A lot of musical deaths recently: Jay Reatard, Mark Linkous (of Sparkelhorse), and now Alex Chilton. For some reason Linkous' death really saddened me. I have/had this attachment to Sparklehorse's music that's more emotional than casual (or cognitive). I first heard of Sparklehorse the night I saw them in concert, opening for Mercury Rev in a little bar in Pittsburgh in 1999 or so. I remember Linkous' frail body and the music that they made, it seemed like music made by insects or something. Later, a friend gave me their Distorted Ghost EP which succinctly combined all the disparate moods of Sparklehorse in one powerful and short package. There was the rock'n'roll blowout of "Happy Man" followed by "Waiting For Nothing." Linkous didn't seem like a happy guy but he did produce some awfully beautiful music.
The same could be said about Alex Chilton, whose records for Big Star are without compare. Again, for me, listening to Big Star is indelibly linked to my time in Pittsburgh in the late '90s. I remember discovering both #1 Record and Radio City in a budget 2-for-1 disc at Paul's Records out in Bloomfield. I played them a lot in Pittsburgh driving around, feeling young, and momentarily lightened. I put those songs in every mix tape I made for anybody. One word comes to mind: gorgeous music. Chilton often gets slotted into "power pop" but he was much more than that, and could veer off into his own little dark world of proto-goth or avant garde or Memphis soul anytime he wanted.
Like many people, I first heard of Big Star because of "Alex Chilton," the Replacements song off of Pleased To Meet Me. Later, when I saw them, they covered "September Gurls" in concert and I tracked down a bootleg that communicated the thrilling joy of that song. Like church bells chiming into heaven or something.
From top to bottom, Big Star's brief catalog is fantastic. They wrote fantastic songs, played well, and were without peer. Alex Chilton was a central part of that equation, producing song after song of pop genius, little three minute gems that were constructed, played, and sang perfectly. The fact that they were completely ignored and unloved for decades only adds to their mystique but that's not really the central point of their career. Chilton himself seemed completely uninterested in fame and money, just going from thing to thing as it pleased him. At its core, Big Star created the kind of music tapped into some deeper level, where melody and words and singing don't need to be explained. Just felt.
Anyway, here today, I'm writing from very far away, out of the country, 10 time zones away from New York. I've had some wine and I am missing a little big star of my own, a polka dot in heaven. And therefore I've been listening to Big Star's "Thirteen." More than any song I can think of, "Thirteen" captures perfectly the rush, ennui, and yearning of falling for someone when you are young:
And here is "September Gurls" by Big Star:
And Congressman Cohen paying tribute to Alex Chilton in Congress:
And probably the greatest single power pop song ever written, the Replacements' "Alex Chilton":