Alex Chilton died this week at 59. His music did not have much commercial success beyond a few songs recorded with the Box Tops as a teen, (most notably “The Letter”). But his influence was substantial. When I was in college, most of the “cool” bands listed Alex Chilton and Big Star as important influences. The Replacements even named a song after him. Decades later his influence would continue. One of Big Star’s songs became the theme for “That ’70s Show,” and the band was reconstituted in the 1990s with a two of the Posies. Big Star was supposed to play last night at SXSW in Austin. They performed a Chilton tribute instead.
Alex Chilton’s death has prompted numerous remembrances, including remarks by Rep. Steve Cohen on the floor of the House and an NYT op-ed by Paul Westerberg. From the latter: “The great Alex Chilton is gone — folk troubadour, blues shouter, master singer, songwriter and guitarist. Someone should write a tune about him. Then again, nah, that would be impossible. Or just plain stupid.” Stupid or not, Westerberg and the Replacements recorded a song about Chilton in 1987, and it’s as fitting a tribute as any. Here’s a taste:
Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice.
Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice.
Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchanging good lucks face to face.
Checkin’ his stash by the trash at St. Mark’s place.
Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round
They sing “I’m in love. What’s that song?
I’m in love with that song.”