Alex Chilton :: I’m In Love With That Song

One of indie-rock’s most important pioneers and songwriters died today. Alex Chilton, founding member of Big Star, died at the age of 59. It is especially sad given that Big Star was only two days away from a major performance at the South by Southwest music festival, but would be sorrowful regardless.

It’s kind of hard to know what to say about the death of Alex Chilton. It’s sudden and it’s unexpected and tragic. Without him, it’s hard to see how the ‘college rock’ branch of the indie family tree would have developed in the same way – he’s the indelible link between the world of the Beatles and of R.E.M. The chiming guitars, the heart-on-sleeve vocals, the vision of pop music as something greater than its parts – all of this was honed across the three Big Star records. There’s a reason that all three of those albums showed up in Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of all Time list.

I’m probably not alone amongst Big Star’s younger fans in that I got into Chilton’s music through the Replacements. I first heard them cover “September Gurls” on a bootleg and soon worked to hunt down the original artist, eventually snagging the 2-for-1 CD reissue of #1 Record and Radio City. It’s fairly safe to say that my musical life hasn’t been the same since.

While there are many parts of the Big Star oeuvre that I return to over and over, “September Gurls” is still at the top among many. And tonight, the lyrics’ to Third / Sister Lover‘s “Take Care” seem especially poignant as well. Rest in peace, Alex.   words/ j neas

MP3: Big Star :: September Gurls
MP3: Big Star :: Take Care

+ Download Big Star via eMusic’s 35 free MP3 no risk trial offer

21 thoughts on “Alex Chilton :: I’m In Love With That Song

  1. Very sad news. He was one of a kind, no doubt. As to the Big Star era, if you’ve not read it, the 33 1/3 series volume on Big Star’s “Radio City is a great little book.

  2. I’m making all my students listen to a few songs on a vinyl EP I have today while they do their opening work in class. None of these kids have ever heard Big Star, and I want them to at least have heard “September Gurls” once in their life. I think I’d be a poor teacher if I didn’t give them that chance. Thanks for the amazing art, Alex.

  3. j neas– “Coolest… Teacher… Ever”!!! That is just the most fantastic idea! Back in the schooldays, I don’t think we ever got to hear anything other than isolated tunes by (I kid you not) Simon and Garfunkel, Yes, Foreigner and Pat Benatar. It’d take a while to explain….

  4. @j.neas:

    Very nice words and a great pic on your post. By the way, what do you teach? I just think that is a great idea. I wish I would have had teachers like yourself. There is something to be said for “cultural literacy” and people should know who Big Star were. Keep up the great work!

  5. Ouch. Way too early for Alex Chilton to go. Thanks for all the great songs, and thanks to David Poe and the Replacements for getting me hooked in the first place.

  6. There was something about living in the American South in the ’70s that Chilton’s Big Star managed to capture in spare, elegant poetry: angst, disaffection, loneliness, despair, love glorious love, friendship, hope. Big Star was relevant–at least for me. It might not be so much so today; you had to be there.

    Then there was that clean, shimmering guitar and emphasis on pop songwriting craft that had gotten lost in all the glitz and prog-rock messsiness. It spoke to those of us who could find it; #1 Record was an obscure gem, and that made us want it more. Radio City even more so.

    Chilton’s death washes over me as a warm breath of nostalgia for a certain time and a certain place–not necessarily a time or a place I’d want to go back to, but nevertheless a time and a place that I had to pass through to become who I am today. I would not want to be that Big Star-loving kid again, but I do have a certain fondness for who he was and the struggles he faced and, eventually, conquered (“at my side is God!”). And every time I listen to those first two Big Star records, in particular, I think of that kid.

    And yet it’s not all about the nostalgia, many of those songs endure. There’s never been a time in my life–since ’73, I think–that I haven’t I had one or more Big Star records in my collection. And there’s never been a time that I’ve shined one of their songs on when it’s cycled through my iPod.

    Rock and roll will never die, but Alex Chilton just did. RIP, man.

    Jim H.

  7. I teach English literature, mostly American and British. Though it obviously fit in more with my American lit students, I played it for all my classes. If Chilton’s music is timeless, then it certainly transcends arbitrary borders as well.

  8. Well you would had to have been THAT dumb to believe in the Beatles that much to begin with…

  9. I first experienced Alex’s throaty, blues vocals when he sang lead on The Boxtop’s big hit “The Letter” back in the 60’s hen he was, like 15 years old. Had the Rock ‘n Roll planets been aligned somewhat differently, it is very conceivable he could have ended up on the Mt. Rushmore of rock, along with the likes Jimi, John & Paul, Mick & Keith, Bono and Michael & Peter. RIP, my friend!

  10. I too got to Big Star by way of the ‘Mats. However, by the time I got there, they proved to be one of those vaunted influential bands that actually was worth the listen.

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