I spent most of SXSW's opening day en route (or, I should say, en airport….) but the big news on Wednesday wasn't about any specific show, but about a performer who would no longer be in Austin this week. It seems the sad news of Big Star frontman Alex Chilton's death spread fast here, not only because the power pop icon died (at 59, of an apparent heart attack) but also because he was one of the more legendary artists booked into this year's SXSW lineup. Big Star was supposed to play here on Saturday night, and be the subject of a panel discussion with band members earlier that day. There's talk of those events possibly becoming memorials, but nothing's been set yet.
I came to Big Star in a roundabout way–as a big Replacements fan growing up, I wondered who this Alex Chilton was that they loved so much as to write a song in his honor. And later Elliott Smith did a really special cover of the band's “Thirteen.” Both the group, which was around in the early '70s, and Chilton himself, who in later years moved into releasing records as a solo artist, were worshipped by pop and rock acts around the world.
The iconic Memphis power pop act had a box set released just last year, and with the Austin buzz going it seemed this was as good a time as any to remind new generations of Big Star's impact. With Chilton and co-founder Chris Bell (who passed away in 1978) now gone, the group's devoted fans will have to find new ways to pay homage to an important cornerstone in pop music.
If you have any comments about Big Star, or about Alex Chilton's death, please leave them below.