I’ll Be A Blue Moon

I’ll Be A Blue Moon

This post was originally written for my personal site back in 2010, but seemed fitting for a repost here on the 5th anniversary of Alex Chilton’s death.

Given that my last update was inspired by hearing a Big Star cover, it’s only fitting that last Wednesday’s tragic news about Alex Chilton(Big Star’s lead singer and songwriter) should bring me back to the blog.

Big Star was the first band whose albums I ever sought out based on good reviews. In the years before mp3s and blogging, they were this mythical band that rock critics wrote about in reverential tones. I’d be intrigued by what I read about them, disappointed that I couldn’t hear what I was reading about.

I finally got my chance to hear in the early 90’s. Like most music that’s had an impact on my life, I discovered Big Star’s in a roundabout way, starting with a chance purchase of the archetypal “difficult third album,” Third/Sister Lovers at a Cheapo Records in St. Paul, MN. I remember taking the disc back to my dorm room, putting it in my discman, pressing play, and being awed by the off-kilter combination of rock swagger, pop prettiness, and sonic chaos within.

That following summer, I worked my way backwards to their first two albums, which are also pretty much back-to-back great stuff. I also discovered the work of foundng member Chris Bell, who left the band after their first album, but went on to record his own unjustly ignored pop-rock masterpiece “I Am The Cosmos” before dying in a car crash in the late 70’s. But, as good as it all is, it could never compare to my first taste of Big Star.

Third/Sister Lovers is often described as a dark and despairing album, and it earns that reputation with devastating tracks like “Holocaust.” There’s a milder, more melancholy streak in it as well, and I think that’s what hooked me. Chilton sang as an outsider observing others in “Night Time” and “Kanga Roo” while hiding from the world in “Big Black Car.” Even when he was being violently defensive on songs like “You Can’t Have Me,” you could feel the wounded romantic behind the facade. In one of the few straight-ahead love songs on the album, “Blue Moon,” he sounds resigned. He’ll carry a torch forever, so it doesn’t matter if his love even knows he exists. For a teenage introvert hoping (and failing) to meet the girl who would make his life complete, this was healing balm. Even approaching middle age (after my “soul mate quest” thankfully found its resolution), the album still speaks to me.

Driving home the other night, it was surreal to hear snippets of “Night Time” and “Thirteen” on NPR during a Fresh Air segment in his memory. Alex Chilton may be gone, but at least his music is still here.

What do you think?