Bigger Music Loss Than You Think

Cult pop genius Alex Chilton finally getting his due in death

Cult pop genius Alex Chilton finally getting his due in death

Alex Chilton, who died of a heart attack last week, has been getting eulogized as rock's "forgotten boy." When compared to some of his contemporaries like Lou Reed or Iggy Pop, he is.

But it may be that the jangle pop genius who masterminded the cult favorite band Big Star would have wanted it that way.

It's not that most people haven't heard Chilton's music. In fact, his early hit "The Letter," which he recorded with the Box Tops, Memphis's premier blue-eyed soul act, has been in the Oldies rotation for years. But for every hundred Boomers who know "The Letter" by heart, there is one or two people, a generation or two younger, who know every note that Chilton wrote, and they were the ones he was writing for.

It wouldn't do to mention Chilton's passing without a reference to Memphis, the city that he personified so well. Better than Elvis, at least as well as Rufus Thomas. The wildness of the South and the disdain for what anybody else thinks was never far from him music, all those Stiff Records limeys notwithstanding. To echo what Steve Cohen, Democratic Representative of Tennessee said from the floor of the House of Representatives, "He is an embodiment of Memphis music: hard, different, independent, brilliant, beautiful."

Music writer Douglas Newman adds his views on Chilton:

Former Replacements leader Paul Westerberg wrote a wonderful op-ed about Alex Chilton in the New York Times. At age 16 I was introduced to Big Star via Westerberg's musical tribute song, an anthem simply titled "Alex Chilton." After hearing Westerberg's raspy voice declare "I never travel far, without a little Big Star" under the Replacements buzz-saw guitars, I pedaled my BMX over to the neighborhood Sound Warehouse and picked up the band's debut, "#1 Record."

Ever since that summer day in 1987, I've been a devoted Chilton disciple. It's not too late for you to drink the Kool-Aid.

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "The Letter"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "In the Street"

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "Alex Chilton"

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A young Alex Chilton Courtesy of Godlis Photography
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Alex Chilton of the 1970s rock band Big Star performs at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin on March 19, 2004. Courtesy of Associated Press