A Man Called Destruction

A Man Called Destruction

The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, From Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man

Book - 2014
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Alex Chilton's story is rags to riches in reverse, beginning with teenage rock stardom and heading downward. Following stints leading 60s sensation the Box Tops ("The Letter") and pioneering 70s popsters Big Star, Chilton became a dishwasher. Yet he rose again in the 80s as a solo artist, producer, and trendsetter, coinventing the indie-rock genre. By the 90s, acolytes from R.E.M. to Jeff Buckley embodied Chilton's legacy, ushering him back to the spotlight before his untimely death in 2010. In this career-spanning and revelatory biography, longtime Chilton acquaintance Holly George-Warren has interviewed more than 100 bandmates, friends, and family members to flesh out a man who presided over--and influenced--four decades of American musical history, rendered here with new perspective through the adventures of a true iconoclast.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2014
ISBN: 9780670025633
0670025631
Branch Call Number: B CHILTON
Characteristics: x, 370 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 24 cm

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JCLBryanV Mar 07, 2017

A true cautionary tale, especially if you’re planning on becoming a rock star. Talent and hard work don’t always translate to success. What you do, no matter how good it is, can be so anachronistic as to render your hard work audience-less for decades. The formation, creative drive, dissolution and subsequent reunion of the prototypical critic's darlings, Big Star, are honestly portrayed, providing new insights into the various factors leading to Big Star’s following. Yes, things get tawdry. This was the early 70's rock scene. But the best part of George-Warren’s writing is her nonjudgmental view on the darker aspects of Chilton’s talents, resulting in a sympathetic view of an uncompromising, difficult artist.

h
Hadley
Feb 07, 2017

Alex Chilton had a fascinating life: in high school, his garage band recorded a new song they’d only just heard, changed their name to The Box Tops, and got the single released. It sold 4 million copies, and within the year they were touring with the Beach Boys. Chilton was 16.

It was, as they say, all downhill from there. Despite huge critical acclaim, Chilton’s next band, Big Star, sunk without a trace after three albums, torpedoed by the all-too-familiar record company indifference. In his early 30s, he was a divorced father washing dishes in New Orleans.

I’m grateful to George-Warren for giving me a reason to revisit the Big Star catalogue (as well as the various bands who covered them, like Yo La Tengo, Elliot Smith, This Mortal Coil and Cheap Trick), but as lukasevansherman noted, this book provides few insights into his career after Big Star. There’s no clue about which of the multitude of LPs and EPs is worth hunting down.

The ending kind of peters out too. She suggests that in his last few years, with some belated recognition from his peers and a new wife, he’d found peace, yet she provides little evidence of that, and rushes through his last 20 years in a few pages. Well-researched and sympathetic, but not useful as a critical appraisal of his work.

j
Jeffsuke
Nov 07, 2015

In depth like look at Chilton. Interesting portrait of an influential rock artist. Good background of the Memphis scene and its hybrid sound. Well researched and engaging.

j
j7swiftlib
Dec 01, 2014

Need to know about Chilton's European ancestry? Got it right here. You can't fault the author for not doing research. The resulting waay over-in-depth book for a semi-rock star is a snooze.

l
lukasevansherman
Nov 22, 2014

"And children by the million sing for Alex Chilton
When he comes 'round
They sing, 'I'm in love
What's that song?
Yeah, I'm in love, with that song.'"-The Replacements, "Alex Chilton"
A star in his teens with the Boxtops ("The Letter"), a member of a hugely influential, but unsuccessful band, a burn out in his mid-20s, and a reluctant cult figure and erratic performer until his death in 2010, Alex Chilton is one of the more complicated, idiosyncratic figures in modern music. His reputation largely rests on his three albums with Big Star (a band that Chris Bell founded and Chilton later joined), a cult band par excellence, whose power pop influenced a generation of indie/college rockers like R.E.M., the Replacements, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, and too many others to count. Although he recorded solo albums (some of which are terrible), he never found the same kind of success he did with the Boxtops and as indicated by the title of this biography, which takes its name from one of his records, he had a stubborn streak and some self-destructive tendencies (drink, drugs, women, bad performances). This fuck all attitude also had an influence on indie rockers, especially his acolytes the Replacements, who were known to give shows completely wrecked. Anyone picking up this book will probably be somewhat familiar with Chilton and it is an absorbing, if not terribly well-written, book, which spotlights his talent and his flaws, but doesn't really make sense of his post-Big Star career. As his status increased among bands and critics, he seemed either unwilling or unable to capitalize on it and remained a beloved, but below the radar figure until his death at 59. Big Star fans will want to check out the documentary "Nothing Can Hurt Me" and the box set "Keep An Eye on the Sky." If you don't know Big Star, all three of their albums are beyond essential.

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