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Alex Chilton, RIP

Alex Chilton has died. I have been a big fan of his for a long time, and even met him once when he played at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. He was just sitting in a corner before the show and I went up to him and asked "are you Alex Chilton?". He gave me a closed-mouth smile and nodded. He seemed rather shy, and a lot more modest than his lifes work warranted. He put on an awesome show.

He had an interesting career. He took the opposite path of most rock musicians. He started out as a teen idol with the box tops and then went indie with Big Star and his solo efforts. He covered a lot of musical ground, from power pop to blues to standards. He did a lot of covers, which led one reviewer to dub him "America's laziest songwriter." Even if you leave aside that the quality of his work more than made up for the small quantity, the term is unfair.

I prefer to think that he was America's busiest musicologist. He gave new live to lots of forgotten songs in many different genres. One of my favorite albums was Cliches, a collection of acoustic renditions of old standards. They are performed (it sounds like) with just an acoustic guitar. It was neither the ironic rendition of people like Richard Cheese nor the faithful rendition of Harry Connick. The closest comparison I can think of is Johnny Cash's albums of cover songs near the end of his life.

He pioneered power pop with his first two Big Star records, and made inroads into emo with the third album Sister Lovers. The latter contains "Jesus Christ", which deserves to become a Christmas staple, even though it won't.

He did weird stuff such as Like Flies On Sherbet, which a lot of people trashed. Honestly, I wouldn't want a steady diet of albums like that, but I find it to be a nice break from my usual fare when I listen to it. You could say it cleanses the palate, but that's not quite the right metaphor. It's probably a bit more accurate to say it resoils the palate, like sherbet with flies on it. It's interesting stuff.

I'm embedding a video of Thank You Friends from his third album. It's the least I can do to thank him for all the good music he's given. I guess you could say I was in love with his song.

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