Tuesday, May 5, 2009

One of the features of the book is an oral history from Alex Chilton that dates back to his family arriving in America in the late 17th century up to his joining Big Star.  (An excerpt has been posted at the 33 1/3 blog.) How does that relate to Radio City?  Why is important or even of interest?  Good questions.  

First of all, I think it's of great interest because that's the way Alex chose to tell his story.  Plain and simple.  The Big Star story has largely been told by writers who weren't there getting information from people on the periphery.  One of the reasons why I was able to get everyone involved in Radio City to participate was that I  was only interested in hearing what they had to say, not those with tangential connections trying to insert themselves into the middle of the story after the fact.  I wasn't there either but decided to skip the middlemen. 

One reason I think Alex started with the long historical view perhaps as a way of getting across that his family and musical roots go deep into the Mississippi Delta – blues and jazz, r&b and popular song.  Even when he joined Big Star he had mostly been playing folk and bluegrass for the previous year or two.  He also had (and has)  a great musical curiosity and saw joining Big Star as a way to explore being in a proper rock band after the rather haphazard Box Tops.  Alex made no bones about it that Big Star was Chris Bell's musical vision.  He gladly plugged into it and thrived creatively but never saw himself consigned to that one artistic box.  With Radio City he was consciously working within the established Big Star franchise sound but had the freedom to push things in different directions just enough to generate the underlying tension that makes the record so great.  And when Big Star was no more, he was free to be pursue his own muse.  The few years of power pop are but a little blip in the Chilton family saga.  

Those of you wondering as to whether or not the book gets lost in tangents (a la Dusty In Memphis), rest assured - it lays out the road to Radio City (including the fascinating story of John Fry and how he developed into a genius engineer) and gives you a track by track guided tour of how it came together.  My next post will give you a sample...

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