7/11/14 train to Mineola
I’ve been listening to a lot of Big Star lately. This was the band that influenced REM, The Replacements and so many others. They were a mythical band which were unheard while they were together. My Big Star kick started out with the documentary “Nothing Can Hurt Me” which was released a couple of years back. If you have not seen the movie and are at least curious what the story is behind this influential band; do yourself a favor and watch it. The band was compared to The Beatles and heralded in Rolling Stone, Creem and other rock magazines back in the early seventies. There is awareness on some songs to The Fab Four, but Big Star was original. They created an Americanized mix, a little country twang, check their version of Velvet Underground Femme Fatale. The sound created a buzz within all corners of rock establishment and made their first album a must have classic. If you have not heard it, the layers of instruments will grip you and give you a ride through various emotions. The first song of the album, FEEL had Chris Bell singing the lead. It starts off very slow, plucking power chords and then Bell screams the lyrics. The choir, “I feel like I am dying!” with the rest of the band backing him up. Sure it sounds like Beatles in some harmonious parts, but then we’re rocking with a sax and a true authentic jangly American guitar sound. This sound made the band different from other established rock bands. It drove Chris Bell to perfect the quality of their recording while engineering at Ardent Studios in Memphis. This is where the band originated - but the story of their demise is layered like their sound. It was a lack of record sales which is a story within itself. There was a clash of ego, but from the movie’s perception, I don’t think there was the violent fall out, the big conflict, the fists; the rift was mental. It was created in Chris’s head being jealous that Alex Chilton received most of the attention. It was Chris’ early departure which could have devastated the band, but they did not go their separate ways. The second album was a bold departure from the first. They were a three piece. Their musical style had changed to a more jazz/folk even a WHO influence. Their singles September Gurls and Back of a Car are examples of what I am trying to disseminate. The third album, Third/Sister Lovers was their final. For some listeners they will hear the sound track of a band breaking up. Some will say it was Alex Chilton who was breaking apart at the seams. It was the first Big Star album I heard and I knew it very well by the time I saw Big Star perform their 2009 show in Brooklyn. It was the last time Alex Chilton performed before his passing early in 2010. That night in Brooklyn was memorable, there was the slightly intoxicated blur. There were too many Polish beers and not enough food. The band was tight although I recall Alex kept going back to check on his heavy winter coat which he stored behind one of the amps. Just a thought, but there was something in one of the pockets he did not want to lose. Thank you Friends is the second song on Third. I attended the Third performance at Baruch in New York back in 2011 which had Mike Mills, Michael Stipe, Matthew Sweet and a heck of a lot of others who sang the album in entirely as well as other Big Star covers…some of these songs as well as clips from that last show in Brooklyn are captured in the documentary. There is a brief second when you see me as I am walking out of the auditorium and about to shake Jody Stephen’s hand who stood in the lobby and shook many hands before calling it a night…Nothing can hurt me…Big Black car…to sum it up Big Star never had the opportunity to succeed. From the movie, there was just a sense of bad luck with the band. Chris Bell recorded a 45, I am the cosmos, and tragically died at 27. The original bassist left after the second album. And to capture the thought are the lines from their song Holocaust, “Everybody goes as far as they can.” (Big Star/Third)
Thank you for reading this.