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Was he my Kurt Cobain? Maybe, although I never aspired to dress like Alex, nor did I think of him as the “voice” of my generation.
IVANA REMEMBERS ALEX
Friendships were formed and romantic relationships were launched over a mutual love of a band most people had never heard of
THANK YOU FRIENDS: That’s the name of one of my favorite Big Star songs, the second track on their seminal Third/Sister Lovers. It was the last song I played on WOBC, the Oberlin College radio station, after four and a half years on-air, including five very frigid Januarys when 80% of the student population was smart enough to spend the month anywhere but there. I credit a dear friend at WOBC with introducing me to the genius of Big Star. He was a sophomore with a subscription to Trouser Press and I was a freshman whose musical palate consisted of a (still ongoing) Todd Rundgren obsession plus a deep love for prog rock, Springsteen and Patti Smith. Not too bad for a 1979 high school grad from Easton, PA. Those three Big Star records became the touchstones of my musical future. Friendships were formed and romantic relationships were launched over a mutual love of this band.  While I couldn’t claim to have been present at the legendary Big Star performance at The First Annual National Association of Rock Writers Convention in 1973 (which my co-worker Bud Scoppa attended), I considered myself an avid member of the second wave of the “fellowship,” whose ranks included the dB’s (Chris Stamey played with Alex Chilton in the late ’70s), R.E.M. (on the heels of their Chronic Town EP), the Dream Syndicate, the Bangles, the Individuals, The Neats and The Replacements, among others. (It’s no coincidence that these bands were played exhaustively on WOBC). My copy of Alex Chilton’s first solo single “Bangkok” b/w “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine” was my most prized possession (until I had Alex sign my original Like Flies on Sherbert vinyl). It was an era of multiple record stores (and promotions legend Dale Connone ran Sound Sensations, the coolest indie store in beautiful Lorain, OH), so many buying trips were taken to Lakewood and Coventry, as well as Ann Arbor and Pittsburgh, in pursuit of anything Alex Chilton-related. I forgot how many Big Star records I had given to friends until the night of his death, when my Facebook page was filled with acknowledgements that I was the first who told them about their favorite band. Ironically, before we heard the news about Alex Chilton (which reverberated around SxSW for the next four days), former WDGC Music Director Jim McGuinn and I were figuring out where Big Star was playing on Saturday night.  And earlier that night, Christina Rentz from Merge Records had given me a watermarked copy of the new Teenage Fanclub CD, a band whose affection and reverence for Big Star is as blatant as my own. I did my best to elevate Alex out of the realm of “cult artist,” which was a mantle he never wanted. He often told me that there was no glory (or money) in being a cult artist. So I got him signed to Big Time Records, which didn’t quite turn him into a household name. And I paid for (and stole the tapes for) the bootleg Dusted in Memphis, with all proceeds going to Alex. Not surprisingly, the first band I championed when I started at HITS 20 years ago (eek) was the Posies, whose Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer played in Big Star from the 1993 reunion in Columbia, MO to the present. And yes, I was there. Years later, I had Evan Dando cover “Ballad of El Goodo” on the Empire Records soundtrack, so hopefully Alex saw some money from that (although not nearly as much as “That ’70s Show” use of “In the Streets” as the theme song provided). On Friday, in lieu of blogging (as you can see, I’m not much of a writer), I thought about the impact of Big Star and Alex Chilton on my life. Was he my Kurt Cobain? Maybe, although I never aspired to dress like Alex, nor did I think of him as the “voice” of my generation. Being a Big Star fan was an important piece of my musical identity. Most of my friends have similar stories about meeting drummer Jody Stephens (the “nicest man in rock”) for the first time, as well as countless awkward “fan-boy/fan-girl” encounters with Alex (he was never one to make you feel at ease—my ears are turning red as I recall his smirk the first time I fawned over/met him in 1984). On my SxSW panel last week, Sub Pop Records founder Jonathan Poneman surveyed the other panelists, who were Leslie Fram, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye (the other “nicest man in rock”) and the oh-so-brilliant Andrew W.K., and remarked that the one thing we all shared is that first-and-foremost we are FANS. So I encourage every programmer to schedule an hour of music (at least) from that pure place of what drew you to radio, and maybe you’ll play something that inspires a new generation. Email me: [email protected]
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