The death of Alex Chilton affected many musicians and music fans, but perhaps no one so much as Paul Westerberg, who codified the kinship he felt with Chilton in song. Westerberg offers an eloquent eulogy for Chilton in the Sunday New York Times, touching on many of the universal themes that made Chilton’s music resonate with so many different people:
How does one react to the death of one’s mentor? My mind instantly slammed down the inner trouble-door that guards against all thought, emotion, sadness. Survival mode. Rock guitar players are all dead men walking. It’s only a matter of time, I tell myself as I finger my calluses. Those who fail to click with the world and society at large find safe haven in music — to sing, write songs, create, perform. Each an active art in itself that offers no promise of success, let alone happiness.
Yet success shone early on Alex Chilton, as the 16-year-old soulful singer of the hit-making Box Tops. Possessing more talent than necessary, he tired as a very young man of playing the game — touring, performing at state fairs, etc. So he returned home to Memphis. Focusing on his pop writing and his rock guitar skills, he formed the group Big Star with Chris Bell. Now he had creative control, and his versatility shone bright. Beautiful melodies, heart-wrenching lyrics: “I’m in Love with a Girl,” “September Gurls.”
On Big Star’s masterpiece third album, Alex sang my favorite song of his, “Nighttime” — a haunting and gorgeous ballad that I will forever associate with my floor-sleeping days in New York. Strangely, the desperation in the line “I hate it here, get me out of here” made me, of all things, happy. He went on to produce more artistic, challenging records. One equipped with the take-it-or-leave-it — no, excuse me, with the take-it-like-I-make-it — title “Like Flies on Sherbert.” The man had a sense of humor, believe me….Yeah, December boys got it bad, as “September Gurls” notes. The great Alex Chilton is gone — folk troubadour, blues shouter, master singer, songwriter and guitarist. Someone should write a tune about him. Then again, nah, that would be impossible. Or just plain stupid.
That Westerberg is able to finish his piece with that little bit of humor shows, that even though Alex Chilton may be gone, he will be remembered for the effect that he had on the lives of others. [The Daily Swarm]