R.I.P. Alex Chilton

Everyone at the Brooks is saddened to hear that Memphis musician Alex Chilton died yesterday at the age of 59. Chilton was scheduled to perform at the Levitt Shell on May 15, as part of the iconic power pop group Big Star. The amphitheatre is right in our backyard, and many of us museum employees were looking forward to strolling over after work for a night of incredible, made-in-Memphis music.

Today, news, memories and eulogies about Chilton are pouring in from around the world. Here are a few excerpts from some of our favorite pieces:

From the Commercial Appeal:

Alex Chilton, the pop hitmaker, cult icon and Memphis rock iconoclast best known as a member of 1960s pop-soul act the Box Tops and the 1970s power-pop act Big Star, died Wednesday at a hospital in New Orleans.

The singer, songwriter and guitarist was 59.

"I'm crushed. We're all just crushed," said John Fry, owner of Memphis' Ardent Studios and a longtime friend of Chilton's. "This sudden death experience is never something that you're prepared for. And yet it occurs."

Chilton had been complaining about his health earlier Wednesday, Fry said. He was taken by paramedics from his home to the emergency room but could not be revived.

Chilton and Big Star had been scheduled to play Saturday as part of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The band was also scheduled to play at the Levitt Shell in Memphis on May 15. It's unknown what will happen to those shows.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Chilton, who grew up in Memphis, was just 16 years old when the Box Tops, in which he sang and played guitar, had a No. 1 hit with “The Letter” in 1967. When that group broke up in 1970, Mr. Chilton formed Big Star with Jody Stephens, Chris Bell and Andy Hummel. The band’s first album, “#1 Record,” in 1972, did not come close to fulfilling the commercial promise of its title, nor did the followup releases “Radio City” and “Third/Sister Lovers.” But their music – gentle and introspective songs like “The Ballad of El Goodo” and “September Gurls,” and exuberant anthems like “In the Street” – had a profound impact on generations of pop and indie acts that followed.

Perhaps the surest measure of the tug that Mr. Chilton exerted on subsequent artists can be found in the lyrics of the Replacements – another malleable rock act that moved more hearts than retail units – who sang in their song “Alex Chilton”: “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.’”

From the London Guardian:

A tired-looking man is on stage in a half-empty pub in Leeds. He looks well into middle age, but he's not yet 40. He's playing guitar and singing, putting little effort into either, and he pays scant attention to the few dozen people watching him – a mixture of men of around the same age as him, and students in indie garb who look awestruck to be in the same room as Alex Chilton. He's got a pick-up band who look just as bored as him – a bassist with his instrument tucked up under his chin in requisite session-man fashion, and a drummer who plods along. It should be terrible, and I suppose it is. But there's a kind of magic at work, too. Even this band, even this man – so contemptuous of his own legend that he can't understand why anyone would be interested in his old music – can't quite extinguish the spark of genius in the songs Chilton wrote as a very young man, playing with the Memphis band Big Star. And when he comes to play the song every single person in the room has come to hear, spines shiver, and though the band – as if they were trying to rob it of its beauty – turn September Gurls into a trudge, hearts melt: "I loved you/ Well, never mind …"

Posted by Andria Lisle at 2:58 PM
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