Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remembering Alex

I resisted Big Star as long as I could. In my mind I saw all these hipster kids praising the band, and I didn't want to be seen as part of that crowd. If you like a band, I thought, it has to be because YOU like them, not because you want other people to think you're cool for liking them. It might sound twisted, but I was always wary of being a "fake fan" of any artist. It's just like being a "fake friend"; It's about integrity, I suppose.

In the spring of 1994 I was beginning graduate school and figured the time was right to join BMG music service (again) to take advantage of the 10 CDs for a buck, or whatever the deal was. I was starting a new life in a new town, which meant I needed new music. One of my CDs was a two-fer of Big Star's first two albums. I figured it was a relatively risk-free way to find out if this band was worthy of all the hipster hype. It didn't take many listens for me to reframe how I was looking at Big Star. Before the end of my little contract with BMG I would order Big Star's Third and Columbia: Live At Missouri CDs, and by the end of the decade I was lucky enough to see a Posie-fied Big Star perform at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

I've always viewed the relation to music as one that's deeply personal (which is why I admit it's a little wierd writing about it sometimes). I think this is why this morning's news of Alex Chilton's passing hit me like a wrecking ball. His work, especially with Big Star, mattered. Yeah that sounds melodramatic, but I'm sure there are people out there who get it. In fact I know there are. Some of them were probably in that hipster group I despised back in '94, but today I am proud to be in their company as a true fan of Alex and his band.

My thoughts and prayers are with Alex's family today. I think history has already proven that we've lost a special, important artist.


Mark said...

Not my experience at all. We never saw the first Big Star album, but Radio City landed in the 99 cent cutout bins immediately. I loved the cover, just the saturated brightness of it. I really didn't pick up on the subject matter, or know anything about the photographer, William Eggleston, until years later. I bought it for the cover. And put it away.

Some years later, Alex released Like Flies On Sherbert, which I loved, and I went back and listened to Radio City. Instant love. Pure Pop, but skewed. Some of it sounded like they were playing it backwards. Some of it was just odd, and all of it was wonderful.

I worked my way backwards: #1 Record and forwards: Big Star 3/Sister Lovers, both superb!

I never knew anyone else who knew this music, not for several years. But I knew it was amongst the best I'd ever heard!

Jeff said...

Mark - I'm picturing all these new copies of Radio City in the 99 cent bin. Unreal. Thanks for sharing this - I love hearing people's own experiences with music (as you probably know!).

I forgot to mention in my post that my first experience with Alex was actually a 45 of "Choo Choo Train" by the Box Tops, which my brother and I owned in the late 60's/early70's. We wore the record out. I'm pretty sure we got it in one of those plastic grab bags of 45s that some record stores used to have. I remember Musicland and Woolworths selling them, like 5 singles in a bag. Anyway, some 20+ years later, after I'd discovered Big Star, I realized Alex was the same guy that sang "Choo Choo Train". It was an exciting connection to make, piecing two different parts of my life together.

Bill Wikstom said...

I discovered Alex via a then-new fiercely popular single (on local alt rock station WLIR-FM) titled "Alex Chilton" by a band I had recently fallen in love with, The Replacements. I was barely 12 years old. After a year or so of absorbing The Mats, I happened up the Alex solo EP 'Feudalist Tarts'. It made a small impression on me but I liked it. Especially "Stuff".

Fast forward to a live appearance in 1990 in support of 'Black List' at the Knitting Factory. He was very cool and accommodating. He seemed like a rock god to 15 year old me when he (and his rhythm section) all lit up joints and performed "Only The Lonely" as an encore. 1991 and the release of his '19 Years' Rhino comp. I freaked out over "Bangkok", "Nightime" and "My Rival" and others from this collection.

I first formally heard Big Star (aside from the 'Third' material from the comp) from landing cheap, cheap, cheap vinyl copies of '#1 Record' and 'Radio City' as well as the German Line Records twofer CD of those two albums (all the very same week!). An unplayed Ardent promo copy of '#1 Record' was found at a garage sale for .25 cents(!!). I'd only seen this album on the walls of record stores downtown in the Village for $50 dollars. And a promo copy (with promo sticker) of 'Radio City' for a comparatively inexpensive $10 dollars.

I went on to see Alex about 12 times live (solo and with Big Star) and love all of his work (The Box Tops, Big Star and his varied solo work). The world doesn't see his kind very often. I'll miss him.