Rob Sheffield Remembers Ultimate Indie Cult Hero Alex Chilton

March 18th, 2010 by Rob Sheffield Leave a reply »

Photo: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

Classic Alex Chilton live moment: 1987, long after midnight, a sleazy rock bar in Roanoke, Virginia. When the man strikes up his best-loved song, the Big Star classic “September Gurls,” some drunk idiot celebrates by throwing a bottle that hits the guitar. Chilton cuts the song dead right at the syllable “Sep—” and snarls, “If I catch the motherfucker who threw that bottle, I’m gonna kill him.” Then, to the band: “OK, on D. One. Two.” They pick it up without missing a beat: “Teeeehm-ber gurls…” A perfect summary of Alex Chilton’s mix of Southern charm and evil charisma.

Alex Chilton, who died Thursday of a heart attack at 59, was one of the all-time great rock & roll songwriters, and the ultimate indie cult hero. He also had one of the strangest careers in American music. At the age of 16, he sang a huge pop hit that’s enjoyed radio rotation ever since, the Box Top’s “The Letter.” But he left the middle of the road for one head-scratching move after another: the Memphis guitar band Big Star, a string of sloppy garage-punk records with titles such as Like Flies On Sherbert and Dusted In Memphis, then an embrace of New Orleans R&B and lounge standards. He famously dropped out in the 1980s to wash dishes in New Orleans. In the 2000s, he toured with the Box Tops and Big Star, never talking to journalists or revealing anything about his private life. The only time I ever attempted to interview him, backstage after a solo show, he just snickered, “I have to rest my voice” — a strange claim, since he was smoking a dubious hand-rolled cigarette the size of his head. But he said everything he had to say in his music.

Everybody has a different favorite Alex Chilton. But mine will always be Big Star. T...

Article Source: Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily


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