A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton
Never a kind word for Big Star
Reviewed by Michael Toland, Fri., May 30, 2014
Viking, 370 pp., $27.95
Few cult artists as celebrated as Alex Chilton willfully dismiss the work that defines them. His Memphis power-pop foursome, Big Star (1971-74), routinely ranks with the Beatles and Velvet Underground in terms of cultural impact on rock, yet Chilton rarely had any praise for the band. Veteran music biographer Holly George-Warren attempts to figure out why by digging deeply into the origins of the singer – who died suddenly on the eve of a Big Star reunion at SXSW in 2010 – from his scrappy high school bands to his final years as a more casual gentleman of musical leisure. Naturally, Big Star gets big play, but Warren focuses equally on his teen years fronting the Box Tops ("The Letter"), production work with the Cramps and Tav Falco's Panther Burns, and his reinvention as a structure-eschewing solo artist more interested in capturing moments than perfecting craft. Head on, the author engages Chilton's derision of his most famous work and penchant for keeping his feelings to himself, which makes the answer she seeks elusive. Yet Warren still spins a captivating tale, one that will reward longtime followers of Chilton's work and intrigue newcomers to his considerable legacy.