As dsnodgrass diaried, Alex Chilton has died at the age of 59. As this is a political blog, the following testimonial from Rep. Steve Cohen (a big music fan who represents the city of Memphis) on the floor of the House of Representatives is fitting.
Steve Cohen remembers Alex Chilton.
"Today I come before you with a heavy heart for a friend of mine and a great friend of music in the world and particularly from my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee passed away last night. Alex Chilton who was a rock and roller, who was an indie music alternative producer, songwriter, guitarist passed away. Alex Chilton at age 16 had a number one hit with a group called The Boxtops with the song called The Letter. "Got to get a ticket for an airplane ain't got time to catch a fast train. Lonely days are gone, I'm going home my baby just wrote me a letter." That was number one when he was 16.
He went on with The Boxtops to do other songs then he had a group called Big Star. Big star wasn't well known, they did three albums but Rolling Stone put all three albums in the top 500 albums ever produced in America and two of his singles were among the top 500 singles ever done in America. Alex Chilton was like so much in Memphis, he grew up in a time when Elvis Presley was our emissary to the world. He wanted to play music and he did it, and he did it his own way. Independent, iconoclastic, innovative. He never cared for the critics he didn't have that much acclaim at the box office or at record sales, but he did with others. R.E.M. was a group he influenced greatly and The Replacements did a song called Alex Chilton. He was supposed to play at South by Southwest this week in Austin, they're mourning him. He was supposed to play in Memphis on May 15 with a reunion of Big Star at the Overland Park Shell. He won't do that, but his music will live on forever. He is an embodiment of Memphis music. Hard, different, independent, brilliant, beautiful. We're lucky he came our way. He leaves a wife and a daughter. Thank you Madame Speaker for giving me this opportunity."
Thanks, Rep. Cohen. Here are a few clips of Alex Chilton in action.
A 16-year-old Chilton singing "The Letter" with the Box Tops on TV more than 40 years ago.
The reunited Big Star doing "September Gurls" five months ago.
Electric version of "Holocaust" from a 1978 show at CBGBs.
Finally, we do not know all the details of what took Alex Chilton at the age of 59. Speculation rests on a heart attack. He had suffered health issues (some relating to drink) back in the 1980s. Despite royalties (including from Cheap Trick covering "In the Street" as the theme for That 70s Show), he was far from a wealthy man. We do not know what access he had to health care over the course of his life. Is it possible that with a reformed health care system, Alex Chilton might still be with us? That's a question I ask myself as the struggle for reform moves on.