Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Memory of Alex Chilton

NOTE: This will be posted to my NJ.Com blog either later today or tomorrow, but I wanted to get it posted as quickly as possible. Once it moves to, I will remove it from here and replace this post with a link to the article.


I woke up this morning to the sad news that Alex Chilton had passed away at the age of 59. I am feeling a lot of the same things I felt when Joe Strummer passed away. I never met Alex Chilton, but his music has had a huge influence on me. My first exposure came from The Replacements song that bares his name. I wasn't sure who Alex Chilton was at the time, but if Paul Westerberg was singing about "children by the million” singing “for Alex Chilton" (a slightly ironic lyric given his relative obscurity in popular music circles), that was good enough for me. A few years later, A fellow DJ at our college radio station (one who was instrumental in my musical "education" - a big thank you, Mr. Chadwick) recommended I check out Big Star. It was almost too much to take in - hearing the first two Big Star records (#1 Record and Radio City) back to back was a revelation; I imagine it would be a lot like hearing A Hard Day's Night and Revolver without any advanced knowledge of The Beatles or their music. #1 Record mixed 70's rockers like "In The Street" (which went on to become the theme song to the FOX sitcom That 70's Show) with lush mid-tempo acoustic songs like "Ballad of El Goodo" and "Thirteen". It is a beautiful record, filled with songs about love, introspection and self-doubt. The performances are pristine - every note perfect, every harmony spot on - an amazing accomplishment in the days before Pro Tools and auto tune. Chilton (along with Chris Bell who was equally instrumental for the album's brilliance) had crafted a delicate masterpiece with #1 Record. With Radio City, Chilton offered an entirely different spin on his songs, stripping them down to the bare essentials of drums, bass, guitar and short blasts of piano and other incidental instruments. Like its predecessor, it is loaded with top shelf songs - from the opening blast of "O My Soul" and its twangy guitar heroics, to the driving chords of "Daisy Glaze" and "Back of A Car", it is as essential as an album can be. And then there's "September Gurls", the bonafide power pop classic brought to the masses by none other than Susanna Hoffs and The Bangles. There's an old saying about The Velvet Underground that says, "they never sold many records, but every one of the group's fans went out and started a band"; the same can be said for Big Star. In #1 Record and Radio City, Alex Chilton provided the definitive guide to power pop, and countless bands have followed his lead.

Alex was scheduled to perform at SXSW this weekend, a testament to his undeniable influence and relevance as a musician. It would be a fitting homage to have a tribute concert featuring all of the SXSW artists he influenced performing Big Star and Chilton songs, but they would probably need another week of shows to get to everybody.

To borrow and rephrase Alex's own words, "Thank you, friend / Wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you / I'm so grateful / For all the things you helped me do". Thank you, Alex. Rest in peace.