Alex Chilton is strolling through the women’s clothing section of the Woolworth’s at Rampart and Canal, discussing astrology and rain coats.
Astrology had come up a few moments ago at the department store’s lunch counter, the locale Chilton had selected as the setting for an extremely rare chat with a reporter. According to Sacred Symbols of the Ancients, a book the musician consults frequently, his birthday corresponds to the three of hearts. That card falls at the beginning of a series, a significant position. “It’s sort of like being Adam,” says Chilton.
To legions of pop guitar bands, Alex Chilton is indeed a kind of first man. He initially gained notoriety as the 16-year-old raspy-voiced singer of the Box Tops, the blue-eyed Memphis soul band that scored a national hit with “The Letter”. But it was as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter with Big Star that Chilton secured his place as a pop music icon and cult hero. That band’s three early-‘70s recordings—#l Album, Radio City and Sister Lovers—have been cited by the likes of R.E.M. as major influences and inspirations. The Replacements immortalized Chilton in song; at least one fanzine, “Back Of the Car,” is devoted to the legacy of Big Star. That band’s 1993 reunion was a much-discussed pop music event (and resulted in a live album, Columbia: Live at Missouri University, on Zoo Entertainment).
After the original Big Star had dissolved in 1975, Chilton’s career became erratic. He went through long periods of inactivity, hampered by bouts with alcohol and drugs. When he first came to New Orleans 13 years ago, he worked at menial jobs to support himself.
But he eventually returned to making music. His recent album, A Man Called Destruction, is being hailed as his best, most cohesive effort in years. To make it, Chilton revisited a familiar haunt—Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Big Star recorded. And the album was issued on the reactivated Ardent Records, the label that released Big Star’s albums (Big Star drummer Jody Stephens now works at the label).
Chilton wrote five of the cuts on A Man Called Destruction, and co-wrote a sixth. He covers local R&B legend Chris Kenner’s “Sick and Tired” (made famous by Fats Domino) and “Lies” by Keith Keller, owner of the local Chez Flames studios (where Chilton made his previous record, Cliches, a solo acoustic collection of big band and jazz standards). The Iguanas’ Doug Garrison, an old bandmate of Chilton’s in Memphis, plays drums on much of it.
For this interview Chilton biked over to Woolworth’s from “behind Treme,” where he lives when he’s in town. He rarely grants interviews; when a new publicist signed up Chilton as a client not long ago, the musician’s first words to him were, “I’m a publicist’s worst nightmare.”
Because of this, Chilton is something of an enigma, even in the town where he’s spent much of the last decade. But he agreed to be interviewed two days before setting out on a three week barebones tour—three musicians in two cars, the gear stowed in the trunk—that would land him back in New Orleans in time for his May 4 set at the Fair Grounds. Dire warnings about his testiness and difficulty as an interview subject proved unfounded. Though he made no small talk and wasted no verbiage, he answered all he was asked, grinning when appropriate. He came across as unpretentious and straightforward.
At 44, Chilton’s face is still boyish, but on this day it was unshaven, his hair tousled. He was clad in Canal Street casual—a T-shirt, blue overshirt, plum-colored knee-length shorts and well-worn moccasins (he did not look out of place amongst the downtown crowd in Woolworth’s). Over the din of the diner, a regular stop for him, Chilton discussed his relationship with New Orleans, how his father, a jazz pianist, influenced him, and the difficulties of making A Man Called Destruction and the creative process in general. He was refreshingly frank about the role of economics in his artistic decisions, especially recent Big Star reunions.
After finishing off a grilled cheese sandwich, a Diet Coke, and a final Camel, he decided to browse in the store. “Almost everything I own comes from Woolworth’s or Schwab’s Dry Goods, in Memphis,” he explains.
Even Adam needs shampoo.
What first drew you to New Orleans?
I came down and stayed with a friend of mine in ’81 for a while, then came down for Mardi Gras in ’82. When I went back to Memphis that year, it was so damn cold and horrible I just said, “This is insane. I’m going back there.” I’ve been here ever since…don’t really live here, but I stay here a lot.
Were you enamored with New Orleans in particular or were you just ready to get out of Memphis and go somewhere else?
I was ready to go somewhere else, but this was like a dream come true [to come to New Orleans].
Besides a function of climate, why else did you have to get out of Memphis? Did you feel you had done all you could there? Did you think the music scene was stagnated?
Well, all of the above. Memphis just…it’s interesting in some ways. I don’t really have a lot of people there that I care about very much. When I do stay in Tennessee, I’ve got a place in the country that’s really closer to Nashville than Memphis. I’ve just hated the place [Memphis] for a long time, and it could be that I spent too much time there, and have a lot of bad memories. I got off on the wrong foot in that place.
You said moving down here was a dream come true. Why is that?
It’s just a pretty place, and the weather’s great. It’s easy going, and people are pretty tolerant here.
I remember a photo that ran in a Wavelength magazine several years ago, something about “Chilton makes appearance at Carrollton Station” and how it was a big deal that you were getting onstage in New Orleans. Whereas now you play fairly frequently at the Howlin’ Wolf. Is that a function of you becoming more at ease in this town, and getting acclimated to the musical culture? Why are you performing more around town?
I don’t know…it seems the Howlin’ Wolf likes to have me play there a few times a year. And that’s OK with me. Generally two or three times a year in the same town is too much—it’s something I don’t like to do. But when they call, I hardly see enough reason to say no.
What have you gotten musically out of being here? Have you picked up anything stylistically?
I guess. There are a lot of really good musicians around this town, and I’ve gotten to know a few of them. Somehow when I came here in ’82 I wasn’t really doing much musically at all, and I got to know a few people here. Working with them, they’ve kind of broadened my horizons a little bit, to the point where I’m a way more sophisticated musician, more than I was 10, 12 years ago. I learned a bit about more sophisticated kinds of music. I was a little better than most rock players all along, I think, but since I’ve been down here…I don’t know. My dad was a jazz player in Memphis. When your dad’s a musician, sometimes you try to steer clear of what he does, cause you don’t want to start competing with your dad, because you figure he’s so much better than you are, and you don’t want to fuck up on his turf.
Another part of this equation is that just about the same time I moved down here, my dad died, so then nothing was off-limits to me any more. I could kind of run with a few of the things I learned from him.
What kind of jazz player was he? Contemporary?
I guess, more or less. I grew up listening to all the really good jazz that was happening in the early ’60s, and before that, too. For me, when fusion started happening, I really was not interested any more. I liked the earlier things.
Not a lot of Chick Corea in your collection?
You’re more into Coltrane, Monk, that sort of thing?
Monk’s kind of turned a little too weird for me. I was a Mingus fan, people like Cannonball Adderley-all those people that were happening then. Coltrane, I’ve never really become a fan of his.
What did your father play?
He was a piano player, in my experience of him, although earlier he was a sax player.
Was he a full-time musician?
Before he got married he was. I was the youngest kid in my family, so it seemed like when I was a kid, he started playing a lot of gigs in Memphis, which he hadn’t done before that. About the time I got to be about 10 years old, all the rest of the kids in my household were grown up, so it was just like every day was party time around his house. Five o’clock came, and two or three musicians were over at the house drinking heavily and playing and listening to records. That was every day.
Were you playing anything at this point?
No. I started to play when the Beatles happened. I got a guitar when I was 14 or so. Didn’t really make any progress with it until much later.
These musicians hanging out at the house with your dad probably introduced you to the musician attitude more than anything.
Well, you kind of absorb things, too. I was listening to a lot of records from his collection. He’d be listening to something and be fascinated with some element of some piece of music, and he would talk to me about it and describe the way it was put together. I might not have really understood very well, but a lot of it stuck with me.
Did he try to steer you toward playing jazz?
He just would share what he liked with me. That was the extent of what he really did. He didn’t try to get me to play or anything.
When you went professional with the Box Tops, was he excited about that?
I don’t think he was all excited about it or anything. He thought, “Well, hey-if you’re hittin’ lucky on the music scene, go ahead.” That was his attitude, I think.
When you first moved down here, it was during a period of inactivity. Had you slipped into that before you came down, or did you fall out of playing once you got down here?
I think, just a little before I came down here. I had a real drinking problem all through the ’70s, not to mention drugs and other things. About the mid-’70s, I wrote drugs off—they were too much for me. But somehow I developed this drinking problem without even knowing. That took five or six more years to stop.
When I came down here, it coincided with the time I stopped drinking. I’d been working with a band in Memphis [Panther Burns] before that in my unreliable fashion of those days, but I was just such a drunk that I didn’t have it together to do much practical business playing music.
When you first came down here, you weren’t playing a lot. You were just working day jobs?
I spent a year and a half as a dish washer in the Quarter.
There’s a dues-paying gig if there ever was one.
Then I was a tree cutter for about a year.
Good outdoors work, good for the body and soul.
It was great.
And all this time you weren’t playing?
I was beginning to do some work with Tav Falco’s Panther Burns again in ’84, when I got fired from my last steady gig, working in the trees. When I got fired from that gig, I had lived here long enough to realize, “Maybe I can get by without having a steady job.” And I never had another one again. I was working with [Falco] sporadically again, and then I got my own booking agent and started traveling, and made a record. So my latest period began.
What got you fired from the tree-cutting job?
Just an unreasonable boss—same thing that happens on any gig that anybody ever has. I was a good employee, but the boss had a little bit of a drinking problem.
Do you not drink at all now?
Very, very rarely.
Being in this town, where the climate is so geared toward drinking and partying, it’s interesting that you are able to exist in this atmosphere.
Once I quit, I knew I wasn’t going back.
The other night, we were at Preservation Hall doing a photo shoot with the Olympia Brass Band. You peered into the window of the club. Do you go down to the Quarter often to see music?
Sometimes. We were showing a couple of friends from out of town around. But there’s some good music in the Quarter.
Who do you like down there?
Big Al Carson is a kick. And a lot of those bands are just pretty darn good in whatever club. I like the jazz bands down there at the Maison Bourbon, at St. Peter and Bourbon Street—those are good traditional bands.
So you’ve been to Preservation Hall to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band?
Actually, those guys came to my house in Memphis in the ’60s one night and played. I don’t know what it was…who was the guy who ran the place for so long? Alan…
Jaffe, yeah. Any of the interesting jazz groups that came through town seemed to come over to our house and hang out.
Do you remember the Preservation Hall guys as being an uproarious bunch?
They would have had to go some to be more uproarious than the scene that would already happen in my house—I mean, some real alcohol flowed in that place.
Who else do you like around town? You are the one credited with discovering the Cramps. Has there been anyone around here that you’ve felt that passionate about, or that you think has potential?
I think the [Royal] Pendletons are a great rock group. I don’t know…just the environment here is so full of stuff. 10-year-old kids walking down the street making noise—that’s great. I can’t say I’m any kind of scholar of anything, and I don’t really go out to see music very much. I’m not a big goer-outer, or anything of that sort. If I really thought about it, I could probably think of some people, but I can’t say I’m really aware of what’s great in town.
The first time I saw Snooks [Eaglin], he was playing with [bassist] Irving Charles and a guy named Nolan Coleman on drums. It was the best I’ve seen Snooks, and that was the first time I ever saw him. Little experiences like that are fun.
Why don’t you go out that much? Do you just prefer to listen to music at home?
Yeah. If you’re not a drinker, a bar gets old in about 15 minutes.
It seems like that would be more true of places that don’t have live bands.
The thing is, about 30 minutes of anybody is plenty for me [Chilton grins]. I don’t care if it’s Beethoven playing with Bach—after 30 minutes, I’m gonna get bored and split.
There are some obvious similarities between Memphis and New Orleans. They are both southern towns with deep musical legacies. Were you familiar with New Orleans R&B before you came down?
A little bit, but not really a whole helluva lot.
Did you know the Chris Kenner song, “Sick and Tired,” before you came down?
I had heard it. A friend of mine in Memphis performed it. But you know, the record is really kind of rare. I’d never heard the record. When I got down here, I heard Oliver Morgan play it. That kind of turned me around. Then I heard Chris’ record of it. Went to Jim Russell [Rare Records & Tapes] and paid $40 for it. [laughs]
Have you heard Fats’ version?
No, I never have.
The decision to cover “Sick and Tired” on your new record—was that because you thought it would make a good lead song?
It’s something that I’ve been doing onstage for like eight years now, and I’d tried it before in the studio, and never did anything I was really happy with. This time, I was determined that we were going to do a good take on “Sick and Tired.”
In a blurb about A Man Called Destruction in Billboard, they talked about how “It’s Your Funeral” is reminiscent of New Orleans funeral marches—which I thought was completely off-base. The song, to me, is just a general dirge.
It does, but kind of as an afterthought. I was working on it without thinking about New Orleans—I was thinking of, what’s his name, Chopin.
Staying not far from Treme, you’ve probably witnessed several jazz funerals.
Actually, I’ve never seen a jazz funeral.
Let’s talk about Cliches for a second. What was the initial impetus to do an album like that, a solo acoustic record of standards?
There were some music business people in Holland that I knew who had booked me on a solo bunch of gigs, along with all these other solo artists like Townes Van Zant. There must have been eight acts on this show, everybody playing solo. It was something I really hadn’t done too much, but I sort of enjoy doing it. When I was putting together my repertoire for that, it seemed to me that the best thing I could do was to play these kind of jazzy things. Trying to be like a folk singer or sing country blues didn’t feel as right as doing this kind of jazzy thing.
So maybe a year later, the woman who had booked the tour over there was working with some record companies over there, and called me up and said she wanted me to make a solo record for this label she was working with. I thought about it for a couple of days, and thought about all of those tunes, and thought, “Yeah, I can flesh that into an album.” I ended up making it for this French company instead, New Rose, and then licensed it to Ardent after they had heard it and really dug it. It was proposed to me, and there was some money involved, and I said, “Well, I can use that money, and I think I can do a good record.” So that’s how it came about.
What was the most successful track on there?
“Save Your Love For Me.” “Frame for the Blues.” I thought the last one really came off nice, “What Was.” And “There Will Never Be Another You.” “Time After Time.”
You were pretty much pleased with a lot of the record.
This is the only one you’ve done in New Orleans?
Yeah, I think so.
You found the environment at Chez Flames conducive to what you were trying to do.
Actually, Keith [Keller] was really kind of great about doing the record. I went in there thinking I was going to do it in one evening. But it’s so much harder to play on acoustic guitar than it is on electric. I wasn’t really in fighting form for that at all. I got in there, and after 45 minutes my hands were so fuckin’ sore, I could not go any further. He bore with me—we probably did 14 recording sessions to get 12 songs. He hung in there with me about it. I’m probably exaggerating about that, but it certainly wasn’t one evening like I envisioned.
People are calling your new record your most cohesive album and best work in 20 years, blah, blah, blah. Should part of the credit go to the renewed association with Ardent, and going to Memphis and working with familiar faces and in a familiar studio environment?
Well, it kind of comes from having unlimited studio time, and not having to pay for it. That helps.
You used Charles Hodges, the organ player from Al Green’s records, to give the instrumental “Boplexity” a Memphis soul feel.
He came in and overdubbed one track. And I wasn’t there when he did it. But we knew he would do something good, and we knew it needed something, too. He was perfect.
What was the mindset going into A Man Called Destruction? Did you just want to put down a batch of covers you’d been playing and some songs you’d written?
Absolutely. That’s the way I am. For me…I don’t know. When I was growing up—and I wish it was still this way—an album came out after a group had had six 45s. I would much prefer, when I go to a recording studio, to focus on two songs, and then forget it for two months, and then go back and do two more songs. Doing 12 songs at once is really too much for me, the way that I work. ‘Cause I kind of work by trial and error and hit and miss, and when there’s 12 of ’em to sort out all the trialing and erroring, it’s too much. It’s way too much.
How long did it take to do this record?
We did four recording sessions, basically. But the way that I work, I record a song in three minutes, and I might do a little bit of overdubbing here and there, not too much. But sometimes I do things where people don’t know the songs very well, and there’s a lot of sorting out to be done. For instance, on some of these tunes there are places where I’m playing a lot of guitar, and playing a lot of bad guitar. I just turned it off where it’s bad. The mixdown of something like that takes me 15 hours [Chilton produced A Man Called Destruction himself.] Three minutes to record and 15 hours to mix it and get it presentable. So anyway, the long and the short of it is that it took me three months before the thing was finished.
You had no interest in bringing in an outside producer to help with any of the mixes?
Well, I don’t know—maybe Quincy Jones or somebody [Jones is the multiple-Grammy winning producer of Michael Jackson and many others]. I could see working with him. As far as other producers go, no. It’s hard to say. It just all depends. But I think I know enough to make a good record myself.
The best person to interpret and lay down an Alex Chilton record is Alex Chilton.
Not necessarily, but I get a kick out of doing it that way. As a producer for me, I don’t really need somebody else in charge of what I’m doing. It’s hard for somebody else to see what you’re getting at. And very often, when I get all the music onto the tape, it doesn’t resemble anything like what I’m getting at. It’s only with my careful attention that I turn it into that in the mixing.
You mixed the Royal Pendletons EP and have produced other artists. Is that something you may start doing more in the future, and perform less?
It’s like doing the oldies gigs—if I don’t have to do it too much, it’s OK, but it’s the kind of thing where if you’re doing it in a big way you’re getting involved with someone else’s music for a fairly long period of time, and it really takes you out of what you normally do, and into what they do. At the end of the procedure, I’m reeling from trying to get what I think is good out of this music and please them. I’ve been devoting all my energy to this music, and then I have to back off and say, “Where was I before I started all this?”
Your reputation has been built on your songwriting. In recent years—especially on the Cliches album-you’ve been doing a lot of covers. On A Man Called Destruction you’ve got six originals. Why are you starting to put out original material again?
I never really thought of myself as a very good songwriter or anything. When I was first making my own records, we were writing a lot of things, and I was writing a lot, experimenting with a lot of things, just trying to find myself as a writer. I felt like there was a time in the mid-70s when I sort of came of age as a writer and found myself. I stopped experimenting so much then, and started writing much less, ‘cause I had a stronger criteria of what I thought a good song was that I had written. And I haven’t been particularly prolific at all in the last 10 years. It’s not easy for me to write a lot of songs. Which is not to say that it won’t become easy for me some time in the future. I work on it sometimes fairly hard. Other times…I probably haven’t even tried to write anything in six months. But I intend to get serious with that.
Part of it is just the environment that I live in. I live in such a small place and my girl and I both live there. It’s really kind of hard to kick out the jams at three in the morning when the inspiration hits you. But I’m about to move to a bigger place. Hopefully there I can have a spot to keep the musical stuff set up all the time, and whenever I feel it I’ll be able to go jump on it and stay with it as long as I want. Hopefully then I’ll start writing more than Cole Porter and Gershwin.
When you write, then, you like to bang away with instruments. You don’t sit down with pen and paper and write out lyrics and notes.
It happens all sorts of different ways, in every permutation possible. Sometimes I’ll start with words and sometimes I’ll start with music.
Some fans are of the opinion that if you really wanted to write a wonderful pop album and be a pop star that is certainly within your grasp. But the theory is that you’re not interested in that right now, you’re more interested in exploring other areas right now.
Not necessarily. I wouldn’t say that. If I could write a great pop album, I’d be glad to do it. The good songs that I write are so few and far between, and generally when I get into the studio to do an album, I might have four, five or six covers in mind, and I’ll probably have three tunes in my pocket that I wrote that I’m sure are good. Chances are I’ll throw out one or two of those before I’m finished. And then while things are going on I might come up with one or two more original compositions, and I might rewrite one of the things that I’ve already got. But always by the time I’m finishing the record, there’s one piece of music there and I’m goin’, “Oh my God, what am I gonna do with this?” And I’ll scribble down some words that I finally think are better than what I had. I’ll save that for the last mix, and the night before I’ll go in and sing the voice track on it, which will be a completely different song than I began with. I’ve always done that, whenever I’m making a record. The last few days always consist of that with one or two of the tunes.
Which ones were like that this time?
“Don’t Know Anymore” was probably the last thing I did. Although “Don’t Stop” may have had a lot of revisions from the time we first did it ‘til I got finished with it.
You’ve been digging up a lot of old material to play onstage, such as Otis Rush’s “Homework”. Is that for your own satisfaction? Do you feel your approach adds something to the songs?
I do things that I feel comfortable doing, that feel natural for me. I try to do something that a lot of people haven’t heard a whole lot yet, although I’m no scholar of rare music at all. Something like “Homework” is not really a rare tune; nevertheless a lot of young people—and a lot of older people—have never really heard it. So it’s not exactly the biggest cliché in the world to do. Although in certain circles it is.
When you were younger you were listening to the Beatles a lot, and that was directly related to the stuff you did with Big Star and the sound of those records. What are you listening to now?
I listen to a lot of gospel, I listen to a lot of older R&B. Very little that’s very new. I guess gospel is my main thing that I listen to these days that other people mostly don’t.
I listen to WBOK [1230AM, a gospel station] all the time.
So are you a regular at the Jazz Fest Gospel Tent?
No, not at all.
You don’t go out to the Fest?
Why did you decide to play it this year?
Well, they asked me to play it. They offered me some money, and I said, “Double that and you’ve got a deal.” And they did.
I played [Jazz Fest] a couple of times in the ’80s. Once I was rained out. But I was paid—I like it when they say, “Here’s a thousand bucks. Don’t play, alright?” That’s my favorite thing.
What other cultural inputs are you taking in right now? Anything that you’re reading or watching on TV?
I just re-read some Dostoyevsky. I used to read him when I was in my late teens and early 20s-that’s probably what ruined my life, in fact. But I got a total laugh out of reading it again. It was better reading it again after 20 years than it was the first time. My brother was a big Marxist and I’m trying to educate myself in that sort of thing, but it’s very difficult.
The last time I saw you at the Howlin’ Wolf, there was one guy in a suit yelling at you and being incredibly obnoxious…
That’s his privilege
When something like that happens—you always get people yelling for Big Star stuff and what have you—do you feed off that friction with the audience, or do you wish everyone would sit there and let you do your songs?
It’s different every night. When I get onstage, sometimes I feel like doing certain things and sometimes I don’t feel like doing those things. It just varies from night to night.
I say let ’em scream for whatever they want. If I can stomach what they’re asking for, then I’ll do it. But there are many times when I can’t. [laughs]
You don’t do much of the Big Star stuff.
No, we do. We do frequently. A lot of nights I’m about to go onstage and I’m looking at the list of things that we know how to do, and I go, “Jesus, I don’t want to do any of this.” [laughs]
There are maybe 40 or 50 songs that we can bring off, and sometimes there’s none of the 40 or 50 that I want to do.
Why did you decide to do that first Big Star reunion at the University of Missouri in 1993?
Well, it was proposed to me as something different than a Big Star reunion. Some people like Paul Westerberg [from the Replacements] and some others were being bandied about as people that were going to be there, and they just wanted to get a lot of people like them and me together on a stage. And I said, “Sure, I’m not doing anything that day. I’ll be there.” Jody [Stephens, Big Star’s drummer] was one of the people they mentioned.
The next thing I knew, all these people were asking me, “Gosh, I hear there’s going to be a Big Star reunion.” I said, “Well, I hadn’t heard about that.”
But then this record company [Zoo Entertainment] jumped in, and said, “If there’s going to be a Big Star reunion, then we’d really like to record it. And here’s this much money on the table about it.” And I said, “There’s going to be a Big Star reunion.”
One of the conditions of doing that record was I said, “It’s fine for you to record it. After we’re finished with the performance, if it turns out well then we’ll use it, and if it didn’t turn out well, then we won’t use it, and you won’t pay us.” But it turned out well enough for me.
Whose idea was it to use two members of the Posies to fill in for Andy Hummel, who declined to participate, and the late Chris Bell?
It was Jody’s idea. [The Posies] had recorded a couple of Big Star tunes, and I heard that they did it very well. I said, “OK, we’ll give them a try.” We got together with them in Seattle and rehearsed one time, and I knew in five minutes that they were perfect for the gig.
Andy had no interest in participating?
I don’t know. I haven’t talked to Andy in 20 years. I think Jody has spoken to him now and then, but I haven’t.
The reunion at the New Daisy Theater in Memphis last year…you were pleased with the way the show in Missouri went, and decided to do it again?
Well, these gigs, they pay very well—I mean, I am trying to make a living. And it’s not unenjoyable, either. I think last year we probably played 10 gigs—we went to Japan and played five or six gigs in America.
So it was more just practical concerns that made it the right time to do it. You’ve probably gotten offers in the past to do it.
Nothing organized. We charge a lot of money for them when we do them. So if it comes up five or 10 times in a year, that’s tolerable to me. I can do it five or 10 times and enjoy it. Doing it more than that, I don’t know if I really would enjoy it.
I also do oldies dates that revolve around the Box Tops sometimes. And that’s fun too, especially getting together with all these old ’60s bands at those kinds of shows. I think last year I probably did five or six of them. I got to play with Ronnie Spector and people like that.
You don’t have to wear a tuxedo for those gigs?
Not unless I want to.
The enduring Big Star legacy…I’m sure you’re familiar with this Back of the Car fanzine.
I’ve seen that.
Do you think something like this is necessary? That it serves a purpose?
No. [laughs] I think it’s completely unnecessary.
It’s incredible to me, the cult hero status that’s been assigned to you because of that era. It’s obviously not something that affects your day-to-day existence in this town all that much, but, when you see things like this fanzine, and all those folks show up screaming at the Big Star reunions, does that legacy make you uncomfortable?
Not really. I say more power to it. If people want to go crazy about it, let ’em.
Would you consider doing an interview with this fanzine if they called you?
I might. I don’t get off on doing interviews, generally. A lot of the people that one talks to doing interviews really have their heads up their asses…present company excluded. But a lot of them do. The best interviewer that anybody talks to is going to get a few things wrong, and the worst of ’em are going to get a lot of things wrong. In a way it’s just sort of a waste of time.
You’ve had that many bad experiences in the past, where you feel nothing good or productive can come out of interviews?
Really, when it comes down to it, if I granted all the interviews that people ask for, I’d be doing them all day long, every day.