Laura Chilton on Alex’s Passing

Before the Big Star tribute during SXSW, publicist Heather West read a letter from Alex Chilton’s wife, Laura. Here’s the letter:

“Even though Alex left this world way too soon, I feel so fortunate to have been his friend and wife. I would like to say a few things about his relationship with music and also speak of what he was about as a person.

He was an individual who did what he pleased. However, he was also the most considerate and sincere person I’ve ever known. He loved life and people and usually befriended the underdogs. He saw beauty in what other people would just dismiss- old rickety houses about to fall down; he would say, ‘Now thats a great house worth buying.’ He would spend 10 minutes chatting with a homeless person on the street and always helped them out with some money. He was a good listener and was very compassionate.  He was extremely generous- always giving time, energy and money to his friends with a no strings attached attitude.

There is one aspect to his personality that seemed to define how he approached and interpreted life and that is a consistent tendency to be absolutely clear in expression and communication.  His mind worked analytically; he had a low tolerance level for vagueness and carelessness. His relationship with music was all about analysis. When listening and appreciating a piece of music, whether it be a Beach Boys tune or a Bach partita, he was able to pay attention to individual elements simultanously: harmony, rhythm, melody, meter, etc.  I believe this is why he loved working in the studio producing records. He spoke a lot about John Fry teaching him how to do work in the studio and how he enjoyed playing around with the different elements. The one thing he was absolutely proud of was producing the Cramps records. He would play them at home and and just talk and talk about the experience. He was also quite proud of the Detroit garage band the Gories – both his work with them and the band itself. He was very excited for them now that they are playing shows again.

At home in New Orleans, Alex lived a simple and relaxed life. He watched a lot of TV while fooling around on the keyboard and guitar. We played music together – both classical and pop. He rode around town on his bike and loved to strike up conversation with whoever he came across. For the past few years, when I lived with him, he listened and played classical Baroque music, Scott Joplin rag tunes and ’60s pop music. Names that often came up include the following: Carole King, Petula Clark, Brian Wilson, the Byrds, Teenage Fanclub, Frederick Knight, the band Free, George Frideric Handel, Georges Muffat, Haydn and the baroque performance group Musica Antiqua Koln. There are dozens more, but these names come to mind as I’m writing this.

The final point I would like to draw attention to was he valued spontaneity. This would seem to contradict his insistence on analysis and accuracy, but somehow he managed to be both at the same time. Honestly, this remains a mystery to me and is probably why he has been described as a genius and a musician’s musician.  I am only speculating on this, but I am thinking it is probable.

I will miss him forever and will honor him by maintaining and developing what I’ve learned from him: compassion, spontaneity, honesty, directness, generosity, an excellent listener and enthusiasm about what life has to offer. He had a blase attitude towards death – it didn’t interest him. The same goes for sleep; he just said the other day that he wished he could be awake 24/7 – life was too interesting and he didn’t want to waste it sleeping. I laughed at that, but I knew he was serious. On that note, I need to end this little essay and go take a nap – here’s what Alex would say: ‘Night, sug.'”

[Update: 4:23 p.m.]

Laura Chilton also spoke with NPR. In his story, Stephen Thompson wrote:

Though he was best known for his work with Big Star, he was most proud of his solo work and for being the producer for The Cramps. According to Laura Chilton, Alex liked certain Big Star songs, but “he could care less about the whole Big Star thing.” Laura Chilton also said that he loved playing with The Box Tops.

  • Topeterlake

    I just read about this singers passing in New Orleans. I happened to be on utube,
    and went to the letter because it was on Rickie Lee Jones page for some reason…
    and was reminded what a great singer this guy was. Its so bitter sweet to recognize
    someone just a minute after they are gone. I will put the letter up on my facebook,
    and I send my sincere condolances to his family and friends. His voice is a part of
    my history. ) R L Jones

  • howie

    what a beautiful tribute to a great vocalist! I wish i had followed Alex’s career but really just knew him from “The letter” and “cry like a baby!” In college a frat brother put the 45 of the letter on and it replayed over and over and over as I was waking up one morning in the “sleeping porch,”where in those days we all slept to minimize the risk of burning down the house (insurance company logic) And I didn’t mind hearing it over and over….and, cry like a baby? Fantastic vocal! (great line..”you left the water running” Indeed you did, Alex, and I thank you and love you for your genius

  • Anonymous

    The most underrated songwriter in history.