Alex Chilton died yesterday.
As I suspect was the case with most music-lovers around my age, Chilton wove his way through my life in a non-direct fashion. My first brush with Chilton was through the 1967 hit he had with his young band the Box Tops, “The Letter”. When my father was a younger man, before my arrival, back when he was the sort of person who had friends in bands, he got up at a party and sang a song with his friend’s band – “The Letter”. Anyone who knows my father now would have a difficult time reconciling this fact with the gruff, curmudgeonly Italian-American they know. That is likely the very reason why the song always felt significant to me, that connection to a version of my father that was more like me. That, and it’s a good song. Chilton’s husky, soulful voice is commanding, and the modern sensibility of the song was always a captivating thing to hear in the midst of all the other songs played on the oldie goldies radio stations.
My next, very roundabout exposure to Chilton was the obvious one: the Replacements’ fantastic paean to the singer/songwriter, “Alex Chilton”. A practically perfect song in every way.
I have to admit that I didn’t fully understand who Chilton was until my third exposure, when Jeff Buckley took to covering Big Star’s “Kanga Roo” at his shows.
While I never became a fan of Big Star, I came to understand, appreciate and respect the influence the band had on so many of the artists I have loved. I was excited when I learned that Big Star were slated to play SXSW this year. They were set to take the stage in Austin this coming Saturday. Bad timing, Alex.
Thanks for being with us, Alex.
Bonus: Follow the link to view one of the weirdest band T.V. show appearances I’ve ever seen, the very young and awkward Box Tops on a teen dance show called “Disc-O-Teen”.