Holly George-Warren’s heavily researched biography of Big Star frontman Alex Chilton, “A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Times of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man,” (she spoke to over 100 sources) will arrive on March 20, 2014.
Reviewing the book in the National Review, John Lingan writes:
In the summer of 1967, The Box Tops’ first single, “The Letter,” took over American radio so fast that the Memphis band’s tour schedule filled up before anyone outside Tennessee even knew what they looked like. In between gigs with The Beach Boys and The Doors, they were also occasionally booked at black venues, whose owners assumed the gravel-voiced singer would fit in fine. But when a wispy-haired white boy barely old enough to drive showed up to play, managers were mystified. One booking agent at the Philadelphia fairgrounds forced bandleader Alex Chilton to sing a capella just to prove who he was.
That summer would be Chilton’s last experience with superstardom, but the next four decades of his music career were marked by similarly bemused audiences and parried expectations. His second band, Big Star, was a soulful pop-rock group who barely sold any records in the 1970s; Chilton responded by pushing the band in an ever less-commercial direction then embarking on a willfully shambolic solo career. As time wore on, he retreated further and further from the mainstream music industry, playing the occasional club show but more often noodling the piano in his beloved house in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood.
But by the time Chilton died of a heart attack in 2010, aged 59, he had become an icon of intensely pure artistic integrity and an acknowledged influence on innumerable later acts including R.E.M., the Replacements and Elliott Smith. Rather than the failed or self-destructive pop star he appeared to be by 1980, Chilton had come to embody a new archetype: the unpopular pop musician, a performer whose reputation rests on a willful rejection of commercial considerations altogether. Without him there could have been no Tom Waits, who exchanged his piano for percussion instruments literally borrowed from junkyards; no Jeff Mangum, who disappeared from public life right after his band Neutral Milk Hotel recorded one of the ’90s’ most revered albums; no Jeff Tweedy, whose critical viability was secured when a major label dropped his group Wilco for making an “uncommercial” record with abstract lyrics and tape loops.
Holly George-Warren’s new biography bears the subtitle “From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man,” promising to tell how, exactly, the growling teen idol gave way to the romantic songwriter, who in turn became a punk icon, jazz crooner, and alt-rock figurehead….
For the rest of the review, head to the National Review.
If, somehow, you aren’t familiar with Big Star, check this out:
-– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post: sounds, visuals and/or news –-