RIP Alex Chilton

It would seem everyone has an Alex Chilton story. Here’s mine…

Alex Chilton (Photo © Philippe Brizard)

Bang, bang, bang! This is sound of the back door at the rear of the stage of Chicago’s Cubby Bear, circa late 1987. A frat-boy bar in-the-making that was an unlikely destination for a living almost-legend.

This is a much-anticipated sound. It signaled the arrival of Alex Chilton for a gig that my band, The Wildroots, had  just finished — warming up HIS audience. I was so stoked. We had added Alex Chilton — The Song, after hearing Pleased To Meet Me by The Replacements. We loved to slam that song and here we were, playing a show in our hometown with the man himself. Alex, then 37, seemed so weary as he burst through the door in a brusque manner befitting a hockey defenseman. We helped the drums load out of the well-worn sedan they drove to the show. “Was this the tour vehicle?” I wondered to myself. Feeling a bit disillusioned, I made my way back to the soundboard to settle in for the show.

After arriving hours late and plugging in with no sound check (I later learned he felt that was what WE were for), Alex & Co. tore into a blur of a ragged set. His fans seemed thrilled, unaware of the tossed off nature of the show. He finished his moderately brief performance, collected his fee and disappeared out the same stage door into the alley behind the club. No mention of Big Star, The Box Tops or anything about the things that almost everyone came to hear.

It turns out, this is the resurgent period. His post-dropout from music stint, curtailed by bands like The Replacements and REM and their constant citing of AC’s influence. It would seem the indie crowd demanded his return. And return he did. To the dive bars and tossed off gigs that marked his slow return back to a musical life.

And that was my brush with the legend and the man. His stage presence based on nothing more than crankiness. His guitar playing was so sloppy it was almost laughable, and a little sad. And his voice? His singing sounded like a carton of cigarettes were consumed minutes earlier. And yet, it appeared none of us cared. We were still in the man’s presence and Big Star was an indie-legend even in 1987.

The “invisible man with the visible voice” as Paul Westerberg sang so perfectly. Dead at 59 from a heart attack. RIP AC.

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