Alex Chilton: SXSW mourns late Big Star singer

One of the biggest names at this year’s SXSW music festival in Austin, Tex. was reunited ’70s power-pop pioneers Big Star, who had a gig scheduled for late this Saturday night. The festival was hit hard by tonight’s sad news that Big Star frontman Alex Chilton has passed away at age 59.

Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel were also scheduled to appear at a Saturday afternoon panel devoted to Big Star’s legacy. Chilton had not been expected to participate at that event; a rep for SXSW says that his bandmates are considering going ahead with the panel, recast as a tribute to their late friend. The rep adds that the status of the band’s Saturday night performance is “still up in the air” at this time.

“Alex Chilton always messed with your head, charming and amazing you while doing so,” SXSW Creative Director Brent Grulke said in a statement. “His gift for melody was second to none, yet he frequently seemed in disdain of that gift. He seemed as troubled by neglect as he did by fame. He wrote the most accessible pop songs that turned into something quite sour on closer reflection. It was impossible to know what he was thinking. But it was always worth pondering, because that’s what a truly great artist makes us do. And make no mistake: Alex Chilton was an artist of the very highest caliber. It’s too early to do much but cry about our loss right now, but he’ll be missed, and missed more as the ages pass and his myth continues to expand — that music isn’t going anywhere. R.I.P. and thank you, friend.”

The Music Mix extends its sincerest condolences to Alex Chilton’s friends, fans, and family. We’ll have more on this tragic loss soon. Share your thoughts and memories of Chilton in the comments below.

–Additional reporting by Whitney Pastorek

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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Comments (20 total) Add your comment
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  • Ed

    Big Star’s “Blue Moon” was my wedding song. I sing my kids to sleep with about six different Chilton songs… seen him live maybe 25 times. One of the best ever, multi-genre, brilliance from country to punk, masterful at blues, jazz and rockabilly, but absolutely the best American Power Popper ever when at the height of his powers, a la “Radio City.” A wry, funny, fan-friendly guy, tremendous depth of musical knowledge and achingly beautiful vocalist, ringing/chiming guitarist… I miss him so much already. His legacy will live on as long as kids still listen to rock music and get inspired to start bands… an absolute all time rock and roll hero.

  • Paul W.

    The Replacements said it best:

    If he was from Venus, would he feed us with a spoon?
    If he was from Mars, wouldnt that be cool
    Standing right on campus, would he stamp us in a pile?
    Hangin’ down in Memphis all the while

    Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes ’round
    They sing “I’m in love. What’s that song?
    I’m in love with that song.”

    Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice.
    Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice.
    Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchange good lucks face to face.
    Checkin’ his stash by the trash at St. Mark’s place.

    (Repeat chorus)

    I never travel far, without a little Big Star

    (Instrumental break)

    Runnin’ ’round the house, Mickey Mouse and the Tarot cards.
    Falling asleep with a flop pop video on.
    If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon?
    If he died in Memphis, then that’d be cool, babe.

    (Repeat chorus)

    • sandhillsurfer


  • Bea

    I am saddened by this. So much love for Big Star–“Thirteen” is going to be the song for the first dance at my wedding.

  • James P. McCampbell

    I recently went to Memphis last year to participate in a family reunion. I even met the survivor of the tragic Otis Redding plane crash who performed at our banquet. When we visited the Stax records museum all of us found our way to the gift store eventually. As the one subversive in the group I decided to resist the strong urge to buy a very good Isaac Hayes box set and instead bought Third/Sisters Lovers. I had always heard Big Star was a very good band over the years. That day as I sampled that beautiful train wreak of a record I discovered for myself how great they really were… and the talent that led them. More purchases of that group followed the succeeding months. R.I.P. Alex Chilton. Right now I’m playing a certain Replacements song in tribute.

  • Steven Flores

    I’ve been a fan of Big Star and Chilton for years now. I just got their box set digitally. Man, this really hits me hard. I love Alex’s work with the Box Tops and his solo stuff. Yet, it’s his work with Big Star that always touch me. Notably “Third/Sister Lovers”.

  • Pete McPherson

    I love you Alex Chilton, you were and are a great inspiration for me. Rest in peace, you made a mark on a great many people that will never be erased. You will be remembered and loved always. Rest in peace, sweet brother.

  • jjj

    I had to put my very old dog to sleep a few years ago, and on the way back home Big Star’s “Blue Moon” came up on the car’s CD player. I had to pull over and let all the sadness and grief out. It was sad but oddly comforting. I have always loved that song, like Alex is letting everyone in on the secret of dreams. But I love it even more now.

    RIP, Alex.

  • Alex

    I’m lucky to have a father with an amazing music collection, and so I heard Chilton’s solo stuff years ago when I was little. Devil Girl, Dalai Lama, and his cover of What’s Your Sign Girl? — I was singing these when my friends were listening to NSYNC. I’ve only gotten in to Big Star in the past few years, but it’s impossible not to recognize the talent and pure songwriting genius of Thirteen, The Ballad of El Goodo, and others. He will be sorely missed.

  • christy

    so sad. remember the replacements song and paul westerberg saying alex chilton and big star were his heroes.the talented ones always leave.

  • Chris Perry

    Can’t think of a more lovely and intense 1-2-3 punch than “Holocaust”/”Kangaroo”/”Stroke It Noel” on Third.

    Damn, I love this album. Hate that I’m playing it again this time because of Chilton’s death.

  • Anna

    “thirteen” is one of my all time favorite songs. RIP Alex. :(

  • Delaine

    Alex and Big Star meant more to me than I can express. We saw them play in New Orleans New year’s Eve 2000… I can’t believe we’ll never see him sing again.

  • Pat Gunn

    Collected everything he did, tried to play it. As A fan & as A musician I’ll miss him.

  • G.R.

    First of all, as a kid I always the Bangles’ cover of “September Gurls” (from ‘Different Light’).

    It wasn’t until my last year of high school, though, that heard Big Star — I found and fell in love with the song “Thank You Friends” on a punk/New Wave compilation (!) owned by my sister’s then-husband.

    Not long after that, a new free-form radio station introduced me to the original “September Gurls”, as well as the Replacements’ “Alex Chilton” (at which point I instantly fell in love with them, too!).

    A few years ago I finally found a copy of the CD ‘#1 Record/Radio City’ at a Borders bookstore, and a few months later I bought ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ through Amazon. Just timeless, beautiful pop.

    RIP Alex, you will most certainly be missed.

    • G.R.

      *always DUG the Bangles’ cover of “September Gurls”. (Stupid lack of “edit” function on these pages!)

  • Tom

    Wow. The sun is shining this morning but this is a dark, dark day. If there’s a dimmer switch to the universe it was just turned down when Alex’s light went out. Everyone at SXSW should throw out their set lists and play all the Big Star songs they know or at least learn one. I’m lighting a candle and cursing the darkness, the shadow lengthens and one door closes while another slowly swings open as surely as the day in 1989 when #1 Record/Radio City dropped into the walkman and never left…
    “Once I walked a lonely road
    Had no one to share my love
    But then you came and showed the way
    And now I hope you’re here to stay

    You give me light
    You are my day
    You give me life
    And that’s right
    You give me light
    You are my day
    You give me life
    And that’s right
    So right
    So right, so right

    Lonely age of uncertainty
    They disappear when you’re near me
    When you’re around my life’s worthwhile
    And now I long to see you smile

    You give me light
    You are my day
    You give me life
    And that’s right
    You give me light
    You are my day
    You give me life
    And that’s right
    So right
    So right, so right
    My life is right
    My life is right
    My life is right”

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