In another blog post, I started thinking about Big Star, whose Keep an Eye on the Sky box set does nothing to address my thoughts on the band. As great as I think the Big Star albums are, I wonder if they are inextricably linked to the act of rock ‘n’ roll fandom for music lovers of a certain generation. Because of their scarcity, finding those albums on vinyl was a victorious moment made better by the fact that they lived up to their legend. But it’s telling that writers writing about Big Star – me included – can’t do so without referencing themselves and their experiences with the band or records. Bruce Eaton’s 33 1/3 book, Radio City, ends with him playing in a band with Alex Chilton, and Martin Aston’s “Out of Time” in the recent Mojo lets us know that Chilton doesn’t do interviews, but Aston has talked to him three times.
Still, Aston’s article suggests that there’s something in my theory that the band was a band in name more than practice. Obviously, what makes a band a band is a tricky question, but in the case of Big Star, it was Chris Bell’s band for #1 Record and Chilton was the junior member. Bell was gone by Radio City, Chilton’s driving, and the results are less Badfingeresque. By Third/Sister Lovers, the context had changed as Jim Dickinson replaced John Fry as producer, and according to Chilton, “It should never even have been released as Big Star.” The band rarely played live, and beyond issuing recordings under one name, it’s hard to hear how the albums are the product of a “band.” In the end, Big Star feels like a product of its fans’ collective imagination, and no amount of denounciations of the recordings by Chilton seems to affect that. No wonder he doesn’t want to talk about them.