Rest in Peace, Andy Hummel of Big Star

July 19, 2010

Right on the heels of Alex Chilton, Big Star bassist Andy Hummel has died at 59.

Hummel didn’t write a lot for Big Star, but he did contribute one of their best–the glorious “Way Out West.”

Rest in peace, Andy. I hope you are enjoying the reunion with Alex and Chris and working on some material I can check out when my time comes.

Big Star – “Way Out West”


A Celebration of Alex Chilton

March 22, 2010

If you’re reading this, it’s likely I don’t have to tell you who Alex Chilton was and why his death on March 17, 2010 is being mourned by lovers of music everywhere. So I’ll just jot down a few thoughts.

I have no idea how I first heard of Big Star. I think I just sort of absorbed the knowledge that there was this hugely influential band in the 1970s that didn’t sell all that many records. This was just the sort of thing that music lovers, particularly fans of what used to be called college rock, knew, like they knew about the Velvet Underground.

I picked up Big Star’s three albums when they were reissued on CD in 1992. I remember the awe they put me in, particularly their astonishing third album, alternately known as Third and Sister Lovers.

Sister Lovers is a stunning musical achievement. I don’t think another album exists that is so majestic and yet so heartbreakingly human. From the rousing opening, “Kizza Me,” to the depths of despair of “Holocaust,” to the joy of “O, Dana” and “Stroke it, Noel,” to the delicate closing admonition to “Take Care,” Sister Lovers takes its listeners through the panoply of human emotion. It is an exhausting but hugely rewarding experience. It is also at the absolute pinnacle of rock and roll music, standing right up there next to works as towering as Exile on Main St. and London Calling.

My singling out of Sister Lovers should not be read in any way as denigrating Big Star’s first two albums, #1 Record and Radio City, which are classics as well (how did “September Gurls” not set the world on fire?). Big Star put out an amazing body of work, and it’s Hall of Fame worthy.

I made a decision not to seek out Chilton’s subsequent solo work. The reviews were, at best, mixed and I didn’t want to tarnish Chilton’s legacy in my mind. It must be said that seeing Chilton live sometime in the 1993-1994 area did not increase my desire to explore further. Now that he’s gone, I think I’ll dig around a bit in his solo stuff and the Big Star revival partially staffed by members of Big Star disciples the Posies. I’m sure there are some gems buried in there, and now I want to find them.

God bless you, Alex. Your music means the world to me and will so long as I live.

Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) eulogizes Alex Chilton on the floor of the House of Representatives

Big Star – “Nightime”

Big Star – “My Life is Right”

The Box Tops – “The Letter”

Adventureland: Characters, Soundtrack, and Worldview

April 12, 2009


(This review contains minor spoilers because I don’t care enough about the movie to try to preserve any element of it for potential viewers.)

I didn’t like Adventureland when I walked out of the theater. The more I thought about it, the less I liked it until I finally came to the conclusion that I hated it.

This movie was obviously made by people with whom, on the surface, I have a lot in common. The main character, James Brennan (a charisma-free Jesse Eisenberg), and I share a love of the Velvet Underground, Big Star, the Replacements, and other eternally-cool (to record geeks anyway) touchstones. We both got degrees in literary-type stuff. We both find that those interests do not always translate well socially.

I hope that’s all we have in common, because if there’s anything else, I want my friends to stage an intervention immediately.

We begin with James graduating from college, and planning to go to grad school at Columbia in the fall. Unfortunately, his family is experiencing some financial hardships so he finds himself in the awful position of <gasp> having to get a job for the first time in his life. Completely unqualified for any real job, he is forced to take a position at a low-budget theme park.

You might think this is the setup for a young man learning the value of good old-fashioned hard work and coming to an understanding that he’s been a spoiled little shit his whole life. You would be wrong.

Instead, it is the setup for a ridiculous love triangle/rectangle/shape-of-some-sort. The very attractive Em Lewin (Kristen Stewart) throws herself at James within thirty seconds of meeting him his first day on the job for no apparent reason, although they quickly learn that they do have some things in common–music tastes, love of marijuana, and enjoyment of alcohol.

Complicating the love blossoming between these two losers is that Em is screwing Mike (Ryan Reynolds, who deserves better), the married maintenance guy for the park. It gets even more annoying when stereotypical hot-but-ditzy blonde Lisa P (Margarita Levieva) inexplicably decides she’d like a date with our lame-ass protagonist. At this point, I wouldn’t have cared if all of these characters had perished in a fiery auto crash.

Adventureland promotes an awful worldview. We’re supposed to like Em because she hates lawyers, rich people, and anyone with a real job. That she’s been nursing at the tit of productive members of society her entire life is an irony not explored by the filmmakers, because they support her view of things–in the world of the film and the creators’ fantasy land, this makes her real. With the exception of James and inveterate liar and cheating chronic pussy-hound Mike (who, for reasons known only to the filmmakers, the audience is encouraged to care about), everyone else in the movie is either a prick (lawyers, MBAs, stereotypical redneck types) or an idiot (every other character).

Particularly galling is the director’s cynical use of an excellent soundtrack to attempt to manipulate the audience into sympathizing with this preposterous and appalling view of the human race. When that cool college stuff is playing, you are supposed to like the character. You know a character is supposed to be an asshole if anything associated with metal is played on the soundtrack, mentioned by a character, or worn on a character’s t-shirt. If top forty music (circa 1987, when the movie takes place) is playing and the characters like it instead of bitching about it, that means they are shallow and dumb. Yes, you got that right–anyone who doesn’t share the main characters’ and filmmakers’ taste in music is either stupid, an asshole, or a stupid asshole. This is a movie by and about people who think they are open-minded but are anything but.

The end of the film finds Em in New York off to grad school (paid for by her hardworking father, who she denigrates and humiliates whenever given an opportunity). James, who can’t afford Columbia due to his family’s financial troubles and his own screw-ups, is off to New York as well. You might think that this means that he’s growing up, accepting responsibility, and getting on with his life. Nope–he’s chasing the psycho bitch whose presence we have been tormented with the entire movie.

Director Greg Mottola’s previous film, Superbad, was a comic gem that was touching because it gave us selfish, immature people who had a lot of goodness inside of them that bloomed as they learned some things about life, love, and friendship. He apparently doesn’t understand why Superbad worked, because he takes the shell of that coming-of-age story and fills it with selfish, immature people who don’t bloom and don’t learn anything except for the most superficial and obvious, and they don’t even learn much in those categories. It’s a vile little movie, more akin to Kids than Superbad, but that comparison isn’t fair–in Kids, the ugliness was intentional.

From the Soundtrack:

Judas Priest – “Breaking the Law” (because I don’t think liking metal makes you an asshole):

The Outfield – “Your Love” (because I don’t think liking pop music makes you shallow and dumb):


The Velvet Underground – “Pale Blue Eyes” (Liking this does not automatically make you a good person. Not liking this does not automatically make you a bad person.):