Sunday, April 20, 2014

"A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton" by Holly George-Warren



I have not previously met a person who didn't like something by Alex Chilton.   He's a cult artist by definition, but he is without a doubt a major work who made priceless pieces of treasure throughout his long career in music making.  Why he didn't play the Greek Theater or the Olympia or Albert Hall on a regular basis is not his fault, but it was  the 'general' audience that was asleep at the wheel, or using their extra funds foolishly by buying 'that' other record.  At this point and time, everyone 'now' knows that Big Star are essential recordings as well as his long and complicated solo career.  And of course, The Box Tops, you can't forget that!

The story of Alex is really the story of the South, and the southern aesthetic in how it played to the rest of the world, as well as the influences that touched the region that Chilton came from.   In other words, it's a Cecil DeMille production, but in reality it was directed by Sam Fuller.  Chilton and Big Star are blessed with some exceptional books.   Rob Jovanovic's biography on Big Star and Bruce Eaton's focus on Big Star's Radio City are excellent titles.  So is this biography by Holly George-Warren, which is well-researched and well-rounded view of this unique figure.   "A Man Called Destruction" (a catchy title, but I feel there is nothing tragic or destructive about Alex, compared to.... Chet Baker or ....etc.) covers all the bases and she, like the other writers, has a feel on Alex, his music, and his world.  The thing is Alex is just one character in this fascinating story - the whole creative and boho culture of Memphis is also part of this story.

I always felt that Alex's genius lies in not only in his music, but in his culture as well.   What you get is black American culture, Elvis culture, and William Eggleston culture as well.   It's an insane world, but one that is totally manageable, but it does have its tragic side as well.   I got the feeling from reading this book and the others that he really felt the death of his parents, Chris Bell, and his brothers - he didn't talk about it, but the silence is pretty loud. Excellent biography.
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