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.