andy, jody, alex.
I’m gonna try and keep this brief, if possible.
So, I get home from work tonight and there’s a text from my old roommate Pete that says, “I’m sure you’ve both heard but Chilton apparently dead.”
Hm. Knot in throat. Do 10 seconds of research. It’s true. Alex Chilton is dead.
Know what? People die all the fucking time. To me, I’m sure to a lot of us, rock star deaths are about as interesting as your best friend’s cousin’s great aunt breaking a hip.
In 1992-ish, my band Letters to Cleo started palling around with another Boston band, *Gigolo Aunts. At that time, they were covering a song by Big Star’s dead ex-guitarist Chris Bell called I Am The Cosmos. From that time until now, that song always makes my heart stop, but more importantly, Bell’s bleak approach to the standard love song gave me my introduction to the band he left. When I discovered Big Star’s #1 Record/Radio City, I finally knew what it meant to be the kind of fan that dissects and ponders every chord progression, every melody, every lyric. What I learned, ultimately, is that the songs that kick you in the guts are the ones that take the aforementioned portions and make them cooperate with each other. Unselfishly. If you’ve listened to Big Star’s Thirteen, you will know exactly what I mean.
I’m a bit surprised by the fact that I’ve been crying all night. I didn’t know I had it in me. I guess it’s because Alex Chilton changed my life. There aren’t many people/places/things to which I can attribute such a superlative. And now he’s gone. I dunno.
I should probably talk about Big Star related song titles, lyrics and references that have popped up on pretty much every record I’ve ever made. I should probably tell the story about how I crawled across the stage at the Paradise and stole Chilton’s (very full) ashtray when he wasn’t looking. That ashtray, complete with all the stubbed out butts, followed me and Pete through several apartments, by the way. I should tell a million stories about my love for Big Star and the secret handshake I share with people who feel the same way. But that would take an impossible amount of time so I’ll leave it at that.
I send out my warmest thoughts of love and gratitude to Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow and Jody Stephens, who were meeting Alex in Austin tomorrow for a Big Star show at SXSW. I hope there will be a way to carry on his important legacy.
Here’s a link to Bill Janovitz’ always excellent blog. Big Star related stuff, including me and USA Mike backing him up on a cover of Thirteen.
*link features a teenage chloe sevigny and the still remarkable phil hurley on lead guitar