Thursday, March 17, 2011
It’s exactly a year since Alex Chilton died. My thanks to Rich Lustre who had the presence of mind to suggest to Mike that you folks may care to read it. I think that you would.
I first encountered Alex Chilton in 1977. A long-time semi-obsessive fan of his former band Big Star, through some kind of reckless audacity or sheer dumb luck, I managed to secure an interview shortly after his “relocation” to NYC. Moments after our introduction, he requested my astrological sign. I reckon I passed the test, because, inexplicably, we connected instantly and developed a friendship that would last decades.
Much has been written and conjectured about Alex, of course, often depicting him as, among other things, “obstinate,” “quirky,” “difficult,” “idiosyncratic,” etc. But the Alex Chilton I knew was the basically polite, intelligent, funny, generous guy who happened to be spiked by a pretty serious dose of creative genius.
Complex, yes, strange, sometimes, intense, absolutely, honest, to a fault, a man who did not suffer fools gladly, you bet. But I simply viewed Alex as a person who behaved with very little pretense. He was, without apology, who and what he was.
During the course of the relationship, we shared many laughs, joints and lawn mowing ceremonies, we engaged in long conversations covering numerous diverse topics, including his deep historical interests, Katrina, the virtues of The Cramps, The Byrds, KC and the Sunshine Band, Clarence Darrow, the mystery of female as well as stuff like Walker Texas Ranger, college basketball and why the drum solo should never stop.
The last few years, I was fortunate to see him frequently, in Philadelphia, in New Orleans and in Brooklyn, where Big Star gave their final performance. Ironically the only occasion I ever witnessed the band and the last time I saw Alex alive.
Memories remain, of course, too many to recount, but some moments persist: hanging with Charlie Feathers in Memphis, dawn at Lux and Ivy’s apartment, motel blues when Alex would almost absentmindedly haul out a guitar and serenade with snippets of John Dowland, Ray Davies and Texas Whiskey. I also recall the Diet Coke, card reading Chinatown dinners with my daughters, with Guantanamera on the airwaves and Paris Hilton in the news, and fragile, enchanted guitar/flute baroque duets with his lover Laura and Gram Parsons gravesite in the fog and mist in New Orleans...
I’m not much given to things spiritual or mystical nonetheless…
St. Patrick’s Day 2010, listening to Like Flies on Sherbet, thinking of him, I felt him about…
Later, my daughter delivered the awful news…”you better sit down…Alex died…”
As always, the music resonates, providing comfort and solace. Still, there are those times when I realize that we’ll never hear that lazy, liquid drawl again or see that sly, crooked smile. And the sadness sets in.
When I finally remember Alex Chilton, he will be one of those few, rare individuals with whom I shared a remarkable bond that neither time nor distance could shake.
And I’ll know just how very goddamn groovy it was to have known him and call him my friend.
michael j. ferguson