later recorded work. Chilton seemed, to an outsider, indifferent to his own reputation, suspicious of latter-day appreciation of critics and music buffs which was, largely, withheld when Big Star actually could have used the attention. The truth is, Alex Chilton gave us enough great music to last his (and our) lives.

I wrote about Big Star last September when the Rhino box set Keep An Eye On The Sky came out. Two months later I was at it again when RhinoHandmade reissued Chilton's Big Star band mate Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos.

I'll just say it very clearly and briefly here. Alex Chilton made some superb blue-eyed pop soul with the Box Tops and you owe it to yourself to get beyond the well-worn singles and discover some of the wonderful deep tracks on those early recordings. Big Star's first albums -- #1 Record and Radio City -- are two of the great achievements of bass-guitar-drums rock n roll. If you've listened to those records and you disagree, then you and I aren't going to agree on much else.

Big Star's blighted, blasted final album -- Big Star 3rd -- has never received a proper release and the task of properly representing those sessions now seems more urgent. 3rd -- with its mordant humor, its spooky glimpse into the fathomless well of sadness, madness, loneliness -- seems, on this sad night like essential listening in the truest sense.

Thank you friends. Thank you, Alex.

Views: 137

Comment by Downward Facing Dude on March 30, 2010 at 10:35am
Besides being one of the most underrated performers of our time, I think Alex Chilton wrote the saddest songs I've ever heard. I'm a big fan of sad songs, so he has always been a favorite of mine. I'm glad SXSW paid him tribute. It wouldn't surprise me if he gets the acclaim he deserves now.
Comment by James Hyatt on March 2, 2011 at 7:42pm

Alex Chilton and Big Star's music keeps moving on, passed to a new generation:

The massive entity known as "Big Star's Third" is performing the Big Star 'Third/Sister Lovers' album, plus additional Big Star, Alex Chilton, and Chris Bell songs, in NYC on March 26.
Here's what we believe to be a stunning performance of "Holocaust" as a preview of that show:
And a write-up of this performance:
"This song is "Holocaust," from Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers album. Time has proven its reputation as a haunting masterpiece - and a fitting tribute to the talents of songwriter, Alex Chilton. The group's influence has continued on, to this: "Big Star Third," a ongoing concert series by a diverse community of musicians performing the whole of Third, working from scores re-created by composer Carl Marsh. Chris Stamey (the dB's) provides additional orchestration and serves as the series producer.

This video captures two separate performances. Players included Big Star's own Jody Stephens, Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Mitch Easter (Let's Active), Stamey, and members of the Love Language, Megafaun, The Rosebuds, Lost in the Trees, The Old Ceremony, Birds and Arrows, Mayflies USA, the Tomahawks and the NC Symphony.

Video by CreatoDestructo Imagery.

Write-up of the March 26 concert:
"The next performance of Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers will be on Saturday, March 26, at Mason Hall in NYC, 8 p.m. The NC core group from the Cat’s Cradle show, complete with the rhythm section of Jody Stephens, Mike Mills, Will Rigby, Charles Cleaver, and Mitch Easter, will be joined by Tift Merritt, Matthew Sweet, M. Ward, Norman Blake (Teenage Fan Club), Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) and others to be announced shortly."

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.