R.I.P. Alex Chilton

Maybe Alex Chilton, dead at 59 of a heart attack, would recoil at the fond remembrances of him now sneezing out through the digital ether: Salutes from the floor of the House of Representatives, odes from pretty much everyone on the self-serious list of revered alternative or indie acts over the last 30 years, and what feels online like an explosion of the I-knew-him-too cult of Chilton into the we-all-believe gospel of Chilton.

Big Star at the Fillmore '07

Or maybe not. Chilton had earned misgivings about the recording industry and sometimes a disinclination to please his fans, but the power of his music is greater than even the current digital veil of sorrow would suggest. A Memphis native, Chilton broke into fame at age 16 with “The Letter,” the first hit single by his band the Box Tops, a group that recorded a few more memorable singles before parting ways. But Chilton's most important contribution was made with the power-pop band Big Star, who recorded three stunning albums that were slight, edgy and infectiously melodic in ways little rock music was before and much has been since. Big Star had the chiming, buzzsaw guitars, the perfectly arching pop melodies that sharpened youthful yearning to a razor's edge, the agile rhythms and the relentless instrumental ability that fueled the energy of early punk and the attitude of '80s college rock.

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