As you may have heard, Alex Chilton died last week. As silly as it may seem, I’ve been rather broken up about it and am still feeling quite sad. Who was Alex Chilton? He was the man who wrote the song Thirteen, which he recorded with his group Big Star. I wrote a little bit about that song last year, mentioning that it’s on my Top 5 Songs of All Time list. It might even be number 1 on that list. I’ve loved every version of it I’ve ever heard — Big Star’s, Jeff Tweedy’s, Elliott Smith’s, random people on YouTube, you name it. So simple. So perfect.
I went on a pretty intense Big Star binge last year, listening to their first two albums a lot. For Christmas, I even bought myself a copy of the book Radio City by Bruce Eaton, which is part of that 33 and 1/3 series of books about influential records. The latest mix CD I received as a gift has the fabulous song “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements on it. I had been checking online to see if he was going to tour anytime soon because I had never seen him perform. Now, though, I’ll never get that chance.
He was only 59, which sounds pretty damn young to me.
If you think you’ve never heard a Big Star song, that can be true only if you’ve never heard the intro song to That 70s Show — “In the Street.” Even though it’s Cheap Trick covering it, it’s a Big Star song.
My musical loves appear to be related like this — without Gram Parsons, there would have been no Alex Chilton (or Big Star). Without Big Star, there would have been no Replacements. Without the Replacements, there would have been no Wilco (at least no non-country Wilco).
Most of the articles I’ve read about Alex Chilton over the past few days (and there have been many) describe him as “mercurial,” which seems like a substitute for “could be a real jerk sometimes.” I guess that’s true about a lot of artists.
Take a look at this article in Pitchfork. It has a great compilation of videos, songs, and info. If you spend a bit of time listening to the songs, I think you’ll see why I love Big Star. And why I’m so sad right now. What a loss.