I awoke Thursday Morning to an email from an old friend: Alex Chilton had died. Chilton was one of America’s greatest songwriters and musicians, blossoming first as a Blue-eyed soul singer with The Box Tops as a teenager in the 60s. He reached a short-lived and (at the time) too-obscure peak as the leader of Big Star, writing more than a couple of the best guitar-pop songs since the Beatles, like the perfect “September Gurls”. After Big Star, he spent a few years sinking into fabulous weirdness, eventually becoming part of the indie (then “post-punk” or “college”) rock scene that he inspired. Since that time, there have been a few slices of brilliance like the post-60s AIDS-era “No Sex”, and lots of fun and obscure R&B covers. But by then it was clear that as much as he loved the perks of the rock’n’roll lifestyle (the sex & drugs part), he didn’t feel like playing the game (or perhaps he just didn’t like the hard work). He died Wednesday at 59, too young and not famous enough, just before Big Star were meant to perform one of their fitful reunions at this week’s South by Southwest festival.
There are innumerable remembrances around the web, even a sincere appreciation from the usually sarcastic Gawker. And then there was the unexpected statement on the floor of the House Of Representatives from Memphis’ congressman, Steve Cohen. My favorite, though, is from another old friend, Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone. Or you can just find some performances on YouTube — and it’s not too late to buy his records.
(The last time I wrote about Chilton it was to quash rumors that he had died in his latter-day hometown of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. So incredibly sad that it’s the opposite, now.)