The Freelance Mentalists.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
  Big Star Ptart II

Big Star (cont. from above)
Not that things stayed so cute. For instance, it turns out that, for "O
Dana," Big Star's upside down semi-"Lennon" figure, Alex Chilton, built up a
stash of lines actually spoken by his (apparently) unwitting girl friend, Diane
Wall. Lines like, "I'm afraid this is my last life." Reading this, I remember
#1 Record's "The India Song," which was written by Big Star bassist Andy
Hummel, not A.C., but includes, "Get to know her after our trip, her life a part of mine." The song still sounds dreamy, though now I see it lay its cards
on the navel. R.J. also shows how witting people toss stuff into the strange
brew. Eventually, Alex encouraged another girlfriend, Lesa Aldridge, to
perform on several tracks, then erased most of what she'd done, "at a certain point
in his creative process," according to Jovanovich. But she can be heard
sometimes, not quite sealed away, on Third/Sister Lovers (also the repository of "O
Dana"), which still sounds like a house of secrets, even while Jovanovic's
impassively deep focus persuades me that it's (apparently) based on the slowly
dying relationship of Alex and Lesa.
Ron J., T/SL producer Jim Dickinson, and Big Star's Jody Stephens all
hear it as happenings in scuzzy Midtown, around which the river city fluxes and
grinds, loads and unloads. Tore down and tarted up, it's a Southern thing,
everywhere and nowhere. Big tin and today's potatoes. It's the mid-70s I
remember: walking around, outside and inside; pacing, even when doing errands, and
partying again. "Til the end of the day!" Alex, now the center of a nebulous Big
Star, raises a glass, covering the Kinks, his faves, 'til habits seem more
nocturnal than ever, rocking through sleepless stillness, like the old lady in
her chair, in Samuel Beckett's play. Stillness keeps me listening, forgetting to
be depressed.
"Morning comes and sleeping's done, birds sing outside. If demons come while
you're under, I'll be a blue moon in the sky." Either way really, which is
nice (don't come any closer). Jovanovic thinks this is a real nice song, and so
it is, in its way. Voice like a mirror sometimes, brightly so: does R.J. ,
does Chilton, really buy the A.C. quote re "Thank You Friends" being so sincere.
Maybe it is, but sincerely what? Look over here, please.
A couple of gutty, blutty, sometimes almost Hendrixan live sets, with
Alex's guitar perpedicular to that lilting, tilting voice (too confident by
'alf, in some later solo, low-dimensional/-campy gigs), and now leading a new
bassist, John Lightman, and original drummer-singer-songwriter Jody Stephens: on
Ryko's Big Star Live, and the rehearsal tapes-half of Norton's Nobody Can
Dance. (When they finally get out to the stage, sound goes awobble, maybe for them
too: R.J. says earlier lineups had a knack for that.) Then, after a couple of
decades of going solo, Chilton suddenly agreed to a Big Star "reunion"
performance, again with Jody Stephens, and new recruits Jon Auer and Ken
Stringfellow, guitarist and bassist, respectively, of the Posies. On Zoo's Columbia,
Live At Missouri University 4/25/93, there no bad dogs, even on songs from
Third/Sister Lovers, but also missing is its (and previous albums') consistent
commitment to expressive detail. About (a scattered) 50-60% of the set kinda works
anyway, but the other half's just high-generic, early-70s-associated Classic
Rock, suitable for sweatin' to the oldies "The Ballad of El Goodo" was once
poignantly self-assertive, and even (gasp!) personally responsible. ("You can
just say no, " Chilton advised Nancy Reagan in '72.) On Columbia, it's more
like Mott The Hoople's wet-hanky-waving "Ballad Of Mott." Stringfellow's bass
lumbers all over the place. Big Star lite 'n' heavvy too.
And now! A mere twelve years later, Chilton's Columbia crew bring us a
studio album of all-new tracks, In Space, where lightweight-to-high-generic
qualities seem deliberate, and sometimes witty, like they're saying, "Hello,
fellow collectors! We're influenced by Big Star!" Pleasantly hooky, tap-along,
sing-along, ho-hum-along ballads currently reside in the McCartneyesque portion of
our programme. But my fave raves are more like chillin' Chilton's better solo
joints. The veddy classical "Aria Largo" gets tortured by the twang of an
electric guitar, one (faithful!) note at a time. (I checked it vs.
pre-transcribed, chamber orig.)"Love Revolution" sounds like a longhaired Carolina beach
band covering Archie Bell and the Drells' "Tighten Up," which is surely a signal
to the shade of Big Star's tightly-wired,increasingly cracked,
upside-down-semi "McCartney," Chris Bell, who did want a Love Revolution, in the name of
Jesus!. Seeking to drive (incompetent) money changers and other bugs and swine
from the temple, and the program! For, as previously mentioned, Chris and the
other original Stars were trained in engineering by Big Star studio
mentor/founder John Fry, but Chris was the one who obsessively tinkered for years on the
same set of solo tracks, as he would have on some Big Star tracks, if he
hadn't wrung himself out of the group. (And do the tighten up, ma blue-eyed boy,
like when young A.C. was but the frustrated clapper 'ttached to Bell Records'
own Box Tops.)
This alluvial- plain-as-thee-Memphis-on-yr.-phizz bell of allusion is
closely observed by the guy behind the shades and the finally-getting-creepy,
fake British accent, who's "Hung Up With Summer." When the sun goes down, "Do
You Wanna Make It" conjures a big fat drunk chick, doing the bump with/to those
elegant Kinks. Yes, baby's got bass, and there's a Big Star tattooed on it.
Once again, Big Star shine where the sun don't shine. ('Cause after all, they're
stars of the underground!)(Update: ever the gentleman, Mr. Chilton insisted
on keeping a blind date with a lady called Katrina, down in New Orleans. He
almost became a star under the underground, but ended up settling for the
Astrodome. (Poor bastard. I don't really know what I'd do.) Now recuperating in "a
place he refuses to name," behind a wall of rumors, his usual home away from
home, at least. Hopefully not too far for A.C. and his Nola to make up, without
breaking up; there's been too much of that already.)(Updownsidedate:Get back,
Rita's rival!)(Poppermostpostdate:Wherever he is, somebody tell him Big
Star's tourette has been rescheduled for December. That's '05, Alex. I think.) For
a more concentrated hit of Big Star, book and band, see Edd Hurt's trenchant

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