I’m in love… with that song.

Ah, hell.

Alex Chilton, the mercurial if influential rock musician, whose work spanned an eclectic gamut from the soul songs of the Box Tops to the multiple incarnations of his pop band Big Star, has died, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported. He was 59. The cause of death is believed to have been a heart attack.

You guys know I don’t go off the reservation very often, so you’ll have to forgive me here.  Hearing Big Star’s “Radio City” for the first time remains one of the most profound experiences of my life.  The lyrics, the melodies, the awkwardness and fragility in Chilton’s singing all hit a certain eighteen year-old kid right in the emotional gut in a way that few other things ever have.

Chilton always tried to act as if commercial success never really mattered to him, but anyone who’s listened to Big Star’s last album (which was really more of a Chilton solo effort) and read any of the stories about how the recording sessions went knows there’s more to his story than that.  It’s clear, though, that career-wise he went out of his way after that to reinforce that impression.  Sadly, nothing he created afterwards came anywhere near the same artistic peak as his Big Star body of work from the 70’s.  Whether that was due to his attitude or whether it was simply a case of his muse abandoning him is impossible to say.

All I know is that as sad as I am for what could have been, I remain incredibly grateful for what he provided me with.  I’ll pour myself a glass of bourbon tonight, put on “Radio City” for what must be the ten thousandth time in my life and throw a silent toast in Chilton’s direction.

I’ll let Paul Westerberg have the final acknowledgment.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled programming…


UPDATE: A nice Chilton tribute on the floor of Congress today…

It’s a good thing that his career didn’t arise out of Corrine Brown’s district.


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15 responses to “I’m in love… with that song.

  1. 'matsdawg

    Children by the millions wait for Alex Chilton…

    “Thirteen” haunted me when I was that age – and now I see how it perfectly sums up how hard it is to transit from kid to adult…

    “Tell him what we said ’bout ‘Paint It Black’ ”



  2. Russ


    Thanks for posting this. I wore out “Pleased to Meet Me” when I was in high school and never bothered to figure out what the song “Alex Chilton” was about. I guess I thought it was a friend of his or something. Now I know…I’ve gotta dig that tape out of an old shoebox at my parents’!


  3. Sigh. Glad I got to see Big Star a few times in their reincarnated format, but damnit. They had a show coming up at SXSW (I live in Austin) that I was really looking forward to.

    I remember bumbling onto Big Star in high school, picking up a used Third/Sister Lovers for $5. Bought #1 Record and Radio City fall of my freshman year at Wuxtry. Was the soundtrack of that year.

    Saw ’em three times (Atlanta ’95, Memphis ’03 and Austin ’05), and I saw Chilton in Athens in ’94. As you note, he had an erratic post-Big Star career, but he always delivered on stage. RIP.


  4. Thanks, Senator. Listening to “Kizza Me” as I type this.


  5. dudetheplayer

    “O My Soul” is probably one of my favorite songs ever.

    The guy was too young to go out.

    RIP Alex Chilton.


  6. Scorpio Jones, III

    Sen….lots of good stuff on Chilton on NPR at the noon hour here….might still be available on their Web site if you did not hear it.

    Good music…not “Enter the Dragon” but good.