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Big Star - Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band

  by Mark Rowland

published: 25 / 5 / 2013

Big Star - Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band


Mark Rowland examines Rob Jovanovic's revised and updated biography 'Big Star: The Sory of Rock's Forgotten Band' while tells of the frequently tragic story of Memphis-based band Big Star

Writing a book about Big Star was always going to be a challenge. The band’s original incantation only lasted for their first album, ‘#1 Record’ – the band split and reformed after each of their first three albums, losing another member each time. Then there’s the matter of getting information out of Alex Chilton, a man who never enjoyed talking about his work and was often temperamental and eccentric. So it’s not a great surprise that 'Big Star: The Story of Rock’s Forgotten Band' takes a few chapters to get going, with Rob Jovanovic dedicating a little bit more space than perhaps he should on the history of the Memphis music scene and the band members' largely uneventful schooldays (with the exception of Chilton, who was in manufactured pop-soul band the Boxtops as a teenager). But once the book gets to the band itself, it becomes fascinating. The Big Star story doesn’t have the kind of stories of rock ‘n’ roll excess that you’d find in the story of a more successful band, but you do get stories of drug and alcohol addiction, fighting, mental illness and tragedy. The band’s principal songwriters, Chilton and Chris Bell, both had their demons and struggled with the band’s lack of success and, in the case of the former, its subsequent cult success. While it would be tempting for a writer to focus on Chilton’s often unconventional approach to his life and art, it’s to Jovanovic’s testament that we spent time with all four of the band’s original members throughout the book, as well as the producers, engineers friends and family. Chilton is a fascinating character, and his relationship with his longest standing Big Star collaborator, drummer Jody Stephens, is a source of humour and drama. But it’s the tragic story of Chris Bell, who was killed in a car crash at the age of 27 in 1978, that really hits home, the band member who never got to see his hard work pay off. His downward spiral after the failure of ‘#1 Record’, which was badly handled by the label despite gushing reviews (a story that would become all too familiar for the band with each album) is heartbreaking, and to see his promising solo career end abruptly before it had really begun. The band’s steadily growing popularity over the course of the 80s and 90s, culminating in a reunion tour and a new Big Star album, ‘In Space’. Posies members Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow joined the band for its reunion, and their insights and observations, as both fans and band members, shines a light on what it was like to work with Chilton at the time. This revised and updated edition includes the band’s final dissolution, with Chilton’s untimely death of a heart attack, aged just 59. The band had reached the height of its popularity, with plans to make both a feature film and a documentary about the band. Chilton was finally coming to terms with the legacy he had created with Big Star, agreeing to the documentary after years of avoiding the limelight. It’s a sad end to a story that’s ultimately a success – the brilliance of Big Star’s music found an audience despite the odds being against it.

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Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live ... And More (2017)
Big Star - Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live ... And More
Mark Rowland enjoys DVD tribute concert 'Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live ... And More' which features Big Star members Jody Stephens, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer and also guests including REM's Mike Mills, Robyn Hitchcock and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy

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