BOXED OFFERING: How To Grow Up To Be A Debaser

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 [Illustration by JAY BEVENOUR]

Pixies career-encompassing box set called Minotaur will be available for purchase at ainr.com, home of pixies_minotaur_1.jpgcontemporary art reinterpretation box sets for Beck, NIN and Sigur Ros.  This stunning reappropriation/recreation of the Pixies catalog as art is “must have” for any fan of Vaughan Oliver or 4AD’s legendary catalog, one that any collector should be salivating to check out.  Minotaur is out June 15 in a $175 Deluxe Edition and a $450 Limited Collector’s edition that also includes a 96-page hardcover book and vinyl versions of every Pixies release. The Deluxe Edition will include all five Pixies studio albums – Come On Pilgrim (1987), Surfer Rosa (1988), Doolittle (1989), Bossanova (1990), and Trompe le Monde (1991) – on 24k layered CD and Blu-ray (five discs total), with reinterpreted artwork by Vaughan Oliver, the graphic designer who created all of the artwork that accompanied the Pixies’ studio albums.  Also included in the Deluxe Edition will be a DVD of a Pixies 1991 performance at the Brixton Academy in London, the group’s videos, possible bonus tracks, and a 54-page book, all housed in a custom slipcase.  The Minotaur Limited Edition version will include everything in the Deluxe Edition, as well as all five albums on 180 gram vinyl, an Giclee print of Oliver’s artwork, and a 72-page hardcover book, all housed in an oversized custom clamshell cover. For more information and to pre-order, visit www.ainr.com

All Good Monkeys Go To Heaven

MEcropped2.jpgBY JONATHAN VALANIA A word of warning: This is gonna be one of those columns where I go on and on about my little monkey shines with famous alt-rock personalities. Millions of people love it when I do that, but others seem to get very, very angry about it, stomp their feet and write mean letters that hurt my feelings. If that sounds like you, stop reading right now. I’m serious. I don’t want to even see you in the second paragraph.

Set the Wayback Machine to 1988. I’m a college DJ stranded in the middle of Pennsyltucky. Entranced by the naked boob on the cover of Surfer Rosa, I slap it on the turntable and…they had me by the first 20 seconds of “Where Is My Mind?” and never really let go. Shortly thereafter I got a gig working for a Pennsyltucky daily. They asked me one day if I wanted to interview some guy named Black Francis from the Pixies. Would I? Man, this was a dream come true! I could finally learn the WTF of lyrics like, “He bought me a soda, he bought me a soda/ And he tried to molest me in the parking lot.”

When I got him on the phone, he was no doubt bone-tired from endless touring and weary of answering stupid blackfrancis2.jpgfanboy questions. He insisted I call him Charles and pretty much refused to give me a straight answer to any question. “Who cares?” he’d say. “We just try to make cool rock music.” I remember thinking: what a dick.

The next Pixie I met was Kim Deal, around 1994. The Breeders had just broken huge, and somebody had given Kim’s sister Kelley a copy of my band the Psyclone Rangers‘ debut album. Kelley listed one of the songs as one of her 10 favorites that year in Rolling Stone’s end-of-the-year wrap-up.

So I get her on the phone and we hit it off, and she invites me and the band to come hang out backstage at the Philly stop of Lollapalooza. I don’t remember much except it was hot and muddy and famous back there. The Psyclone Rangers were about to record our next album down in Memphis. We had a song we wanted that patented Deal-sister vocal on, and Kelley quickly agreed to sing on it. The night before she was supposed to fly down she called to say she was too sick to leave town. She sounded pretty out of it. Boy, were we bummed. Was it something we said or did? A few days later, when she got busted for receiving a FedEx envelope full of heroin, we put two and two together. MORE

bigstar_1.jpgALSO: Big Star inspired a fevered allegiance among fans of power pop, giving rise to a cult of believers who spent decades spreading the gospel. Their enthusiasm turned this obscure Memphis pop band­one that got little airplay, sold few records, and only played a handful of times–into a remarkable rock and roll resurrection story. Big Star‘s trek from obscure Memphis band to standard bearers for an entire genre of music has never been fully mapped­until now. Rhino presents the definitive look at the definitive power-pop band with a four-disc boxed set divided between key cuts from Big Star‘s three studio albums and unreleased music. KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY will be available September 15 from Rhino Records at all retail outlets, including www.rhino.com, for a suggested list price of $69.98 (physical), it will also be available as a digital release the same day. A Deluxe Edition release of Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos is due September 14 from Rhino Handmade. A free stream of the unreleased song “Lovely Day” is available now at www.rhino.com/bigstar. [FULL PRESS RELEASE AFTER THE JUMP]

ROCK SNOB ENCYLOPEDIA: It has been said that the genre of power pop–frail white man-boys with cherry guitars reinvigorating the harmonic convergence of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Byrds with the rocksnobicon.jpgcaffeinated rush of youth–is the revenge of the nerds. Big Star pretty much invented the form, which explains the worshipful altars erected to the band in the bedrooms of lonely, disenfranchised melody-makers from Los Angeles to London and points in between.

Though they never came close to fame or fortune in their time, the band continues to hold a sacred place in the cosmology of pure pop, a glittering constellation that remains invisible to the naked mainstream eye. Succeeding generations of pop philosophers and aspiring rock Mozarts pore over the group’s music like biblical scholars hunched over the Dead Sea Scrolls, plumbing the depths of the band’s shadowy history, searching for meaning in Big Star’s immaculate conception and stillborn death.

Big Star was the sound of four Memphis boys caught in the vortex of a time warp, reinterpreting the jangling, three-minute Brit-pop odes to love, youth and the loss of both that framed their formative years, the mid-’60s. Just one problem: It was the early ’70s. They were out of fashion and out of time. Within the band, this disconnect with the pop marketplace would lead to bitter disillusionment, self-destruction and death. But that same damning obscurity would nurture their mythology and become Big Star’s greatest ally, a formaldehyde that would preserve the band’s three full-length albums–No. 1 Record, Radio City and Sister Lovers/Third–as perfect specimens of classic guitar pop. That Big Star’s recorded legacy would go on to inspire countless alternative acts is one of pop history’s cruelest ironies–everyone from R.E.M. to the Replace-ments to Eliott Smith would come to see Big Star as the great missing link between the ’60s and the ’70s and beyond.

big_star_radiocity.jpgThere is a dreamy, pre-Raphaelite aura that surrounds the legend of Big Star. Like the doomed, tender-aged beauties in Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides, the tragic career of Big Star would unravel in the autumnal Sunday afternoon sunlight of the early 1970s. The band’s sound and vision hinged on the contrasting sensibilities of songwriters Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. In the gospel of Big Star, Bell is the sacrificial lamb–fragile, doe-eyed and marked for an early death. Chilton is the prodigal son, returning to Memphis after traveling the world, having tasted the bacchanalian pleasures of teen stardom with the Box Tops in the 1960s.

Where Bell was precious and naive, Chilton was nervy and sardonic, but the band’s steady downward spiral would set him on the dark path of personal disintegration–booze, pills, violence and attempted suicide. Years later, he would reinvent himself as an irascible iconoclast and semi-ironic interpreter of obscure soul, R&B and Italian rock ‘n’ roll. Drummer Jody Stephens, the wide-eyed innocent of the group, and bassist Andy Hummel, the sly-grinning sphinx with the glam-rock hair, were the shepherds in the manger, midwives to the miracle birth. In the aftermath of Big Star’s collapse, Stephens would become a born-again Christian, and Hummel would go on to design jet fighters for the military, anonymous and happy behind the wall of secrecy his job would require. — JONATHAN VALANIA

BIG STAR SHINES

Rhino Salutes The Revered Group With A Four-Disc Boxed Set That Compiles
Key Album Tracks With Unreleased Demos, Alternate Takes And Live
Performances

Available From Rhino September 15

LOS ANGELES — Big Star inspired a fevered allegiance among fans of power
pop, giving rise to a cult of believers who spent decades spreading the
gospel. Their enthusiasm turned this obscure Memphis pop band­one that got
little airplay, sold few records, and only played a handful of times–into
a remarkable rock and roll resurrection story. Big Star‘s trek from obscure
Memphis band to standard bearers for an entire genre of music has never
been fully mapped­until now. Rhino presents the definitive look at the
definitive power-pop band with a four-disc boxed set divided between key
cuts from Big Star‘s three studio albums and unreleased music. KEEP AN EYE
ON THE SKY will be available September 15 from Rhino Records at all retail
outlets, including www.rhino.com, for a suggested list price of $69.98
(physical), it will also be available as a digital release the same day. A
Deluxe Edition release of Chris Bell’s solo album I Am The Cosmos is due
September 14 from Rhino Handmade. A free stream of the unreleased song
“Lovely Day” is available now at www.rhino.com/bigstar.

KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY spans 1968 to 1975 and shows the progression of Big
Star through selections from such studio precursors as Rock City and
Icewater; music from Big Star‘s acclaimed recordings (#1 Record, Radio
City, and Third/Sister Lovers); and relevant solo work by group principals
Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, who formed Big Star in 1971 with bassist Andy
Hummel and drummer Jody Stephens. The collection also uncovers a trove of
unreleased demos, unused mixes, alternate versions of songs, and a 1973
concert recorded in Memphis.

In these 98 tracks you can hear what turned artists as diverse as Cheap
Trick, R.E.M., and The Replacements into Big Star fans. Spotlighting the
band’s roots, the boxed set opens with several songs recorded before Big
Star formed, including “Try Again,” one of the first songs Bell and Chilton
wrote together. Those early cuts are followed by Big Star‘s 1972 debut #1
Record, reimagined here using a mix of album tracks and unreleased
alternate mixes of favorites like “Thirteen,” “When My Baby’s Beside Me,”
and more. Among the disc’s rarities are “Country Morn'” (issued as a
flexi-disc single by a Big Star fanzine), the demo for “I Got Kinda Lost,”
and an unreleased acoustic demo of Chilton singing Loudon Wainwright’s
“Motel Blues.”

Ardent Records, the band’s label, experienced problems with distribution
that hindered any chances at success for #1 Record. Its failure was a major
blow to Bell, who quit the band to go solo. In 1974, the Alex Chilton-led
Big Star regrouped and released Radio City, an album more attuned to the
band’s live energy that featured the power-pop confections “September
Gurls” and “Back Of A Car.” The second disc of KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY opens
with a trio of unreleased demos: “There Was A Light,” “What’s Going Ahn,”
and “Life Is White.” The original song sequence for Radio City follows,
combining album versions with unreleased alternate mixes (“Way Out West”
and “You Get What You Deserve.”) The disc features unissued versions of
“She A Mover” and “Mod Lang,” several unreleased demos for Big Star‘s third
album, plus Bell’s acclaimed 1978 single “I Am The Cosmos” and its B-side
“You And Your Sister.” Sadly, Bell died in a car accident a few months
after the single’s release.

When Big Star reconvened in 1975 to record Third/Sister Lovers, only
Chilton and Stephens remained (Hummel left shortly before Radio City’s
release). Famed Memphis maverick Jim Dickinson was enlisted to supervise
the recording, which languished on the shelf for years before its release
in 1978. Despite its bleak timbre, wild dynamics, and fragility, the music
possesses a startling grace. KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY’s third disc opens with
seven demos (most previously unreleased) for songs that appear on
Third/Sister Lovers, including “Jesus Christ,” “Take Care,” and
“Holocaust.” Among the album’s 19 songs collected here is “For You,” “Kizza
Me,” and “Kanga Roo.” Also featured is “Lovely Day,” an early, unreleased
version of “Stroke It Noel” with different lyrics; Chilton vamping with
photographer Bill Eggleston at the piano for Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy”;
and a raucous cover of The Kinks’ “Till The End Of The Day.”

The collection’s final disc contains unreleased highlights from three sets
Big Star performed at Lafayette’s Music Room in Memphis in January 1973. It
is the best live recording ever of the band. The show captures Chilton,
Hummel, and Stephens playing many of the songs on #1 Record, which had just
recently been released. The set list includes a retooled version of “ST
100/6” lengthened by both guitar and drum solos (with a middle eight
heisted from the Rock City song “The Preacher.”) Also in the repertoire are
“There Was A Light” and “I Got Kinda Lost.” In addition, the concert
includes fully formed versions of several songs recorded later for Radio
City: “Back Of A Car,” “Way Out West,” “O My Soul,” and a particularly
rocking “She’s A Mover.” Those originals are mixed with a selection of
covers: Todd Rundgren’s “Slut,” T. Rex’s “Baby Strange,” The Kinks’ “Come
On Now,” and The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hot Burrito #2.”

The lavish packaging for KEEP AN EYE ON THE SKY includes extensive liner
notes, rare and never-before-seen photos, and insightful essays about the
cult of Big Star and the band’s history. In the notes, Stephens reflects on
the band’s belated triumph. “Sure, it would’ve been nice to have been huge
at the time. But, here we are, 30 years later, and Big Star is still
playing, our music is turning up in movie soundtracks, and young people are
still excited to discover the records. I mean, if that isn’t success, I
don’t know what is.” On July 1, 2009 Big Star will perform at the
Serpentine Sessions in London’s Hyde Park.

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