Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013

Big Star

The Book, The CD, The Movie

By David Luhrssen
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The big push is on for Big Star. One of the most admired cult bands from the '70s are now the subject of a book, Rob Jovanovic's Big Star: The Story of Rock's Forgotten Band; a CD compilation, The Very Best of Big Star; and a documentary DVD, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.


The single-disc CD is a good introduction for anyone insufficiently sold on the band to purchase the box set. The Very Best shows that, in addition to their role as power-pop progenitors and authors of stunningly catchy songs ("September Gurls"), Big Star could wax Dylanesque, rock out hard and reach for psychedelia. Tracks from their three studio albums along with their posthumously released live recording are included.

 

The book and documentary chronicle both the band and band members, providing a trove of information for fans. Not unlike The Beatles, Big Star's creative axis revolved around two distinct talents, the intensely questing Chris Bell and the almost carelessly brilliant Alex Chilton. Bell left in a sulk after Big Star's debut album, the ironically-titled #1 Record (1972), and Chilton continued the band for a couple years before pursuing an eclectic career as performer and producer.

 

Nothing Can Hurt Me mines Big Star's limited stock of archival footage and stills, building its narrative more from eyewitness memories of surviving band members and associates and the testimonials of fans from R.E.M., Yo La Tengo, Jesus and Mary Chain, Flaming Lips and a dozen other acts. Big Star distilled '60 pop rock influences and wrapped the results in mystery and melancholy. Their records benefit from repeated listenings. Big Star's commercial failure was largely a problem of poor distribution for their records, coupled with a sense of being slightly out of time in the bloated “heaviosity” of early '70s rock. The critics loved them, however, and kept their name alive long enough for their rediscovery by the generation that came of age with punk.

 

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