TRIBUTE: The Man Who Wasn’t There


CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: For many who attended South by Southwest 2010, the final day of the conference was all about power-pop great Alex Chilton, who died at age 59 on Wednesday. It only made sense: As has often been said of the Velvet Underground, Chilton’s beloved band Big Star never sold a lot of records, but it often seems as if everyone who bought one started a band–or became a rock critic. And the largest gathering anywhere in the world of people who loved his music took place over the last five days in Austin. MORE

ROLLING STONE: Just as everyone at the SXSW Music Festival was finding their groove Wednesday, news of the death of Alex Chilton hit. “Austin’s in alex-chilton.thumbnail.jpgshock about Alex,” read one of the countless social media memes. On Saturday, heartsick Big Star fans got to hear Chilton songs performed by a cast of guest musicians sitting in on the regularly scheduled Big Star showcase, held down by the remaining members of the band’s current incarnation, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow and Jody Stephens. Curt Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets lumbered through “In the Street,” otherwise known as the theme song for That 70’s Show. M. Ward of She & Him croaked an elegant “Big Black Car.” Mike Mills of R.E.M. found his religion with “Jesus Christ.” John Doe of X dispatched a crystal clear “I’m in Love with a Girl.” And in what was the night’s biggest surprise, Sondre Lerche provided an intense, harmonic “The Ballad of El Goodo.” MORE

LOS ANGELES TIMES: For many, though, the most treasured memory of this exhausting, exhilarating feeding frenzy will be one of the many gracious turns at the Chilton commemoration at the end of SXSW. Featuring more than a dozen of the semi-secret stars of the indie-rock firmament that remains at the heart of South by Southwest, the show gently, firmly put the emphasis back on that passionate exchange between musicians and listeners that forms the basis for everything that happens here. An insightful, funny letter from Chilton’s wife, Laura, read aloud, set the tone for the evening. “He saw beauty in what other people would just dismiss,” it read, mentioning Chilton’s admiration for old houses in New Orleans, his love of baroque music and Teenage Fanclub, and his pride in having produced such bands as the Cramps. The players in Big Star — original drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel, along alex-chilton.thumbnail.jpgwith Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer of the Posies, who’d completed its most recent configuration — then began an 18-song set of Chilton’s Big Star songs, from howling rockers such as “Don’t Lie to Me” to such tender, now eerie elegies as “Try Again.” MORE

PAUL WESTERBERG: HOW does one react to the death of one’s mentor? My mind instantly slammed down the inner trouble-door that guards against all thought, emotion, sadness. Survival mode. Rock guitar players are all dead men walking. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself as I finger my calluses. Those who fail to click with the world and society at large find safe haven in music — to sing, write songs, create, perform. Each an active art in itself that offers no promise of success, let alone happiness. […] It was some years back, the last time I saw Alex Chilton. We miraculously bumped into each other one autumn evening in New York, he in a Memphis Minnie T-shirt, with take-out Thai, en route to his hotel. He invited me along to watch the World Series on TV, and I immediately discarded whatever flimsy obligation I may have had. We watched baseball, talked and laughed, especially about his current residence — he was living in, get this, a tent in Tennessee. Because we were musicians, our talk inevitably turned toward women, and Al, ever the Southern gentleman, was having a hard time between bites communicating to me the difficulty in … you see, the difficulty in (me taking my last swig that didn’t end up on the wall, as I boldly supplied the punch line) “… in asking a young lady if she’d like to come back to your tent?” alex-chilton.thumbnail.jpgWe both darn near died there in a fit of laughter. MORE

THE GUARDIAN: Alex Chilton defined the term cult hero. He was difficult, mercurial, endlessly self-sabotaging and, for a brief time, utterly brilliant. His 70s group Big Star remain almost unknown to the mainstream but are one of the key abiding influences in rock music of any calibre, their short life only fuelling their near-mythical status. “I never travel far without a little Big Star,” sang the Replacements on their strange love song, “Alex Chilton”. Several influential rock groups, from REM to Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub to Wilco, would echo that sentiment. REM’s Peter Buck once described Big Star as “a Rosetta stone for a whole generation”. […] Chilton himself, post-Big Star, surfaced only intermittently, most notably on his wilfully lo-fi solo album Like Flies on Sherbert, from 1979, and as a producer of the Cramps album Songs the Lord Taught Us, released the following year. “There were guys with guns, man, all sorts of crazy things,” the late Lux Interior told the music writer Nick Kent when quizzed about the making of the album. “He’s a real southern boy, is Alex. He believes in the Lord and the Lord sure as hell takes care of him.” […] Ever truculent, Chilton insisted to anyone who would listen that his later work surpassed the classic songs he created with Big Star in the 70s. He always seemed more annoyed than flattered by his cult status and the reputation that preceded him; that warped Memphis streak again. It is tempting, with hindsight, to see Chilton as a product of the drink- and drug-fuelled arty Memphis milieu of the late 1960s and early 70s. It was the same milieu that produced William Eggleston, the alex-chilton.thumbnail.jpgwayward genius of modern American photography, whose famous blood-red ceiling graced the cover of the Radio City album. Jim Dickinson, who knew Chilton more than most, described the 23-year-old he worked with as “a kind of art brat” and “a walking illustration of the cost of early success. He had absolutely nothing to show for it when he came in the studio with me to do the third Big Star album, but Alex was man enough to step up and do it again, and get fucked again.” MORE

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