I’ve been on spring break for the past week, so this is even older news than it would have been, but Alex Chilton died earlier this month. If you don’t know who Alex Chilton is, he started off as the singer of the Box Tops, who scored a late-’60s hit with “The Letter.” But in certain circles he’s better known as the lead singer and songwriter for the defining power pop band, Big Star. Big Star’s music was a formative influnce on me as a person, if not as a mathematician, so I’m breaking from my usual routine of crackpot mathematics and expository articles to pay tribute.
Most of what I could say has already been said better, so I’ll link to some other tributes shortly. People have talked about how Big Star were a major influence on all sorts of bands in the ’80s and ’90s up to the present, from R.E.M. to the Replacements to Elliott Smith. People have talked about the timeless nature of Big Star’s songs, about how “Thirteen” is maybe the ultimate expression of what it’s like to be that age. But one thing that’s perhaps been lost in the chatter is the fact that so much of Chilton’s work with Big Star is just plain wonderful music. Witness “Nighttime” and “Blue Moon,” back-to-back tracks from Big Star’s final album, Third (also known as Sister Lover) — to my ears, two of the most achingly beautful pop songs ever recorded.
The best tribute I’ve read — maybe the definitive one — is Paul Westerberg’s in the New York Times. (Westerberg wrote and performed, with the Replacements, the song that gave this post its title.) But the best possible tribute, in my mind, would be if this blog post turned one person on to the music of the late, great Alex Chilton. It might change your life. More likely it won’t. But either way, it’s great damned music, and I hope — and expect — that it’ll live on far after I’m gone.