March 19, 2010
I delayed buying this collection. March 17th is my birthday. It is also the day that Alex Chilton died. Normally all I have to contend with is the St. Patrick's Day Parade in NYC. #2 drinking-by-amateurs-day after New Year's Eve. A good day to stay in. I was truly saddened by Alex Chilton's passing. This boxed set is my birthday gift to myself, and my toast to Alex Chilton.
I bought the vinyl #1/Radio City reissue sometime in the '70's. I knew who Big Star were but when I finally scraped up enough cash the albums were gone from the record stores. Nor were they ever handed in at Free Being, my favorite re-cycled record store. Nobody, if anybody, who bought them ever traded them in. By the early '70's I was living in Manhattan, frequenting the downtown rock scene, I even upgraded my first apartment from one which had a bathtub in the kitchen to one with a proper bathroom. It was on Lexington Avenue, between 34 & 33rd.
One night, coming home from the clubs, I piled into the 1905 built elevator, with the steel door and grid you pulled shut. Alex Chilton & Jon Tiven (famous seminal rock critic & now blues songwriter) shoved into the tiny elevator. I recognized Alex but was too shy to speak. Said hello to Jon. Went up to my apartment. It wasn't until I bought Alex's early 45 rpm single "Shaking the World from 33rd and Lex" that I realized he was not some famous rock star guy, but my neighbor. Message to self, and anyone else: next time you are next to someone who's music, or art, or work, you admire, tell them so. Alex never heard it enough in his lifetime methinks.
If you already own the three Big Star records (which I do, in vinyl, on cassette, on CD) then this box is a treasure trove. Like other reviewers, I suggest you start with what has gone before. This collection of alternate versions, remastered originals, and a classic live 1973 gig (which I own on cassette, along with other Big Star live sets like "Nobody Can Dance" or the one from the college where I forget.) Big Star is the link from mid-sixties greatness - Byrds, Beatles, British Invasion, blue-eyed soul - with '70's glam, singer songerwriter nuances, and the soon-to-be Indie/Alternative bent. Like any art form that is transitional from one era to another there are bound to be originators who fall through the cracks. Think Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Dictators, Modern Lovers, Television... the list goes on.
I only saw Big Star live once. At Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival in 2004. It was a gluttinous affair - crammed with garage bands from all over the world, as well as originators - Electric Prunes, Nancy Sinatra, Richard and the Young Lions, the Creation, Pretty Things, capped off with the re-invented NY Dolls and Iggy & the Stooges (I'd mention the Strokes - they were there too - but coming in-between David Johansen and Iggy Pop, those two pros virtually pantsed Julian Casablancas and spanked him in front of 15k people.) It was easy to overlook Big Star. Too much sensory overload. They played a great set, filled with classic songs, to an appreciative multi-generational audience who relished the infrequent opportunity to see them perform. (C'mon, parents with kids wearing Dead Boys tee shirts were there. It was a pig-fest of great music. Maybe Lil Steve will get around to that promised DVD someday...)
Anyway. I always thought I'd get the chance again to see Big Star live. They periodically surfaced. They were due to play SxSW this weekend. But not to be. Goodbye, Alex. This is the saddest rock & roll passing since December 8, 1980. It's a day or two since my birthday, St. Patrick's Day, but I'm toasting it to you and the great music you made throughout my lifetime. I still have the Box Tops first album in my record closet. "Cry Like A Baby" and "The Letter" were two of my favorites in High School. RIP. I'm blasting your tunes til the neighbors bang on my walls.