Friday, March 19, 2010

A Little Big Star

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":

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Feeling Low

I saw the band Low a long time ago, opening for the Swans in Philadelphia back on January 26, 1997. They used to successfully capture that odd combination of ennui, navel gazing, loneliness, and melancholy ether that I would imagine my life being but never really was. If I tried hard enough, I would imagine that my life's banality hid some deeper meaning. This was, of course, self-deception on the grandest scale. But upon reflection, it's not so bad to think that way. And music is often my ticket to that self-deception.

Tonight I post two songs from Low, both of which I've posted before.

The first is a song called "Sunflower" which is possibly one of the most beautiful songs recorded in the last decade or two. I don't know what the song is about but it's a mini-story involving a death, a crime, and perhaps a betrayal. But it's also about a dream lost.

The lyrics are:

When they found your body
Giant X's on your eyes
With your half of the ransom
You bought some sweet, sweet, sweet
Sweet sunflowers
And gave them to the night

Underneath the star of David
A hundred years behind my eyes
And with my half of the ransom
I bought some sweet, sweet, sweet
Sweet sunflowers
And gave them to the night

The other song I'm posting is "Shame." The lyrics are:

A long time you waited
You thought it had abated
Shame of it all
The harm that it causes
Pours down like a faucet
Shame of it all

Tonight these two songs capture my mood.