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Alex Chilton



THE SINGER NOT THE SONG: ALEX CHILTON VS. CHRIS BELL

Here's a noteworthy comment, I received based on my assessment of Alex Chilton/Big Star's 3rd/Sister Lover

I don't have much to add seeing as how I wasn't there at the time.


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Alex Chlton Singer Not the Song EP

As producer of Singer Not the Song, I am not sure what you mean by well-crafted. I'm glad you think it is a gem, but it was extracted more than crafted. At this particular point in time, Alex was wholly disinterested in craft. Although I would have been delighted to be a part of a collaborative work of greatness, Alex was only marginally interested in the recording process, the only thing that seemed to be of interest to him was that I might somehow be able to make a record with him that would allow him to leave Memphis. That did happen. The unpleasantness he displayed in the studio was only a hint of how much of a dick he would be in the years to come.

I found Chris Bell to be a far more engaged person, both as a musician and a human being. If anyone should have continued Big Star it should have been Chris, whose vision created the band, focused the songs on the first album, and infused the songs on Radio City (some of which were cowritten by him but uncredited) with a pop/rock sensibility that Chilton never was able to capture on subsequent work.

best,
Jon Tiven



Emitt Rhodes: At Last?

Here’s how my mind works sometimes. Like a relay race. Alex Chilton dies and the synapses start yapping and snapping and something like this comes out. I had read and heard in different places, Paul Westerberg’s tribute in the online New York Times, a conversation I had with someone who knew him, that in the years after he moved from Memphis to New Orleans, Chilton was washing dishes for a living or as Westerberg mentioned, living in a tent in Tennessee. Whether these things were about choice or necessity, I don’t know. On the face of it, they are not activities one associates with legendary rock status, or lifestyle choices popular musicians normally make. But I don’t claim to have known Alex Chilton through anything but his music, and although his talent for melody seemed to flow without effort, there was nothing easy about the way Chilton treated it, as has been previously noted by Robert Hull on this site.

So what do I know? Washing dishes and living in a tent might have fulfilled some promise he made to himself. He would try to live like an ascetic. He would try the mendicant path. Maybe anything worth saying isn’t supposed to come easy.

But the synapses start yapping and snapping and the baton gets passed. I think, hey, what about That 70’s Show? Didn’t he make a pile from “In the Street?” Didn’t that show give the world Mila Kunis from Kiev? Didn’t Chilton agree to a Box Tops tour not so long ago? Hey, didn’t Big Star make their first studio record since 1973 in 2005 and weren’t they scheduled to play at South by Southwest when Chilton passed away. Wasn’t the world becoming A.C.’s oyster again?





ALEX CHILTON'S 1st MASTERPIECE

Alex Chilton in the studio

Growing up in Memphis back in '67, I used to get tired of hearing the Box Top's ‘The Letter’ (#1 hit in the world that year) on the radio every second because DJs felt obligated to reduntantly remind listeners that here, at last, was a hometown band that had hit the Big Time. (In The eyes of Nehru-clad visionaries, Memphis's Sun rockabilly and Stax soul – the untamed past – were irrelevant to the expectations for a bright Sgt. Pepper future.)

Fame's a brief candle though, and soon the Box Tops were inserted in the annals of anthropop history. That is, until '72 when their ex-vocalist Alex Chilton began making racket with Big Star, a name not meant as a cynical reference to the Box Tops' instant stardom but simply referring to Memphis' Big Star supermarket chain, where as a teen I used to buy Hit Parader (which printed the lyrics to all the Box Tops' hits).

Much has been written about Big Star's initial lack of success. True, #1 Record and Radio City are infectious pop LPs, but they're also rather uneven, their best moments on singles (i.e. ‘When My Baby's Beside Me’, ‘September Gurls’). As for Alex Chilton, his cultism is worth examining, not only because his recent works, the Singer Not The Song EP and ‘Bangkok’ 45, are well-crafted gems, but also because he's still out there fighting for fresh sounds (despite a disbanded Big Star, whose influence is heard in the music of Sneakers/Chris Stamey and Memphis Scruffs).