One could make a strong argument that if you were to distill the "Little Rock sound" down to the basest stock, removing the various influences heard here and there until one single, shared sound remained, it would be the that of Big Star and Alex Chilton.
Needless to say, last night's bad news traveled fast through town, instantly marring a lot of Irish levity and setting off a chain of spur of the moment listening parties. It also caused a lot of people--myself included--to ramble in to work late this morning.
On a personal note, while I've always dismissed the idea of celebrity mourning as shallow posturing, I'll be the first to admit that I'm legitimately, fiercely torn up about the completely unexpected passing of one of the greatest American songwriters ever, a tremendous (if not the biggest) influence on my own dalliances in music and, simply, a guy who once wished me a Merry Christmas.
A number of local musicians donated their thoughts and stories about Alex Chilton. Check them out after the jump.
“The Princes played a festival with Big Star in Atlanta a few years ago. I watched them perform Thirteen while smoking a cigarette with a guy from De La Soul's entourage who couldn't stop talking about how groundbreaking they were. At that moment, the extent of their reach and their legend was really driven home to me. I remember texting Dan Johnson about it, and he told me to shut up and just enjoy the moment.”
of American Princes
“If you can hear 'Kangaroo' without your naked soul hugging you from the inside out so hard that goosebumps pop up, I don't really even need to know that you exist.”
, producer extraordinaire
“I first heard Alex Chilton in ’92 or ’93. My friend gave me a cassette of Big Star: Live and I was blown away by it. I fell in love with the single-coil sounding guitar tones on “September Gurls”—it was my 2nd favorite track! In 1st place was ‘I’m in Love With A Girl’; the haunting melodies throughout that song are still relevant and powerful to this day. A bonus was the “Interview” track…I loved quirky, behind-the-scenes banter.”
“It happened too early and too unexpectedly. It’s always sad to see someone so influential to leave. Thank you, Alex.”
of The See
“Alex was a song-writer’s song-writer. He stayed true to his art even after he stepped out of the big spot light he walked into at age 16 with the Box Tops. As an artist, he never rested on his laurels, but continued to write and grow right up to his death. His death rips open a sizable hole in the musical sky.”Dr. Marck Beggs
of Dog Gods, poet and Henderson State dean
“Alex Chilton’s growth as a musician and songwriter over the past decades inspired dozens of wannabes to follow in his footsteps. One of the beauties of being blessed with the gift of song is that through sharing it you can achieve a sort of immortality. The sound vibrations you create will forever exist is some facet or another, be it via influence or in that warm feeling I get everytime I hear the soulful voice and the enviable guitar work of Alex Chilton. Rest, now.”
of Velvet Kente
“I'm really at a loss for words. I can only say that, for me, discovering Big Star felt something like falling in love and having my heart broken all at once. Chilton’s voice is the lump in my throat, the butterflies in my stomach and the anvil on my chest. It’s just gut wrenchingly beautiful.”
“There are people who love Big Star and then there are those who are still living in the dark. When I discovered the greatness of Alex Chilton in the early 90's it was a revelation. It was the point where I realized great music is often made and never given the deserved acclaim but the truth contained within is no less potent.”
, founder of Last Chance Records
"Big Star should have been massive over here. Some say they're like the real pre-Oasis in music terms and should have hit the top spot way back. For me and my pals, Alex Chilton--almost like the one they couldn't catch, the one that got away, a free soul illuminating all who ever felt his presence--was right up there with all the finest. [He'll be] sadly missed. The UK gives total respect."
, Mancunian of Girl Peculiar and ex-The Fall
“I met Alex Chilton when I was 22-years old while recording an album with Techno-Squid Eats Parliament at Ardent Records in Memphis. I came around the corner inside on my skateboard, bumped into the couch where some dude was sitting; the guy looked up and it was Alex Chilton! He looked annoyed & I said something like ‘Oh hi Alex, I’m Shayne. My band’s recording some stuff here.’
He said ‘hmm.’
I ran back in and told the other 3 guys in my band ‘I just met Alex Chilton…and I might have annoyed him.’
He seemed like a quiet person with some very dry humor and sarcasm that I still cherish.
Around 1995, we opened for him at The Cooler in NYC’s meat-packing district. He was about 3 hours late for his own performance.
Someone said they saw Lou Reed outside & I went up to see if I could at least see him…right about then, Aaron Sarlo and I found Alex out back, pretty wasted, with two almost-emptied bottles of red wine in his hands and a joint in his mouth. I remember thinking, ‘Never get to know your idols or you will eventually be disappointed’ but now I actually re-respect him for always doing his own thing.
Aaron tossed me his disposable camera and was like “I need a picture of us.” Alex put his arm around Aaron & I took the snapshot of a lifetime…The picture never turned out. I think because of all the heat & condensation down there. It developed like a globe of fog or a ghost of good times past, present, & future.
I never did meet Lou Reed that night, by the way.
Several years later I ran into Alex on the streets of New Orleans around 1997 and last saw him during a Big Star reunion show at Memphis in May in 1999. I was pissed at my wife because we missed the first two songs while security checked her bag at the gates. I just left her and my friends behind and ran through the crowd to the front right side of the stage. I yelled “Hi Jody!” and he winked at me; then I yelled “ALEX!” He nodded my way and they went right into the song ‘Jesus Christ’. It was brilliant, irreverent, & imperfect…just like rock should be.
I can promise you his death won't get near as much press as Michael Jackson's death but, like my father just told me (again) a few days ago, ‘ain't nobody said life's fair.’ "
of Dangerous Idiots, friend of Big Star drummer Jody Stephens