Alex Chilton – Remembers

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The death of Alex Chilton last week was upsetting, saddening and shocking. I guess I never thought Chilton would die. His influence on my life and Creation Records is inestimable. A highlight of the Creation years was reissuing Chilton's great lost album, 1970, and having him play on Teenage Fanclub's Ain't That Enough (Chilton later joined the band in 1996 for what was an iconic gig).


Last year, the release of Rhino's Big Star box set confirmed the band's iconic status. The partnership between Bell and Chilton held a fascination that, to me, was as essential as Jagger/Richards or Lennon/McCartney. It was when Chilton saw Bell's band Icewater play in New York (during the post-Box Tops days, when he was recording 1970) that the partnership began: an ambitious, wide-eyed Bell combined with jaded and disenchanted rock star Chilton to create beautiful music. The push-and-pull dynamic of their personalities created tension, nervous breakdowns and a classic album with Big Star's debut, #1 Record.

The question of who wrote what is moot (as Beatles obsessive Bell wanted the songwriting credits split equally between Chilton and himself). But what songs! Thirteen, Feel and Watch the Sunrise – the record is a classic and the ultimate statement in a post-Beatles, post-Velvet Underground world.

The now legendary failure of that album destroyed Bell. While Chilton preferred live takes, Bell was more interested in Brian Wilson-style productions. In the end, Bell requested that his name be removed from the project and destroyed the master tapes for the Radio City Bell/Chilton sessions. Shame.

Bell and Chilton reunited on Bell's You and Your Sister (collected on Bell's solo album, I Am the Cosmos). It was pure magic. They even talked of a Big Star reunion, but none of this would ever come to fruition as Bell died in 1978. Big Star left Chilton in free fall, and he spent the next five years in the role of producer, overseeing the Cramps or playing guitar in Tav Falco's Panther Burns.

Chilton enjoyed deconstructing Big Star myths with his own records, such as Like Flies On Sherbert and Bangkok. Following his death, a friend emailed me to recall the time he met Chilton. He'd approached him after a show and said: "Wow you're great, man ... you're records are impossible to find!" Without missing a beat, Chilton looked him in the eyes and said: "They're also impossible to listen to."

By the 90s, Chilton was back in force. He resurrected Big Star and recorded a number of great solo albums on Ardent. He laid claim to what was rightfully his, with many musicians giving him the respect he had always deserved. Chilton was a legend, a man who knew both superstardom and cult sucesss, yet never lost his way around the magic of his own music.

Reproduced by Kind Permission of Alan McGee and The Guardian 
Read 2063 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:34

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