Posted: Mar 27, 2008 1:45 pm |
Edited by: Bob Mehr
Iâm sure Iâll regret opening this can oâ worms, being a full-on California-bred carpetbagger, and I donât want to gang up on Rumpleforeskin, butâŚ.
First things first, Iâve been listening to the Ardent Story comp (and working on a piece about it) and anybody with anything more than a passing interest in Terry Manning/Big Star/Chris Bell/Alex Chilton will do himself a favor to pick it up when it comes out. Itâs full of hard-to-find and out-of-print tunes, unreleased tracks and alternate versions of familiar things. The sound is killer and you get the best of all the pre-Big Star shit only available on bootlegs (Icewater demos, etc.) up until now. Itâs got some chaff, certainly, but as an overview of the studioâs output and historical survey of the local scene in both the 60s and 70s, itâs pretty awesome.
Gotta say, reading all this Big Star hate - and it's not limited to the Goner board - is so utterly tiring and predictable. It basically runs on two tracks. The first is the classic case of a totally underrated band being rediscovered belatedly then mildly overrated (or at least name checked far too often by some pretty heinous people), thus yielding an inevitable backlash. That kind of shit is all about cred and trends anyway, and has nothing to do with the music, which is the only thing that hasnât changed. Big Star records were great in â73, they were great when the CDs first came out in â93 and theyâre great now, no matter how the prevailing critical winds may be blowing.
Sonically, John Fryâs work on those three albums (especially the first two) are pure genius - the kind of thing that people will be listening to, deconstructing and aping for generations to come. Theyâre totally unassailable on that point. And frankly, in terms of the material, trying to compare charming but effectively second tier stuff like the Hot Dogs or Scruffs or anything similar to Big Star may be a cool contrarian notion in Memphis or on this board, but itâs an opinion totally fucking devoid of reality. I mean, I like Badfinger a lot, and I can come on a message board and say they were better than the Beatles, but that donât make it so - or make me any less batty for saying it.
Second, as regards to Chilton, the hate seems to be personal. We all know dude is a remarkable and remarkably huge asshole in his own way (although, admit it, thatâs part of whatâs made his legend over the years). Itâs a little closer to home for people in Memphis whoâve likely been personally burned/abused/belittled by the guy. Sucks for you, but that doesnât retroactively make the Big Star records (or the Ork stuff, or Flyzon, or anything else heâs done) any less great. Frankly, the sound of Chilton passing wind in the studio - and I think I have a couple EPs of him from the '80s doing just that - would still be more interesting than half the rote, garage-by-numbers dreck that some people go apeshit over these days.
And whatever side you fall on in regards to his solo career, from a purely musical perspective Chilton is one of the most underrated guitarists, ever (âthe John Coltrane of rhythm guitarâ as Tom Waits put it - for whatever thatâs worth). And his last covers album shows that the guy is totally amazing at what HE wants to be these days, which is a slop-brilliant interpretative singer/player. Plus, he killed the two times I saw him fronting the Box Tops for a bunch of 50 year-old female oldies fans whoâd never even heard of Big Star.
As for the notion that âAlex himself is not enamoredâ of the Big Star material âthen how/why am I supposed to like it?â Who gives a shit what Alex thinks - or rather, publicly states for his own twisted reasons, about his opinion re: Big Star. Is that how you decide what music you like? Got news for you: ask any iconic rock figure and theyâre almost never prefer what everyone else thinks is their best work. Shit, Mick Jagger says he likes Bridges to Babylon over Exile; Dylan has named a half dozen records he likes better than Highway 61 or Blonde on Blonde; Neil Young probably will tell you Greendale is better than On the Beach or Zuma. So that argument doesnât hold any water.
As for running down Big Star for being a lousy live band - again, totally irrelevant. Big Star were never intended to be a live band. They were a studio outfit. Fuck, they only ever played dozen or so gigs in their entire career (and with a different lineup every few gigs at that, so that was never the focus of what was a totally unusual and fractured performing career). And Iâd even argue that they couldâve been a great live band if they wanted: the one gig that they actually geared up for somewhat at the Rock Writerâs convention in â73 was so good that it knocked a roomful of hard ass cynics - Tosches, Meltzer, Bangs, etc. - for a loop and basically helped plant the seeds for their legend.
Ah, well, just my two centsâŚflame away.