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One Year On: Alex Chilton Remembered

At the risk of sounding like a real nerd, when I got knockout drunk on this day last year, it had nothing to do with green beer or a quick embrace of my Celtic heritage. Big Star leader, Box Tops singer, and solo provocateur Alex Chilton died one year ago today, and I reacted the only way I knew how, grabbing a bottle of rum and putting on the Keep An Eye on the Sky collection.

Rock stars die all the time, but with Chilton, it felt different. Throughout his time with Big Star, with whom he issued three undeniable records, and all through his topsy turvy solo career, Chilton exuded a dogged humility and piss-in-the-wind exuberance. He played what songs he wanted- spending recent years covering soul and blues standards- and reacted to the deification of Big Star with an aw-shucks chill.


Last year, Big Star was set to play their first gig in years at South By Southwest. I had scrambled to find tickets to their event, but they were too hard to come by. The news of Chilton's death shuttered that idea. I had always hoped that he would do one more tour, maybe play his R & B stuff at The Rhythm Room or Club Congress, or do a full Big Star tour, and I'd be able to shake his hand and attempt to be an understated fanatic.

It won't happen, now. I'm not going to waste any more time explaining why Chilton's music means so much to me. If you share the feeling, you already know. Besides, Stereogum has a great article up, with artists like Kurt Vile, The Dum Dum Girls, Matthew Sweet, R.E.M. and Jody Stephens of Big Star sharing their thoughts, and the Big Star Blog has been issuing comments from people about the band for months now, and both are worth reading more than what I have to say.

The following is simply five Alex Chilton songs that I love, free of needless commentary. I'll be at Flogging Molly tonight, sure, but for the rest of the day, I'm not going too far without a little Big Star.
 

"The Oogum Boogum Song" from Alex Chilton's Loose Shoes and Tight Pussy (1999)

 
"O My Soul," from Big Star, Radio City (1974)

 


"I'm Your Puppet," from The Box Tops, The Letter/Neon Rainbow (1967)

 
"Like Flies on Sherbert," from Alex Chilton's Like Flies on Sherbert (1979)

 


"Thank You Friends," from Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers (1978)

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.