Thursday, March 18, 2010

RIP: Alex Chilton

Alex Chilton 1950-2010

As I’m sure most of you know, Good-Music-Wouldn’t-Be-Where-It-Is-Today-Without-Him legend Alex Chilton passed away yesterday from a heart attack, age 59. I admit I’m not much of a Big Star fan, though I do own two of their three seminal albums and one of the reunion outings from a few years back, and I certainly recognize his/their worth and importance even if I have to be in the mood for the music. But today as I spun my two-for-one disc of #1 Record and Radio City, I realized it’s sometimes hard to justify the necessity or importance of an artist in the grand scheme of things. Would we have gotten to punk without the Stooges, to Minor Threat without the Sex Pistols, to Creed without Nirvana? Possibly, though perhaps not in the same way with the same result. Influence is an interesting deal…it’s much more than the millions of records sold or dollars made, how many times you’ve been on the cover of Rolling Stone, whether or not you can or ever could sell out an arena. A lot of that stuff is a flash in the pan, part of the fickle nature of the media and the public and more often than not we simply get watered down copycats of those artists clogging up the airwaves more than anything else. I think influence trickles in slowly, takes its time, a few people here and there in various parts of the country/world who when they come together realize they’ve got something secret and special in common and create something new as a result. And while oftentimes the end product is bigger and grander, at least from a visible/commercial standpoint, it in no way diminishes the value of the common source that helped create it. This is the case with Big Star and, to a lesser extent, Alex Chilton as a solo artist. Big Star, among others, basically created the power pop genre of rock music, the bridge from the classic rock of the Beatles and the Kinks, etc that led to artists like REM, Teenage Fanclub, the dB’s and, of course, the Replacements – with Paul Westerberg’s ode to his idol, the blatantly titled Alex Chilton, summing up nicely in both music and lyric everything that the man, his band and his music meant to so many people. Unfortunately Chilton’s most well known song today is the Cheap Trick covered In the Street as the theme song for That 70’s Show, which is fine as Robin and the boys, who I assume were influenced by Big Star, do it justice with a loose-feeling and reverent performance. But the money version, the one you need to hear, is from 1972’s #1 Record, along with about three dozen other songs. Like so many obscure but important artists before him, Alex Chilton is one whose influence is certainly traceable and yet as equally incalculable. Music would not be the same without him and while without him we'd have never known the difference, I'm glad that difference was made. So rest in peace Alex, you’re leaving too soon but you’ve certainly earned your rest.

Check out a few tunes here.

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