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Alex Chilton forever

Remembering the Memphis pop king.


CHILTON: Soulful and inspiring.
  • CHILTON: Soulful and inspiring.

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 that of Big Star and Alex Chilton.
Needless to say, last week's news of Chilton's death traveled fast through town, instantly marring a lot of Irish levity and setting off a chain of spur of the moment listening parties.

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, a tremendous (if not the biggest) influence on my own dalliances in music and, simply, a guy who once wished me a Merry Christmas.

We've devoted a number of posts on Rock Candy to Chilton. One includes links to download a trio of local-tied acts covering Big Star: American Princes doing “Don't Lie to Me,” The Boondogs with “O, Dana” and Elegant Too (featuring Chris Maxwell of The Gunbunnies) taking on “Nighttime.” The others are tributes to or memories of Chilton, mostly from Arkansas musicians (an ex-member of The Fall answered my call for remembrances on Facebook, too). Here are a couple of the most poignant.

“…We realize it's not so easy to be friends with an artist, especially a gifted one. His smile often twisted into a leer, even when he was amused by your bonhomie and by your adulation. Be careful of tendencies: OK we've created it; now let's deconstruct it. Godhead on the one hand, destroying angel on the other… Lord help you if you were caught in between. His tones were golden, and he knew that... better than anyone. Was he resentful because he had given so much, and had received less than the key to the temple of abiding good fortune and fame immemorial? Was he content in his rickety 18th cottage on the edge of the French Quarter surrounded by his guitars and aquatints and a cognoscenti of musicians who celebrated him as we do now? Did he draw all that he could take from his talents? Did he quaff draughts of indolence? The answers mean little, and the questions even less. What matters is that those whom he touched, were touched immutably…” — Tav Falco, musician, filmmaker and wild man, who collaborated with Chilton in the Panther Burns in the late '70s and early '80s (and who's from Gurdon!). Read the full remembrance on Rock Candy.

“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.” — Marcus Lowe, local producer and drummer in Parachute Woman.

“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.” — joshua of Velvet Kente.


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