Last night, drunk off our ass at the Tam O’Shanter, we got a strange and melancholy text from a good friend.
“Alex Chilton died today. So lucky to have met him a million years ago. Gracious, weird and brilliant. A hero of mine. Sadness.”
This morning we woke up from our hangover and saw the news was true. The wildly underappreciated brains behind the band Big Star was dead of an apparent heart attack at 59.
Alex Chilton’s story always scared me more than the others–I’d figured he was already dead, for some reason–because in the romantic version of Alex Chilton’s life, he would have died decades ago, rather than drag it out the way 99.9 percent of us do.
Chilton was, for a couple of brief years in the early-mid 1970s, the purest, most dynamic talent in American pop music. But the hippies had no use for his talent, so Chilton was discarded for something more with the Zeitgeist, like Foghat or Yes. What’s so demoralizing about Chilton’s failed career is that there’s no villain to blame his wasted talent on. The early 70s were a bad time; the only humanoids to survive the hippie plague were the ones who went underground in New York to wait it out. Chilton was one of the few legendary fans of the Velvet Underground back in the dark hippie days, but Chilton wasn’t a New York hipster–he was a Tennessean– and back then, if you weren’t a hippie you’d better be a New York hipster, and if you weren’t either of those, you were nobody.